Dave Woodhall endured a cold and damp Villa Park as Villa drew 2-2 with Stoke.
Off the top of your head can you remember the last time Villa beat Stoke at home? I had to look it up, but it was in 2009-10, Martin O’Neill’s final season, when Villa won 1-0 with a goal from John Carew. It was our fourth win in a row and took us to within two points of league leaders Manchester United. Times have changed a bit since then, for all three clubs, but when you’re playing Stoke nothing is that much different.
The weather was a portent of things to come. It was cold, wet, dark and as Dean Smith said afterwards, “It cancelled out our home advantage – that’s a summer’s day in Stoke.” Which is another reason to love him. Taking into consideration the weather and the pre-Christmas ‘festivities’ a crowd of 36,999 was highly commendable – and where were you, the one who stayed at home instead of freezing like the rest of us?
First half, and Villa naturally missed Jack Grealish as we were much less fluid than in recent weeks. Any side in the league would miss a player like Grealish, but it was soon obvious that there were a couple more off-days taking place and the half petered out with Villa having the edge but without anything tangible to show for it. Still, this is the new Villa and “nothing happening” isn’t a state of affairs that lasts for very long.
Less than two minutes, in fact, because no sooner had the second half kicked off than Villa were kicking off again. A bad touch from Alan Hutton, a failure to pick up players running into the box and Villa’s chief failings were shown up once more.
Still, this is the new Villa so you know that if we let a goal in we’ll go up and score at least one. Jonathan Kodjia comes on for the ineffective Anwar El Ghazi, he wins a penalty that Tammy Abraham converts and then gets on the end of a cross from Yannick Bolasie, another player who’d had an off-day but who can always be capable of a bit of match-winning magic even on an afternoon when nothing else goes right for him.
Unfortunately, between those two Villa goals Ahmed Elmohamady gave away a needless penalty so we ended up with a point rather than the three needed to start closing the gap on the top two. Previous managers would have shrugged this performance off as one of those days, and most of them would have lost. The fates combined to give us as miserable an afternoon as any in recent memory but on the way out there was still an air of positivity, a belief that we’re still on the right track and that the manager won’t put up with this sort of display very often without heads rolling.
Looking on the bright side, Villa played badly and still didn’t lose against a team who are themselves hitting a good run of form after taking a while to get used to the Champion ship. Next up is Leeds at home, and although there has to be a big improvement if we’re going to get anything from that one, recent evidence has proved that the team are capable of playing much better. Maybe it was just one of those days.
And if you want more evidence of the bogey team-inducing powers of Stoke City over the years, before that Carew-inspired victory nine years ago, Villa’s previous home win against Stoke was in 1985, when we won 2-0. One of the goalscorers was Didier Six and the attendance, according to the only report I can find online, was 10,874.