Apologies in advance, but this week’s column was written accidentally while driving with a laptop in my pocket.
Clearly the 2-0 win over Norwich a week ago was a cruel lie.
Even with Gabby scoring a trademark goal against the Canaries, beating the keeper and poking into an empty net, it said more about Norwich (and how dull and uninspired they looked) than Villa’s survival chances.
A glimmer? Maybe. But that was all undone by one of the worst performances in the club’s history on Valentine’s Day a week later. Fans lifted by the blip of form were crushed by what followed.
… WITHOUT TOUCHING THE SIDES
Ex-Villa player Paul Merson fancied his old club to sneak a win over a Liverpool team out of form and with one eye on their Europa League game this Thursday. He fancied a set-piece – maybe Lescott nodding in the winner – and a clean sheet to take a 1-0 win and pull the team a little closer to survival.
It was a nice sentiment, Merse. And not without some good rationale. But Liverpool rolled Villa over, the surrender coming after an unmarked striker – who has tormented Villa in the past – started the rout. Six goals and the humiliation was complete.
With Jurgen Klopp offering sympathy rather than mocking the failings of one of the biggest and most historic clubs in English football, a new low has been reached – other teams are feeling sorry for how low Aston Villa has fallen.
Some readers took offense to this column’s suggestion that if Garde had pulled out a few more wins in his first dozen games, he might have been more likely to get the cash needed to round out his squad. Fair enough. We’ll never know if some of those draws had been wins and Villa had pulled up to 18th whether the board might have coughed up for a new striker, nor if that difference in league position might have convinced a few players who went to other teams they should have come to odds-on relegation favourites Aston Villa.
Has Garde put enough of his own stamp on the squad? The playing style and (until Sunday) defensive improvements might suggest he has. His main failings are not his to own. He’s inherited a weakened squad, given no money to upgrade, and his injury-stricken forward line has meant goals are hard to come by.
Even the 1986-87 squad that were the last group relegated from the top flight included Spink, Daley and Evans.
Who does Garde have that he can rely on week-in, week-out? Gil and Gueye are improving on the back of increased playing time, but the likes of Bacuna, who doesn’t have a position after being thrown in at the deep end in 2013, and… pretty much any of the defenders who are prone to unaccountable individual lapses, are hardly a base to build on.
No punches were pulled in the post-match interview – “we didn’t fight enough”, “I feel humiliated” and “sorry for the fans”, the team “didn’t play any more” after the first two goals, “very easy for” Liverpool, the lack of “fighting spirit” and most telling “I try to do my best with the players who still want to fight”.
This is the anti-Lambert line of blame, but Lambert was defending his own (well… probably) signings whereas Garde has inherited this squad with a distinct lack of quality and has nothing to lose by calling it as he sees it.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT?
Increasingly, fans are calling to “put in the kids” to blood them for next season. This would certainly seem like a smart move… but not until the club in relegated mathematically. Until then, the club has to been seen to fight for survival, not accept the players they have signed earning tens of thousands a week are to be shelved then released on free transfers (or sold for a pittance to get them off the books) can’t help the wafer-thin chance Villa has of staying up.
That said, Jordan Lyden could and should have come on at half-time for Bacuna with the game clearly out of reach and added some new energy as well as given the fans something to get a bit excited about. And maybe Keinan Davis for Richards (or anyone else) might have been a bit more long-view than bringing on Alan Hutton to shore up the back at 0-6 down.
Follow Adam Keeble on Twitter @keebo00
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