Villa head into the new season with a familiar-looking run of injuries. Dave Woodhall watches the latest addition.
The final pre-season game told us nothing that we didn’t know already. Villa looked good in the early stages against Watford but the invention soon faded and, a missed penalty from Henri Lansbury aside, the rest of the game was as low-key as the occasion. Allowing for visiting supporters around ten thousand of us turned up to pay tribute to Graham Taylor. The attendance may have been lower than the great man deserved but there were a few extenuating circumstances such as the timing of the game in the peak holiday weeks and problems with Villa Park’s ticketing operations which limited sales in the days leading up to the game.
Watford’s attitude also came across as churlish – when the game was originally announced they said it would be for the Graham Taylor trophy, which they then said would be competed for every time they played one of his former sides, so whatever happened they’d keep it. Then when the venue was switched they said it as an ordinary friendly for them, their memorial day and trophy match taking place next Saturday. At the risk of sounding disrespectful, it strikes me that Watford seem to want to keep Sir Graham’s memory to themselves.
That apart, there were a few positives from the afternoon. Villa’s defence is as solid as ever, Ahmed Elmohamady and Andre Green looked promising and best of all, Glenn Whelan seems to be an absolute bargain. You might not be able to totally judge a player from such scant evidence, but this was the first time in years that a Villa midfielder has patrolled the turf with such assurance. If he can keep injury-free, and if his legs are up to the task, Whelan could prove the signing of the summer.
The negatives were, as usual, a lack of goals and, not unsurprisingly, another injury, with Jack Grealish going off after what looked a minor clash but proved to have a dangerous outcome. Villa seem to have cornered the market in unusual casualty occurrences and this was one more. I’ve never known a player suffer kidney damage on the pitch before; it would almost be funny if the consequences hadn’t turned out to be so serious. Two or three months is the initial estimate, and while Grealish was a disappointment for much of last season, we can’t afford to lose such a talent without replacing him, even if only with a loan signing.
The coming season is arguably more important than the previous one. We could just about afford to stay down then as part of the recovery process, but every year that goes by sees the Premier League clubs get richer and consequently it will be harder for a club that gets promoted to make much of an impact. Villa have got to hit the ground running, starting with Saturday’s game at home to Hull City. A poor start did for our promotion chances last season and a repeat simply can’t be tolerated.