Aston Villa and the marginal improvement

Villa draw 1-1 at Newcastle and Dave Woodhall comments.

One thing I have noticed about football over the years is that when the bookies have got both teams at odds-against, the likely outcome is a draw. Another thing that stuck out about Wednesday night’s game was that for some unknown reason Newcastle were ludicrously well priced to beat the Villa. Not that I’d dream of such a thing, but it did strike me that there was something wrong there, given that they’d won their last match three-nil and we were still Aston Villa. You rarely meet a poor bookie.

Dean Smith made a few changes in personnel but stuck to the tired and failed 4-3-3 formation that had been found wanting either side of the lockdown break. Exactly how he intended to make a big differnce from the performance against Chelsea is one of life’s great imponderables, but in their defence the team were much improved and had most of the first half against a Newcastle side who are one of a number in the league with little to play for.

Villa had a few chances, the best falling to Trzeguet and Samatta, but it was still nil-nil at the break and naturally doubts were beginning to creep in. These were the sort of doubts that loomed large on the hour mark when another bit of defensive slackness put the home side into the lead. That’s usually the sign for Villa to concede again, but with Steve Bruce the opposing manager you can usually rely on a bit of sitting back on a one-goal lead.

Villa took advantage, substitutions made a difference for a change, and the team finally started to look capable of creating something. With seven minutes to go Ahmed Elmohamady’s header squirmed over the line from a corner, and as the game went into its final stages we were looking for a winner rather than settling for what we had. The biggest plus point of the game is that Douglas Luiz continues to show his potential, although John McGinn is clearly not match-fit and Jack Grealish is struggling to impose himself. And there was none of that nonsense about banners and celebrating them going down years ago, either. That’s one good thing to say about no spectators.

Still, a point at a ground where we tend to lose is probably as much as could have been expected, and if the effort shown in the later stages can be carried forward into the next run of fixtures, survival is still possible. Unlikely as it may seem, Villa have made up ground since the restart and there’s just one point seperating four sides. One win, or one heavy defeat, for any of the strugglers and the table could look entirely different. Wolves on Saturday will be difficult opponents but a bit more of that last ten minutes at St James’ Park attitude and anything’s possible.