Out with the old

Dave Woodhall freezes at Villa Park.

What can you say about Villa’s goalless draw with Sunderland that hasn’t been said about Villa’s goalless efforts many, many times this season and throughout 2014? It wasn’t so much two steps forward, one step back as several steps sideways.

When almost the only talking point of a game is whether a player was rightly sent off you know it’s destined for last place on Match of the Day, and if there was still an Epilogue this game would probably have been on after that as well.

Fabian Delph was, indeed, dismissed for a crunching tackle of that sort that Paul Scholes made a career of. Maybe it was a harsh decision, and a few years ago it wouldn’t have warranted a booking, but these days are not those ones.

On that note I could also go down the usual route of the ills of modern football and point out that there’s something badly wrong when Villa and Sunderland, two clubs who could regularly pull in combined crowds of over 80,000 given a whiff of success, now see the top six as beyond their immediate ambitions. Looking around the league you can say the same about virtually every other club of similar size and potential.

Delph’s rush of blood to the head aside (and whether or not the tackle deserved a red card, being idiotic enough to do it in front of the ref certainly did), it was a frigid game on a freezing afternoon. Villa had a couple of chances to win, Jack Grealish and to a lesser extent Leandro Bacuna provided a flicker of hope, but the game had fizzled out long before the announcement that Carlos Sanchez had been nominated man of the match and an attendance in excess of thirty-five thousand announced. One day our descendants will look back in amazement that so many people would gather together in one place to such pointless sends.

Sanchez epitomises the frustration of present-time Villa. This is the most solid line-up we’ve seen since the days of Martin O’Neill, there’s signs of a team in there and as I say regularly to the point of boredom Sanchez again proved that more often than not the manager knows what he’s doing when he’s signing players. They look good on paper and they probably look even better in training but there’s a big problem when they step out onto the pitch. Whether through fear, uncertainty or just a lack of tactical acumen, their combined effort keeps its shape well but it’s short on flair to the point of invisibility. The current Villa squad is capable of much more than they’re showing.

Anyway, onto 2015, which starts against managerless (for the moment) Crystal Palace. If Villa are traditionally poor in the Christmas games they have a good record on New Year’s Day. There’s fate tempted with a vengeance.