By Jonathan Parkin
Some good results in the first week of the so called ‘winter break,’ meant that Villa remained out of the bottom three for the match against Spurs. Up to this point, barring the dreadful loss at home to Man City, the Villans had performed admirably against the ‘Big Six’. However, they have often fallen short at the final hurdle. To get anything against Spurs, fresh from a win at home against Manchester City, would require great concentration and teamwork throughout the 90 minutes. Unfortunately for the Villa faithful, this required concentration was lacking once against the death.
Dean Smith’s men started off brilliantly, with one of the best 25 minutes of football seen at Villa park this season. A deflected Anwar El Ghazi cross found its way in off Toby Alderweireld, and Villa had a deserved lead. Chances kept coming for Villa, and Luiz and Samatta failed to make it two.
These misses came back to bite the Villans, as Spurs responded with a sucker punch, from the scorer of Villa’s first, Alderweireld. Spurs’ pace on the break then started to tell, and they went in 2-1 ahead after Engels brought down Bergwijn in the box. Son stepped up, Reina saved, but a cruel bounce took the ball into Son’s path, who made no mistake at the second attempt.
The second half started much as the first ended, with Spurs hitting Villa on the break, and the Villans having attacks of their own. A corner for Villa allowed Engels to redeem himself, he jumped, the defenders didn’t, 2-2. The game looked as if it could go either way, and so Jose Mourinho stepped up the pressure.
Shots started to rain on the Villa goal, but the Spanish saviour Reina responded time after time. The seconds ticked down and it looked as if the point had been secured, for once they had stuck it out to the end. The ball has been pumped up the pitch by Spurs, all it takes is a hoof from Engels… oh wait he’s missed the ball, and it’s 3-2.
The most gut wrenching of ways to lose, a last-minute error, but it was to be expected considering how the players have switched off at other points this season. It even feels worse than losing to Liverpool, as a point now would be invaluable in escaping the drop.
The Southampton game now has even more riding on it.
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Pepe Reina – 8.5 (MOTM)
Pepe Reina did everything in his power to keep Villa in the game, particularly in the second half. He saved Son’s penalty, but was unfortunate with the rebound. The Spaniard made countless saves when the defence failed to cope with the pace on the counter attack, and should have been rewarded by guaranteeing a point. There was little extra he could do to stop Son’s winner; he shouldn’t have been put in that position to start with.
Frederic Guilbert – 6.5
Enthusiatic Frenchman Frederic Guilbert generally did a reasonable job at dealing with Bergwijn, down the Tottenham left. However, as to be expected from the right-back, he over committed himself a few times, allowing Spurs to exploit the gaps in the defence. He was less effective than Targett on the opposite side on the attack, but still provided plenty to worry about for Ben Davies.
Ezri Konsa – 6.5
Probably the best performer of the back three, Ezri Konsa did little wrong all game. He passed the ball pretty well, and pushed up into midfield to win the ball back and play passes. The 22-year-old was rarely rushed with the ball at his feet, and showed good recovery pace when Spurs got in behind.
Bjorn Engels – 5
Though he did do some good during the game, including scoring Villa’s equaliser, Bjorn Engels performance is marred by two huge errors. Errors of this type are what could be the difference between relegation and survival for the boys in claret and blue. At some point, errors generated by a lack of concentration have to be cut out, which is what everyone has been saying since the opening day.
Kortney Hause – 6
If football was just played with the head, Kortney Hause would be one of the best around. Unfortunately, he showed again that he is poor with the ball at his feet. Hause was dispossessed once, and gave the ball away with bad touches four times in the 90 minutes. Unbelievably he also attempted the joint most dribbles of anyone wearing claret and blue, including one tenacious, if a little clumsy, run down the left-hand side in the second half.
Matt Targett – 7.5
Matt Targett had a good game against Spurs’ quick attack, and the ever-marauding Serge Aurier. He made more tackles and interceptions than anyone else, and his partnership with Jack Grealish down the left is the most dangerous threat that Villa have in attack.
Douglas Luiz – 7
Another player who had a good game, Douglas Luiz passed the ball well, and has started to make more and more tackles. He joins the attack at the right times; however, he really should have put away the golden chance that he had shortly after the opener. Douglas has secured his place on the team sheet. The issue is finding someone to consistently perform next to him.
Danny Drinkwater – 6
Danny Drinkwater had a shaky start to the game, but as the minutes ticked by, he grew into it. The Chelsea loanee isn’t the most flamboyant midfielder to say the least, but his simple passing and tackling game have started to show. He looks like a useful player to have in the squad. The question is, will he be fully up to speed to have any real impact before the end of the season?
Anwar El Ghazi – 7
Aside from one near catastrophic cross-field pass in the first half, Anwar El Ghazi looked on top form. He beat Ben Davies for pace on multiple occasions, and this created the opening goal. When the Dutchman’s lacklustre tracking back aren’t relied upon, he is a great player to have in the team. He stays up the pitch meaning there is always an out ball for the defenders to play.
Ally Samatta – 7.5
Front-man Ally Samatta did everything but score. His link up play was really impressive, and his movement in the penalty area nearly allowed the Tanzanian to grab himself a goal. The 27-year-old has great awareness in and around the box, one move that sticks out is his chested lay-off to El Ghazi, who’s shot could’ve been better. Samatta seems well worth the money paid.
Jack Grealish © – 7.5
On another day, Jack Grealish could’ve walked away with a brace and a couple of assists to his name. Unfortunately, the Villa skipper’s judgement on whether to pass or shoot was off, and he wasted some good opportunities. That being said, whenever Grealish got the ball it felt like something was about to happen, and he was by far Villa’s largest threat. It’s no real surprise that super Jack had more key passes than any other Villa player.
Off the Bench
Marvelous Nakamba (59) – 6.5
Zimbabwe international Marvelous Nakamba added a little energy to the Villa midfield in the second half. He made some key tackles and one particularly big block late on. He passed the ball tidily and his effort was high as Villa fans have come to expect.
Trezeguet (69) – 5.5
Though the Villa were sitting back more and more as Trezeguet came on, the Egyptian did little to help Villa counter attack or to provide an out ball to release the pressure. Eight touches in more than 20 minutes says it all, he really struggled to make an impact.
Borja Baston (82) – N/A
Debutant Borja Baston didn’t really do anything in his last ten-minute cameo other than head the ball once to the opposition. He challenged his own team mates for the ball before the Spurs winner, but most of the blame is on Engels.
Dean Smith – 6.5
In terms of attacking play, Dean Smith got the Villa playing some really good stuff, particularly in the first half. Defensively there were far too many errors. It’s nice that Deano has a ‘we play to win’ philosophy, and that playing out from the back is a must. But with 30 seconds to go, surely punting the ball long can be excused. The apparent need to take the ball down and play it created the error. The games are running out and the Villa are clinging on by the skin of their teeth.