Villa go down at home to Southampton with Dave Woodhall watching.
There’s been some talk that after the madness of the first few weeks, results in the Premier League have calmed down a bit. So it was down to the Villa to put that right with the ultimate game of almost two halves. The trouble was that ‘almost’ – the extra bit of time when Southampton were on top was the deciding factor in what was undoubtedly a pulsating game if you were a neutral but a Villa supporter wold have a different word, or several.
The first team change for what seemed an eternity came with Bertrand Traore starting ahead of Trezeguet and the summer signing promptly upheld Villa’s long tradition of new arrivals getting injured, going off after half an hour. By this time Villa were a goal down and before substitute Trezeguet had had time to make an impact the deficit had been doubled. Both goals were eminently preventable, as was the Southampton’s third, with the defence set up poorly for another free-kick.
There wasn’t much that could be done about the visitors’ fourth, but Villa at least showed some fight from then on. Tyrone Mings pulled a goal back with 28 minutes to go, Ollie Watkins got a penalty in stoppage time and Jack Grealish scored a third with seconds remaining. Another couple of minutes might have been interesting, but the game was over almost from the restart. Villa’s second successive defeat, and more worryingly seven goals conceded in that time.
I said last week that losing can be acceptable if lessons are learned, and sadly they didn’t seem to be. The team are looking shaky again at the back and midfield is being over-run. It’s fine to be gung-ho on occasions if you’re capable of outscoring the opposition, but it’s too easy to work out and nullify. Dean Smith will come in for criticism over his refusal to change the team round early enough, although while it’s frustrating to see him go back to old habits, the Traore injury limited his options – there wasn’t another game-changer available.
While Villa’s early season success was based on what seemed to be a top-class midfield, there isn’t enough steel in there when teams hit back. John McGinn has gone off the boil lately and I wonder whether bringing in Ross Barkley has upset the balance in the centre of the pitch – too much probing forward at the expense of leaving the team open to the counter. Maybe the return of Conor Hourihane or even Marvelous Nakamba might be the way forward.
Villa should, of course, be given credit for the way in which they fought back, and if you were judging the match by looking at the stats (which I always say don’t count for anything, but they’re some consolation this time) you’d think they were unlucky, that it was just one of those games. Trouble is, we’ve seen enough of those games over the years to realise that they soon become part of one of those seasons, and that’s something else we’ve had too many of.
Next Sunday Villa are at Arsenal. Two weeks ago I would have said that this is a great chance to get a win at a ground where last season’s problems began. Now, it’s going to be a lot harder. Having say that, though, the season continues to spring surprises and nothing is out of the question.