Thank god for Jack Grealish. As the final whistle drew closer Villa looked set to follow up last week’s loss by firing yet another blank with a woeful performance. With minutes left on the clock it was the local lad who delivered an early Christmas present to Villa and put us on a much better footing heading into Tuesday’s tricky fixture at Norwich.
Papering Over The Cracks
I’ll take three points any day, regardless of how we get them. That said, today brought some warning signs of bad old habits still lingering in this team that should be heeded and addressed.
The first of these became clear with the changes made in the second half. Villa needed a goal and much like his predecessor, Bruce decided that the best way of doing this would be to throw on every striker he had. With the limited midfield options on offer, it’s almost understandable but we’ve seen in the recent past that this simply doesn’t work and instead leaves the team dangerously unbalanced.
It was Grealish who provided the much needed moment of magic. However, as the goal went in came the realisation that those on the pitch were not set up to see out the final minutes. The usual nerves kicked in. The final whistle finally brought three points, yet we saw no signs of the inspired substitutions and tactical tweaks that embodied the manager’s early games at the club.
Obviously the win is the priority, but as Villa struggled to carve out and convert meaningful chances for large periods, it was impossible not to feel that the team had taken a step backwards over the last fortnight. After a quality performance against Brighton and a comprehensive victory over Cardiff, Villa failed to carry that momentum into the game against Leeds and this game was far from a comfortable win.
Reliance on Magic
For too long Villa relied on Christian Benteke to save the day and again we are relying on individual magic to bail us out, be that Kodjia or the often frustrating Grealish. With Kodjia set to depart in January and games coming thick and fast between now and then Bruce needs to get creative, or have the rest of the team do so.
Unlike the Villa of Bruce’s first games there seemed to be some serious nerves in the players late in the game. Senior players seemed error prone as the end drew close with Elphick, Jedinak, and Ayew all coming close to/making mistakes, not to mention more communication errors between Gollini and his defenders. Speaking of which, the Italian keeper seems frighten to come out of his six-yard box at times, something he needs to address quick smart.
Do It Yourself
As we have seen on regular basis in recent years, sometimes when things aren’t going your way it’s tough to catch a break. I’m hesitant to bring referees into post match comments but Villa were on the end of a number of questionable decisions in the second half today. It’s on those occasions that we must make or own luck. Today that luck was called Jack, and credit to the team for grinding out the win.
As a big fish in this pond, no one will be willing to make it easy for Villa, so despite some concerns the team deserves credit for keeping a clean sheet and snatching a win at the death.
To see Jack Grealish get the winner made it all the sweeter and now is the perfect time for him to finally start shining on a regular basis and lead us back to where we belong.
Same Again Please
The appointment of new managers often brings with it a ‘new manager bounce’, some feared that the Leeds loss was where the bounce had stopped for Steve Bruce. Instead his team have earned another three points and it’s time for this team to finally kick on and get amongst the real action at the top end of the table.
With a couple of wins on the trot that will very much be the case. Failure to grind out wins in the next few games and Villa will fall away from the pack and be doomed to mid table mediocrity.
Despite last weeks hiccup, Bruce still deserves so much credit for steadying the ship. He’s instilled a resilience in this team that will be key in the coming month’s busy schedule.
An occasional unimpressive win is fine, as long as we take lessons from them on how we can improve in future games. At the end of the day though, winning with style or winning ugly as long as Villa are winning, the rest of December should be very festive for us Villans.
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