Between the lines

Dave Woodhall watches Villa’s unbeaten run end with a 3-1 defeat at home to Reading.

The Bank Holiday sun was shining down on Villa Park; there were even a couple of ice cream vans outside the ground. All it needed was the players to lay beach towels on the pitch and Steve Bruce to wear a knotted hanky on his head for the picture to be complete.

Last week’s draw with Burton ruined any outside hopes the Villa had of making the play-offs, and on Saturday the team soon ruined any hopes that we might see the recent good form carrying on until the end of the season, raising spirits and providing a bit of optimism to take us into the summer. Right from the kick-off Villa seemed to be going through the motions, as though there’s just a few more games to get out of the way as quickly and as painlessly as possible before the holidays can begin.

Reading are the sort of team that typify the Championship. They’re in the top six without ever looking anything more than workmanlike at best. They got hammered by Norwich last week and their defence wasn’t a lot better on Saturday. The difference was that Villa managed to miss all but one of the chances they were gifted, with Jonathan Kodjia having an off-day and the rest of the team continuing with their communal off-season.

When you equalise at home, you should be looking to go on and win. Then again, when you kick off there shouldn’t be much chance of conceding twenty seconds later, but Villa managed it at the start of the second half. Just when you think they’ve managed to come up with every possible calamity they manage to find another. Yet again Villa failed to make the most of the opposition’s errors while our own proved fatal. Jordan Amavi is one of the biggest enigmas of recent years – he has the talent to succeed at a higher level, yet he’s equally capable of some diabolical performances, while Leandro Bacuna is an honest enough trier but every mistake he makes seems to be a decisive one.

As for the rest of the team, somewhere there’s a spark, a key or something that’s capable of turning their individual performances up a notch. The ability is there but the desire that proves the difference between winners and also-rans is missing. We’ve seen the same thing way too often this season – Villa back off when they should be closing down, they coast when they should be racing.

I’ve said that Steve Bruce should be giving some of the younger players a chance but I now wonder if that would be the best approach. It would be great to see some promising youngsters start to flourish now the pressure’s off but at the same time we can’t afford to let the season fizzle out with a string of bad results that would put us back to square one. There always seems to be a lack of confidence at Villa Park. Whenever the team are doing well there’s invariably a feeling that the good times won’t last and when they’re struggling it’s a mammoth job to change the mindset of inevitable defeat. They have to put in some good performances for what remains of an awful season, if only to prevent that feeling of impending disaster from descending once more during the summer.