The no goal zone

Dave Woodhall manages to find something to discuss about Villa’s trip to Upton Park.

There was a time when the opposition failing to score against Villa was about as likely as David Sullivan and his entourage of porn brokers and self-appointed First Ladies of Football turning up at a club and not demanding to be given a new stadium. Now it happens all the time.

Saturday’s game at West Ham was the third in a row where Villa have kept the clean sheet that was once so elusive. It’s just as well, because in the last two of these we’ve hardly looked like scoring. Home and away it’s four matches without a goal and when Christian Benteke hit the bar with a free header with twenty minutes to go there was a realisation that the run wasn’t going to end at Upton Park. It was a mediocre game between two mediocre teams. You don’t expect any better from Sam Allardyce, but Paul Lambert supposedly has a different outlook.

I’ve no idea why Lambert has decided to abandon the adventurous (often reckless) approach that typified 2012-13 and which was starting to pay dividends as the season drew to an end. Maybe he wants to get early points on the board to prevent a repeat of the recent relegation struggles and once safety is assured he’ll sent the team out to play football again. Maybe he doesn’t want to risk the confidence-battering losses we suffered last winter. Whatever the reason, he will start to lose the goodwill he still largely retains from supporters if there are many more performances as sterile as this one and it strikes me that not scoring will drain the confidence from young, inexperienced players just as quickly as conceding would.

Injuries are undoubtedly a factor –there were at least four players missing who would have featured at some stage in this game and Benteke still isn’t the force he was prior to his time out. That really doesn’t excuse such a negative mindset, though, with five at the back and three defensive-minded midfielders. Ironically, when Villa did string a few passes together they had the opposition worried, as they did against Everton the previous week, but yet again the lack of invention in midfield was an obvious weakness. I’m glad that Villa’s defence is vastly improved, for which the manager deserves some credit, and that Ron Vlaar in particular is finally living up to the reputation he gained with Feyenoord. Nobody wants the sort of reckless displays that led to the heavy defeats of last December but there must be some form of happy medium between such defensive naivety and the ambition-free displays we’re starting to witness far too often. If there is a long-term plan in operation I can’t believe that it involves sending supporters to sleep on a regular basis.

Cardiff are up next at Villa Park and although they beat Swansea on Sunday they weren’t particularly convincing. If we play football we’ll beat them.