Dave Woodhall watches Villa’s 1-1 draw with Preston North End.
There was a respectable crowd of almost thirty-one thousand at Villa Park on Tuesday night, no doubt boosted by the latest ticketing initiative, where season ticket holders were able to bring a friend for a tenner. It would be an all-too-predictable jibe to say that a few friendships would have been strained to breaking point by being dragged along to watch the latest instalment in Villa’s attempts to avoid promotion. So I may as well say it.
There was just one change from the last game, which is admirable consistency if you’ve won seven in a row, not so much if that last game was the worst performance of the year. The result was as predictable as, well, the result. Villa started with little imagination and never really improved. Yes, the injuries to key players were still a problem but that was no excuse for such a tentative approach. Maybe at Fulham, away to an in-form team, but there’s no excuse at Villa Park, against the sort of opposition we should be beating as a matter of routine, injuries or none.
No-one wanted to push forward, there was nothing to get excited about. You could say that John Terry’s lack of a number on his shirt for most of the first half made him anonymous, but that didn’t explain the anonymity of those around him. In fact, a couple of Terry’s passes were the best we saw during the first half.
It really was turning into an imminently forgettable match until Preston’s goal. The defensive failings that were unable to get the ball cleared didn’t help, but unfortunately the blame has to be laid at Sam Johnstone, for the second game in succession. When the ball’s high in the six yard box it should be the keeper’s and he should be clattering anyone in his way – team-mate, opponent or referee.
The introduction of Keinan Davies and especially Lewis Grabban at half-time saw a more positive approach from Villa but there were still precious few opportunities until the penalty that was debatable to say the least, but then again I didn’t think the corner that led to Preston’s goal should have been given. Credit to Grabbon for ignoring the histrionics from the Preston team before stepping up to coolly score his first for the Villa.
We had chances after that, but not enough. You can score either from bombarding the opposition goal until the law of averages kicks in, or you can rely on a moment of individual brilliance. We didn’t do enough of the first and there was no-one on the pitch, with the possible exception of Robert Snodgrass until he went off suffering from illness, capable of the latter. Villa’s approach was summed up when on at least two occasions they went forward into the final third of the pitch with no-one wide of the penalty area.
And now it’s time to clutch at straws. Last Wednesday I noticed that it was a year to the day since the debacle at home to Barnsley that I said at the time was arguably the lowest point in our history. The following week saw the start of a seven wins from eight games run that would come in very handy if it was repeated.