Villa started the New Year with a 2-2 draw with QPR. Dave Woodhall looked on.
The New Year began with a story that Tammy Abraham wants to end his loan at Villa Park in order to be able to play in the Premier League. Admittedly, the source of this ‘exclusive’ is a newspaper in name only, but we’re going to have another thirty days of this before we know for definite that the best goalscorer in the Championship will be ours until the end of the season.
And it didn’t take long for the crowd to realise how vital Abraham has become to the Villa’s chances of promotion. The team started off well enough, John McGinn hitting the bar and then providing the cross that Abraham headed home after twenty minutes. Then Villa seemed to revert to their January 2018 tactics after scoring, namely sitting back and holding on to the lead against opponents who seemed there for the taking. The goal QPR scored as half-time approached might have come from a shot that no keeper in the world would have had much chance of saving, but they should never have had the opportunity in the first place.
They broke through midfield far too easily for their second as well, scored twelve minutes after the start of the second half by the clock and after five of actual play. This at least woke Villa up and the introduction of Bolasie and El Ghazi livened both the crowd and the team’s performance. It was El Ghazi whose through ball laid on Abraham’s second of the game and Villa had a few chances to get a third, with Jonathan Kodjia’s inability to pass to a team-mate in a better position the chief reason why none of them went in.
Rangers did more than their fair share of time-wasting before and during the thirteen minutes of added time (who said you don’t get value for your money at the Villa? – Doug would have probably tried to get a few quid extra out of us as we left) but once more the main feeling at the final whistle was one of frustration that yet another chance to close the gap on the top six had been lost. If Villa fail to get into the play-offs we’ll surely look back at the holiday period as the fateful time. Five points from four games just isn’t good enough, particularly when with a bit more care it could have been twelve.
Still, New Year’s Day is a time for looking forward. Not only have we got to worry about players leaving, we can also speculate on new arrivals. Villa have already been linked with defenders and midfielders from across the Continent, which shows that not only does Dean Smith know where he wants to strengthen but he’s also not going to be blinkered in his targets. One of them, though, might not be as desperately required as first thought if Tommy Elphick can keep up the form he showed today. He might not have set the world on fire since arriving at the Villa, but had he been a new signing, then based on this showing I’d have been impressed – which shows the short-sightedness of letting him go out on loan in the first place.
We’ve now got a two week break from the league programme, with the FA Cup third round coming up at the weekend. What used to be the most romantic day of the season has long been devalued but it says a lot about the goodwill factor still in abundance at Villa Park, and the club’s sensible pricing structure, that a game between a Villa Representative XI and Swansea under-23s looks like attracting a gate approaching forty thousand. Clearly here’s still some magic of the cup, if you know where to look.