Although Villa lost 2-1 at home to Bournemouth, Dave Woodhall remains optimistic.
Pardon me while I repeat the theory I was once told that comes in handy whenever the season starts off like this one, namely that for the first couple of games the result isn’t as important as the performance. It’s a handy straw to clutch when you’ve lost both while not playing particularly badly, at least not for most of both matches.
Villa Park on Saturday afternoon lived up to its undoubted reputation as the finest venue in world football. The ground was looking smart after a summer spruce-up, the weather was good and the sell-out crowd in fine voice. All was well in the world and as kick-off approached everyone was anticipating a memorable afternoon.
Forty-five seconds later we were anticipating another kick-off. Barely ten minutes after that brains were being racked for another three clubs that might be worse than us. Villa were poor in the first half, there’s no denying the fact, and could have conceded more than two. it wasn’t the best of starts and none of the team deserved anything other than the half-time onslaught Dean Smith undoubtedly handed out.
Whatever might have been said had the desired effect because there was a vast improvement after the break. Douglas Luiz made up for his error that led to the second Bournemouth goal with the latest addition to the catalogue of memorable long-range strikes from recent Villa midfielders, but every other chance that came Villa’s way was either saved or flew the wrong side of the post.
Of course, two straight losses isn’t good, but at this stage it’s still only cause for mild concern rather than worry. The boss seems to be taking a long-term view, gradually integrating the new signings instead of making wholesale changes, and we’ll see what the next couple of games brings in the way of opening line-ups. Certainly, Frederic Guilbert and Marvelous Nakamba need to be making at least the matchday squad soon if serious questions aren’t going to start being asked.
Looking at the positives, Luiz overcame his poor start to seem as though he could be the dominant central midfielder we’ve missed for years at this level, while Jack Grealish got further forward during the later stages of the game and looked all the better for it. Trézéguet yet again showed that once he’s up to the intensity of the Premier League he could be a right handful, the Mings/Engel partnership continued to flourish and Wesley continues to be infuriatingly either a star in waiting or the next Bosko Balaban.
I still say that at this stage defeats are (almost) acceptable provided lessons are learned, and the biggest one to come from this game is that the players can’t get away with individual errors. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the line-up and Dean’s tactics, you can never legislate for a normally-reliable keeper suffering a rush of blood in the first minute, nor the sort of good fortune that Bournemouth enjoyed for their second. Neither should you expect a referee so incompetent as to allow the opposition to substitute a player who should by rights have been sent off at least ten minutes earlier.
At the end of the match I had a horrible flashback to 2015-16, the amount of players brought into the club during the summer and the belief that with such wholesale changes it would take time to settle them all in, so early season results, like now, might not have been much reason to worry. Back then the team were booed onto the pitch. This time they were applauded from it. That’s the difference.