The dropping of Brad Guzan in the league for the first time since the American replaced Shay Given as number one in September 2012 was a big call from Sherwood. The decision could be debated either way all day long, but personally I always have more confidence in Villa’s back four when Given is behind them.
However, as much as I thought it was a foul on him for Everton’s second (don’t worry Mr Clattenburg, we’ll get to you), Given could perhaps have been stronger in claiming the ball. It appeared as though he was banking on being awarded the free-kick – perhaps unsurprisingly, given that they’re given as such nine times out of 10.
As soft as the decision to award Everton their penalty was, it was another example of how every once in a while Villa’s own ineptitude bites them on the backside. Romelu Lukaku should have had the ball taken off him far before he managed to shepherd it into the penalty area, and the slapstick manner in which Villa failed to clear the ball two or three times before the foul was given was a stark reminder of the work that still needs doing on the training ground.
Charles N’Zogbia has come in for a fair bit of praise over the last few weeks, something which is understandable given how abject he has been for most of this season the last couple of seasons his entire Villa career. However, although he has undeniably become more competent in a Villa shirt of late, there is still nothing on show from him on a weekly basis to make me think I’d rather see him playing than, say, Scott Sinclair. There just never has been, and still isn’t, enough penetration or genuine creativity on show from a player who was bought to provide both of those things.
A surprising statistic emerged after the Everton game – since March 14, his first start under Sherwood, Bacuna has recorded more assists (four) than any other Premier League player. The Dutchman is clearly a useful player on the attacking front, even if his approach to crossing has something of David Luiz’s freekick policy about it (hit enough of them and some have to end up in the right place).
However, he’s just not a right-back for me. His defensive positional sense is all over the place and as soon as he’s on the back foot he looks nervy and unhappy, and the return of Alan Hutton is very welcome. Bacuna would be fine as a right midfield option or as a right-back behind a right midfielder in the James Milner mould of providing excellent defensive cover. Playing behind someone like N’Zogbia leaves Bacuna’s defensive shortcomings horribly exposed.
Mark Clattenburg is meant to be one of the Premier League’s best referees, right? Dear me. He had an awful game, missing countless off-the-ball incidents and taking the practice of letting the game flow to unprecedented levels by pretty much refusing to give anything (apart, of course, from the penalty). His failure to award Villa a freekick for the foul on Given for Everton’s second goal was entirely unsurprising given his performance over the previous 89 minutes.
As much as Sherwood continues to insist that Villa don’t need to concern themselves with other team’s results, seeing Hull win last Tuesday and Sunderland win on Saturday was undeniably frustrating, not to mention Leicester’s revival.
However, although Villa remain just two points clear they crucially now have three clubs between themselves and the final relegation place (Burnley and QPR are gone), including a Newcastle side who aren’t so much in trouble as tightening the noose around their own necks.
Beating West Ham on Saturday in the David Cameron Derby (I presume that’s what we’re calling it now?) would move us up to 38 points, and with Sunderland and Hull both facing tougher fixtures than our own, that could end up being enough. If we play like we have over the last month, we’ll be fine (not Paul Lambert’s definition of ‘fine’, but genuinely fine).
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