Given that Aston Villa went behind in this game, a point from St. James’ is not a terrible result. Once again the clichés come out. ‘Villa have stopped the rot.’ ‘This point will give a platform to build on’ etc. These statements could prove to be true but only if we finally follow-up with a result against West Ham on Boxing Day. This was by no means a lifesaving performance from the Villans but it keeps a little wiggling room in the noose around the clubs neck.
As is customary at this stage, Aston Villa once again did things by halves. In the first half Villa looked without fight, imagination, and hope. The second half was a different story. Villa kicked off the second period with a renewed purpose and intent and looked the better team for large parts of the latter 45 minutes.
If this performance could be maintained throughout two full halves then Villa would certainly have the chance to win games, but all too often the desire only comes to the fold after the opposition have taken the lead. Ayew’s goal gave hope that Villa could snatch the three points, but again, it was a job half done and Villa failed to capitalise on positive momentum.
Ayew the man the save us?
Jordan Ayew was a class apart in the second half. He was everywhere, hassling, fighting, and taking on the responsibility of driving Villa forward. Christian Benteke saved us from the drop before, could Ayew’s drive and talent pull off a great escape for Villa? He certainly looks the most likely saviour, let’s hope he can make a hero of himself.
Most of this applies only to the second half, but beyond the man of the match performance of Ayew several of Villa’s other players showed what they are capable of, fingers crossed that they will continue to do so from here on in.
Veretout is looking more and more like someone who can create and contribute to Villa’s attack. Gestede, along with Ayew’s persistence, helped to tip the second half in Villa’s favour and surely must remain as the Ghanaian’s strike partner ahead of Scott ‘Where Exactly am I playing’ Sinclair. Carlos Sanchez, Ashley Westwood, and Idrissa Gueye all showed what they can offer, albeit with a few of their regular soft touches, particularly in the first half. Keeping Gana confident and involved could prove a key driving force in Villa’s bottom of the pile fight for survival.
Although the defense switched off too easily for Coloccini’s goal, Okore and Lescott were solid in general and certainly looked miles better than the calamitous and self-destructive Villa defence we have seen for much of the season.
No Substitute for Talent
I often wonder if one of the requirements for becoming Aston Villa manager is to have an uncomfortable relationship or understanding of substitutions. Lambert and Sherwood would either make baffling changes or decide against them altogether. While Garde has not been as bad as his predecessors (Gestede’s introduction was key today), he does seem to miss out on seemingly obvious opportunities to capitalise.
In today’s game for example, it was clear the soggy pitch and end to end nature of the game were tiring out some players on both sides and that fresh legs in the form of Adama, Gil, or Grealish could have caused trouble for Newcastle’s back line, and inject some energy to keep Villa’s foot on the gas.
I mean, why even by Adama, if he’s not worth 10 minutes to terrorise a tired Newcastle back four on a rain-soaked slippery pitch?
Instead there was nothing and Villa visibly tired and faded, meaning that one point was the only objective in the end, and their little push in the closing minutes for a very achievable winning goal. Villa will need to be tactically astute in their survival campaign and Garde could do with using some of the talent at his disposal, but failure to use the bench seems like a wasted opportunity.
On a Knife Edge
Villa got something out of the game but will need to improve on a single point hall in the next few games. 10 points adrift, a draw is as much use as a loss now. Villa’s window of opportunity for survival is resting on a knife edge as those teams around us battle for wins and gain some big scalps in the league.
Today was by no means a disaster but only three-point hauls will really help Villa keep pace with or overtake the league’s other stragglers. Even if relegation does become inevitable, surely its better to go down kicking and screaming, causing some entertainment and upsets along the way than to simple fade away lethargically.
We really need to aim for nine points from the next three games and go for it, with seven in my opinion being the bare minimum. If Villa can replicate their second half showing from today from the start next Saturday, then there is every chance of three points against a West Ham side missing key players through injury.
Failure to collect festive points and the New Year could be as miserable as the first half of the season has been and thoughts will swiftly turn to preparations for life in the Championship
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