Turning inconsistency into an artform

Dave Woodhall on Villa’s up and down week.

Two away games in a week. The first, against a team who haven’t lost at home, conceding just two goals in the process. You win, which puts you in good heart for the second, when your opponents have lost their last seven. Naturally you put in your worst performance of the season and deservedly get beaten.

On Wednesday night Villa went to Southampton, who’ve been doing well against what has so far been mostly poor opposition, and came away with a totally deserved three points after an outstanding display of scintillating football. Or something.

The modern obsession with statistics (Please stop it. This is football, not American rounders) showed that Villa hardly touched the ball but three times when they did, it ended up in the back of the net. Two of the goals were absolute classics as well, Gabby Agbonlahor skinning a defender on the sort of run he excels at, while Fabian Delph’s charge from midfield ended with a blistering 25 yard shot.

Villa’s approach to the game drew some criticism but they took the points so it was job done. Delph’s goal might prove particularly important – if he can add a few more to his all-round game there might still be a place for him in the England squad. The match showed how Villa have improved; had Gerard Houlier’s side conceded an equaliser right after the break they’d have gone on to lose in injury time. Alex McLeish’s side would have let in another midway through the second half then defended deeply for a 2-1 defeat while last season Villa would have lost 5-1.  On Wednesday night Southampton levelled twice but both time Villa scored again. That’s the sort of resilience that was also seen the previous Monday at the Hawthorns and should have continued.

Then came Sunday afternoon’s debacle on the banks of the Thames. Let’s be charitable and say that the Villa team, knowing how much the rest of us enjoy our trip to Craven Cottage, were doing their best to ensure Fulham stay up by donating the points. We could also say that Ron Vlaar was badly missed in a makeshift defence and that referee Mike Dean should have been awarded Fulham’s man of the match for awarding them a penalty more debatable than the one he turned down for Villa. But that wouldn’t be telling the story of a match where Villa were shapeless, unimaginative and as bad in defence as they were throughout 2012-13.

Villa have shown signs of progress this season but every forward step seems to be followed by one that takes them almost as far back. Christian Benteke’s poor form shows no sign of ending and there’s no regular source of goals from anywhere else. There are also several players who broke through last year and now they’re suffering from second season syndrome. The next few weeks will show whether Paul Lambert is capable of getting them back on track, but at least our next opponents are another anonymous mid-table outfit who only exist to make up the numbers against the Champions League qualifiers.