The Good, Bad & Ugly
With Aston Villa’s fortunes more good and less ugly nowadays, MOMS podcast contributor Phil Shaw resurrects ‘The Good, Bad & Ugly’, an old favourite MOMS column that started over seven years ago on the site…
Despite being at risk of just using copy and paste after another week of frustration and rules that are as hard to understand as lockdown tiers, it’s time to strap in for the Good, Bad and Ugly of Villa’s week.
Remember when Jack Grealish got left out of the first England squad this season? Let me refresh your memories. There was a mass outpouring of anger and vitriol directed at anyone who would listen with the theme being that Captain Jack could ‘Do no more’ as a player to be selected.
Well, people conveniently forget the hills they picked to make their stand on as the Villa Captain continues to put in effective displays with goals and assists that matter. That’s nine goal contributions in ten games this season, after only one during the Project Restart period. It should serve as a lesson to all those who have maxed out their praise credit cards. He’s got more gears to go just as we have more levels to go in praise of him when he gets there.
Inspired by Captain Jack, Villa, as a team even without Barkley, are creating plenty of chances. That’s a good thing, with the 12-day break enforced by the postponement of the Newcastle game, they have plenty of time for shooting practice now.
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Not even the most claret and blue tinted spectacle wearer can absolve the Villa team of their increasingly predictable errors.
Zonal or whatever form of marking Villa use from set pieces is unpicked by the simplest of tactics. Put a late running big man at the back post. No matter the good work that has been put in on the training ground in cutting the opponents down to two shots on target per match, it is all for nothing if they score from those two chances.
Whether it is Southampton or West Ham, you cannot leave opposition threats unmarked. In the first few minutes of the game Ogbonna was left alone with a clear run at Matt Targett, while Konsa and Mings were marking zones. It is a weakness that will be exploited by the best and worst teams in the league and it threatens to derail Villa like it did last season.
Whilst the defence needs tweaking, the attack needs a change of attitude. While chasing the game against West Ham wasn’t the uncoordinated, panic inducing mess that Brighton became, the lack of ruthlessness in front of goal was non-league standard. McGinn, Watkins and – for the second game in a row – Trezeguet missed easy chances for Premier League players.
While Trezeguet will rightly get the headlines and probably lose his place in the starting line-up for his shocking miss from a few yards out, the other two should not be forgotten.
Just after West Ham retook the lead, when Benrahma’s only contribution of a hopeful ball into the box was smartly flicked in by the impressive Bowen, Grealish put John McGinn free in the box. With all the time in the world he inexplicably decided to side foot the ball with his weaker foot tamely at the keeper. This was the finish of a tired man, and it was early in the second half.
Ollie Watkins is an enigma at present. Against Fulham, he missed easy chances, against Liverpool he missed the easy chances but scored some fantastic goals and followed this with a classy finish against Arsenal. Against West Ham, the header he missed after some genius by Grealish was poor. To head over when free without needing to jump was a worrying sign as was the decision to place him on penalty duty.
The decision to let him take the penalty against Southampton was to keep his confidence ticking over when the game was gone. To let him take this pressure kick with his patchy record of 2 in 5 (now 6) from the spot was naive. Villa need a penalty taker nailed down with the amount of spot kicks being awarded this season.
It would be easy to just go into another rant about VAR but that’s not the problem. Removing VAR would only treat a symptom of the disease that is killing the modern game. The ugliness at the heart of the game is the Professional Game Match Officials Limited PGMOL headed up by Mike Riley.
A few years ago I did a refereeing course myself as a league requirement in case the youth team I managed had no referee at the weekend.
I passed the course vowing to carry on playing for as long as possible and never be a referee. The perverse joy at finding fault rather than facilitating the game wasn’t something I could get behind, unfortunately there are many people who live for this.
The decision to disallow Ollie Watkins late equaliser could prove to be the tipping point publicly but the ire is being misdirected. VAR was meant to be a golden egg for referees, but their recipe for it has turned it rotten.
The PGMOL are like the Greek Gods, sitting in their Mount Olympus of Stockley Park and interfering with the lives of us mere mortals. We aren’t good enough to be given reasoning or justification, we just have to accept the whim of whatever deity is controlling the VAR dotted lines. Will it be Athena, Ares or Stuart Attwell?
The laws of Football were designed to be enforceable by the naked eye and yet the implementation and interpretation of these laws has given the PGMOL even more ways to find fault in the game. Watkins was offside as per the regulations but the fact he was being grappled around the neck is completely ignored.
Which one is easily spotted by the naked eye?
It should have been another penalty, yet the incident anyone can see without VAR is the one that’s ignored again and covered up hastily to the chosen broadcaster under the ‘Clear and Obvious’ excuse.
Two arms around your neck is ‘clear and obvious’.
Now that more high-profile pundits and players are calling for the removal of VAR, the PGMOL will get a chance to escape scrutiny and blame the introduction of the technology.
What needs to be removed are the attention seeking referees, who seem to think it is OK to have their names stitched onto their boots like John Moss, then be so inept at their job they get even the most basic decisions wrong.
To do so would mean the people in charge of the game would have to acknowledge failure, because of course the PGMOL get their hefty wages from the Premier League, English Football League (EFL) and Football Association (FA) Competitions. All three organisations fund it, but we know the last thing Gods or people in positions of power do is acknowledge their ugly mistakes.
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