Dave Woodhall on Villa’s start to the season.
It’s safe to say that Villa losing isn’t exactly a surprise. After all, by my reckoning this was the 13th defeat in our last 14 league games. There was a lot of difference between this one and the others, though, not least that it was in a different division.
For a start, we can claim to be unlucky. After a poor first half the team got into the game more after the break and with a bit of luck and better refereeing could have had the game wrapped up before Pierluigi Gollini’s late error gave Wednesday the points.
There were also limited grounds for optimism. Nobody expects Villa to get back up to the Premier League with ease, and with the exception of the other relegated sides a trip to Hillsborough on the opening weekend was as difficult a start to the season as we could have imagined. Wednesday are the finished article when it comes to a promotion challenge; Villa have first of all got to find out what it’s like playing in the division. Maybe that’s why Gary Gardner and Nathan Baker were playing. The former was disappointing while the latter didn’t look too bad and managed to go the ninety minutes without sustaining serious injury, which is a novelty in itself.
The rest of the team were basically alright, which should be enough to beat most teams in this division although we still need much more flair for when we come up against against the better sides. Hopefully the returns of Jordan Amavi and Adama Traore will provide this, as will giving more game time to Jack Grealish and Andre Green, who is shaping up to be the best young attacking player I’ve seen come through the Villa youth system for a long while. We’ve had a few who have flattered to deceive, the Moore brothers being amongst the most prominent, but there’s something about Green that makes me think he could be the real thing.
I don’t claim any credit for this line, but even with an Italian in charge we can’t expect Rome to be built in a day. Roberto di Matteo knows what needs doing – Villa are badly short of width and a goal threat to accompany Ross McCormack, who threatened on his debut without getting on the end of any clear-cut chances. We also need a strong presence in midfield, which is where Aaron Tshibola could make a big difference.
Last week saw McCormack signed and the sales of Idrissa Gana/Gueye, Scott Sinclair and Ciaran Clark, the latter two for decent money and the first for what might prove a bargain fee if he can ever find some consistency. Clark’s departure was a strange one – on the one hand Newcastle are no great shakes so moving there is an odd decision but then again, they could surely have found better value for the £5 million they paid for a player who has never seemed good enough to hold down a place in a decent Premier League side and who a few weeks short of his 27th birthday isn’t likely to improve by much.
Sinclair has found another club who think they’ll be able to motivate him, and they will – they’ll get him to do the bare minimum to attract a move in two summers’ time, to another club who’ll think they’ll be able to get the best out of him. In a world where the money in football gets more mind-boggling every year there are a few players like that. Never mind honours, glory and trying to see how far you can push yourself, do just enough to keep the cash rolling in and pick up a signing-on fee every couple of years. You’ll earn a fortune without ever exerting yourself.
Back in the mundane world of attempting to be successful, Villa have got a great chance to put Sunday’s disappointment behind them over the next week and a bit. Home league games with Rotherham and Huddersfield (and I still find typing those words almost surreal) are the sort that have to be straightforward wins, and no excuses. Before them come Wednesday night’s trip to Luton in the League Cup. Normally this would be a low-key event but it’s vital to get a first competitive win of the season. Starts for Green and Grealish, a decent run-out for Rushian Hepburn-Murphy and debuts for a couple more signings in a convincing win would be nice.