Swanning off

Dave Woodhall on Villa’s perennial lack of Christmas cheer.

I blame St Stephen. If he hadn’t been in such a rush to get himself martyred there wouldn’t be a Boxing Day and Villa wouldn’t have to play on it. King Wenceslas has got a bit to answer for as well.

The reason for this lesson in early Christianity is that Villa’s record on 26th December over the past fifteen years reads played 14, won one, drawn four and lost nine. We’ve scored fourteen (eight of them in two games) and conceded 23. It didn’t exactly bode well for a visit to Swansea, who themselves are in the sort of just-above-mid-table place Villa should be aiming for this season.

Villa didn’t look like improving on that record in the first half and were probably lucky to only be a goal down. The second half saw some improvement in both the weather and the team’s performance but the final ball still wasn’t there. There were few chances in the game; Swansea took their best one while Villa’s fell to Christian Benteke in stoppage time and was saved. Without stating the obvious, that’s the difference between winning and losing.

Another defeat to add to a dismal Boxing Day record and a managerial one that isn’t much better. However, the eternal optimists would find grounds for some post-Christmas cheer from the team’s performance, particularly in the second half. Swansea have got to their current position by virtue of sticking to an agreed plan that runs consistently throughout the club, regardless of personnel. Villa are starting to come out of a lengthy period where ‘winging it’ was probably being generous.

A few weeks ago there seemed no hope for this team; now you can see where the improvements need to be made and with the transfer window about to open a couple of signings could make a big difference.

We’ve got some winnable games coming up, the one thing to be said about Paul Lambert is that his mid-price buys are usually decent (that’s mid-price by the insane standards of the Premier League, not by Villa standards) and astute purchases now could see safety achieved without too much trouble and a platform to build on. It’s not a perfect situation but it’s an improvement, and so is the standard of Villa’s recent football.

Whether these are green shoots of recovery or just straws to clutch at remains to be seen.