Dave Woodhall on the curious case of Villa’s season so far.
Maybe we should take the team on a three hour journey next Friday night, book them in to a hotel, black out the coach windows on the way to the match and tell them we’re playing away. Or maybe we could knock down Villa Park, build four new stands and, er, tell the team it’s an away match. It might sound daft, but it can’t be any dafter than the malaise that appears to inflict the players as soon as they drive into the North Stand car park on matchday.
Villa’s away record is exemplary while at home we’ve veered from poor to appalling. The style of play is one factor in this but surely can’t tell the whole story. After all, the same players who (more or less) outplayed Arsenal, who themselves have won all their games since, then lost to Newcastle, who were beaten at home on Saturday by Hull.
While that was happening – or rather, thanks to TV, a couple of hours earlier – Villa were grinding out a 1-0 win at Norwich. It was the first time all year that we’d not conceded, and that was chiefly down to the heroics of Brad Guzan, who stopped a penalty then pulled off a Banks-v-Pele wonder save. The rest of the defence did alright as well, which is doubly cause for celebration because they’re going to have to do without Jores Okore for the rest of the season. Ron Vlaar and Ciaran Clark coped with the Norwich attack but how they’ll get on against anyone who looks like scoring is another matter entirely.
Another intriguing factor in Villa’s start to the season has been the inconsistency of just about everyone in the team. Nobody has been poor in every game, but few have played well throughout – and two of them are now injured. Surely, please God, Christian Benteke can’t be another long-term casualty. It defies all logic that a team can suffer so many serious injuries to key players, but I’ve been thinking that for three years and the run still hasn’t stopped.
At least we seem to have a replacement of sorts for Benteke in the shape of Libor Kozak, whose arrival three weeks ago was met with bemusement at why Paul Lambert had spent his limited funds on another striker and who had shown within 90 seconds of Benteke going off that the manager probably knew what he was doing after all.
Six points from five games, which is roughly as good as could have been expected and sets us up for yet another series of hard fixtures, beginning with Spurs in the League Cup on Tuesday. Andre Villa-Boas has got his excuses in early for this one by bemoaning Spurs’ fixture pile-up while Lambert has said he sees the league as his priority – which might be true but it’s still disappointing to hear him say so in public.
That’s followed by the visit of Manchester City, who will probably start the game as slight favourites bearing in mind their result on Sunday. Perhaps the team could get there early and baggsie the away dressing room.