Promises and pies

Dave Woodhall gets into pre-season training watching Villa at Kidderminster.

A few minor niggles have irritated me over the past few days. First there was Villa’s ticket selling operation closing down for almost a week while they transferred over to a new ‘partner’. Fair enough if it’s going to provide a better service, but they’ve had two months since the end of last season to do it so why they waited until tickets are on sale for pre-season matches and the first fixtures of the league programme beats me.

One of those pre-seasons was on Wednesday night at Kidderminster. It cost £12 to get in, which was £2 more than their previous friendly against Derby. Not much, but it smacks of opportunism to take advantage of the expected large Villa support – although we should be used to that by now.

The hat-trick of annoyance was learning that John Terry was at Wimbledon when he should have been with the squad, in the stand if not on the pitch. One of the biggest doubts surrounding his move concern Terry’s commitment to the Villa and while I still don’t think we have any doubts on that score, the sight of him watching tennis instead of his new team-mates won’t win over any of the sceptics.

If I was so inclined I’d also probably have been annoyed that the first two pre-seasons took place at the same time. Last year we had Telford and Worcester City, but with three hours between the two kick-offs, so those keen/sad enough to make the journey could watch both. This time it was a choice of the two; Kiddy is easier to get to and their pies are world-famous so it was an easy enough decision.

With the first team squad (or at least most of it) more or less split equally between the two games the most interesting aspect was the choice of Ross McCormack and Scott Hogan up front at Aggborough -presumably with Steve Bruce wanting to see how they will work together, at least until Jonathan Kodjia is fully fit. It’s difficult to judge at this stage, but McCormack certainly needs to sharpen his finishing as he could have got a hat-trick against a Kidderminster side with three of the Trialist family in their starting line-up and a few more on the bench.

As for the rest of the team, Alan Hutton was his usual whole-hearted self, launching into crunching tackles and going on runs that invariably ended with the ball out of play or failing to best the first defender. His cult hero status grows with every passing game; it’s a pity his distribution ability doesn’t. The rest of the defence seemed hesitant although this could be because they’d not played together before.

Aaron Tshibola did what he always does. He wins the ball, plays it simple and with the right midfielders round him he could still be a real asset to the team. Conor Hourihane had some nice touches and it was good to see Bjorn Bjarnason back.

Then there was Micah Richards. I don’t like to single players out for criticism, but if Richards wasn’t suffering from a niggling injury throughout the hour he was he was on the pitch serious questions need to be asked about his fitness levels. He looked out of condition, his positioning was awkward and how a player with his experience can look so bad against level six opposition defied belief.

Hourihane and James Chester scored in the first half, substitute Harry McKirdy got a late third. Results and to a lesser extent performances aren’t as important at this stage as improving fitness levels and trying out new ideas.

The team at Telford won 4-0; by all accounts Jordan Veretout looked impressive and Nathan Baker was injured, unsurprisingly. Both games were also good flag-waving exercises in places where Villa need to make their presence felt until such a time as the Premier League is back in town. It was a useful evening for players and supporters alike.