Championship Season Take Two
Saturday brought the eagerly awaited return of Aston Villa to our regular schedules. Despite an atrocious few seasons there is a careful optimism among many of us Villa fans ahead of this term, let’s hope we don’t get burned again.
Two games in and the outlook for Villa’s upcoming season is yet to fully reveal itself. There have been both signs to be encouraged by and worrying glimpses of old habits.
The fact is that there are plenty of reasons to be positive. The squad seems more balanced in most areas, more dead wood has been removed, and the experience of new signings such as John Terry should be invaluable.
Several of the new arrivals may not come with the flashiest of reputations but after years of misspent wealth, an injection of underwhelming efficiency (a potential nickname for Glen Whelan) may be exactly what is needed to help this squad find balance.
Steve Bruce has a full preseason under his belt and old spud head doesn’t have the worst record when it comes to getting clubs out of this division.
The draw against Hull was hardly spectacular but there was plenty to be encouraged by. No doubt it beats last term’s opener. For me the most positive aspect of Villa’s performance came in the passing and movement in the final third.
Scott Hogan has always looked for space to run into and for a change, there were passes that suited the striker. Villa displayed impressive link-up play on several occasions between the likes of Gabby, Hogan, and Lansbury, a far cry from the mindless waste of forward balls we’ve grown accustomed to.
An increased quality of delivery was also apparent with Elmo making a good impression in his early days in claret and blue, Alan Hutton contributing an assist, and Taylor showing a willingness to push forward.
On the rare occasion in 2016/17 when Villan managed to deliver the ball into the box, there were no strikers to be seen. This weekend Villa repeatedly got players into the area and had we been more clinical, the result could have been put beyond doubt. If the team can keep on the front foot like this more often Villa may finally begin a proper upward trajectory.
If the team can keep on the front foot like this more often Villa may finally begin a proper upward trajectory.
I get the feeling that with a week or two to really get in gear, the floodgates could open for the likes of Hogan and Green in particular.
The Cup Is Half Full
With the league underway Villa rotated the lineup and recorded a win against Colchester. The team consisted of several players who should be out to stake a claim for a regular spot and this game had opportunity written all over it.
Scott Hogan, Calum O’Hare, and Andre Green were all lively, while new boy Josh Onomah was particularly impressive, and all of them could well be in contention for more regular starts.
Other positives include more game time for youngsters O’Hare, Davis, Bree, and Hepburn-Murphy, and a top class performance by Jed Steer, that ultimately won the game for Villa.
On set pieces, Conor Hourihane’s delivery was decent, but the Irishman needs to become more of a creative force in open play if he is to secure a regular starting berth.
After a decent preseason Christopher Samba had a less than impressive outing. I’ll forgive him considering his role in helping us to lift the ‘prestigious’ Cup of Traditions, and the fact that Jed Steer bailed him out on a few occasions. (The fact that Mr Steer was named Man of the Match doesn’t scream Villa dominance.)
This win isn’t worth shouting from the rooftops about but it provided valuable game time for several squad members, and despite awful conditions somewhat banished memories of the trip to Luton this time 12 months ago. We’ll take it and move on.
Don’t Get Too Comfortable
As touched on by MOMS in a recent article there have been some warning signs that must be nipped in the bud pronto. Against Colchester, Villa’s habit of switching off was clear to see, particularly after scoring or creating good chances at the other end.
On Saturday it was a different flaw that reared its ugly head. With good forward thinking play visible, in the second half, Bruce suddenly seemed intent on holding onto a narrow lead.
Our defence is relatively solid but that’s not a reason to invite pressure. Instead, it should provide an impetus for the rest of the team to push on with the freedom to attack, which brought our best spells. Villa were ultimately punished for this cautious approach.
Bruce must have learned that an overly deep midfield has not only invited increased pressure at the back for this team in the past but also left a disconnect between Villa’s midfield and attack.
I fear that upon Jedinak’s return, Villa may resort to an overly cautious set up once more when what we need is to be encouraging and supporting our attackers. This season must be all about positivity on and off the field and Bruce must lead by example.
Onward and Upward
After an abysmal start last year Villa were playing catch up all season. It’s imperative that we put ourselves in a stable position early on, so losses don’t become as disastrous as they so often were last year.
Last season showed that the quality of this league is low. That doesn’t mean that the league will be a walk in the park for Villa, but with the squad at our disposal, there are few excuses for Villa not to get the job done this time around.
It’s too early to make any sweeping judgements but the signs are that this team could be a decent win or two away from finally clicking. If this is built upon, we should be in for a season to enjoy. Here’s hoping.