Fans of both clubs were eagerly anticipating Villa’s trip to rivals West Brom on Saturday – Villa fans saw it as a big chance to secure a rare three points, whilst Albion supporters were looking forward to beating the worst side their rivals have had in 30 years.
As it happened, nobody was a winner – not even football itself – as the sides played out a desperately dull 0-0 draw at The Hawthorns. Here’s a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of Saturday’s stalemate.
Admittedly it is hard to take this as too much of a positive when the game hasn’t been won, but Villa were at least the better side at the home of their rivals. Remi Garde’s side dominated possession and almost completely stifled Albion, who did not register a single shot on target at home to the club that has been rooted to the bottom of the league since September. Let’s take a brief pause to offer Tony Pulis a round of applause for that.
Anyway, clearly the main positive from such a dour affair is that Villa are now unbeaten in five games in all competitions ahead of the FA Cup fourth round tie with Manchester City next weekend. Much of the progress of this run has been built on the improvements in defence, where Villa have gone from a team who offer freebies most weeks to an organised side who have at least made themselves tricky to break down. Joleon Lescott has been one of the most-improved players over the last few games, and he was again a key component of a generally solid defensive line, whilst both Aly Cissokho at left-back and Micah Richards at right-back performed relatively well, if unspectacularly so.
In the midfield, Ashley Westwood had one of his better games for the club in recent memory, contributing quietly to most Villa moves that began in the centre of the pitch and making a number of key passes. Meanwhile, Idrissa Gana has been one of Villa’s stand-out performers so far in 2016 and he was once again the heartbeat of the side at The Hawthorns, turning the ball over in midfield and driving forward on numerous occasions.
Aside from the lack of positive signs from Villa’s attack (see below) – for which Garde cannot be blamed, such is the dearth of options he is having to work with – the team are generally showing signs of improvement under the Frenchman since the new year.
The former Lyon boss looks a far more assured man in the dugout than Villa have had in a while, even accounting for the occasional odd personnel decision and his lack of experience of English football, and in Garde we finally have a manager who is likeable and competent. For that, at least, we can be thankful.
Click next page for the Bad & Ugly