Dave Woodhall on Villa’s defeat at Everton and an equally disappointing end to the transfer window.
There was an ominous sense of déjà vu over the Villa at the weekend. Two good results were bound to be followed by a depressing third and so it proved at Goodison Park. Everton and Villa share much history but they’re well ahead at the moment – testament to what stability and the right sort of investment at the right time can bring.
Despite pleading poverty for most of David Moyes’ time at the club, they always seemed to come up with the money for the right player. That’s the main reason why Roberto Martinez could take over from Moyes and with minimal adjustment continue his predecessor’s achievement in keeping Everton in the best of the rest position that Villa have spent so long attaining and which, to be realistic, is currently the height of both clubs’ ambitions. That the two clubs who have spent longest in the top flight have got no chance of winning it again barring a miracle or the best part of a billion pounds should be of concern to the game’s hierarchy but I doubt many of them are aware of the fact.
After an exciting couple of games it was doubly disappointing to see Villa line up with three central defenders, with all that entails for the team’s tactics over the next 90 minutes. It was no surprise to see the team once more treat the ball as though it harboured some contagious disease, although going a goal up ten minutes before half-time through Leandro Bacuna did come as a shock.
Any idea that this might lead to a classic smash’n’grab away performance with skilled counter-attacking decimating the injury-hit Everton side soon vanished and Villa seemed content to spend the rest of the game in their own penalty area. Two inevitables happened – Everton equalised and Ron Vlaar went off injured. Then with five minutes to go the home side won a freekick from which they scored the winner. It might sound unlucky on paper but Villa got what they deserved from a game they could have won, at a ground where they hadn’t previously lost in years.
There was talk that Wednesday’s dramatics had taken their toll on the players’ fitness. Maybe, but if better substitutes had been available they might have been able to either save or change the game. Which brings us on to the lack of activity in the last week of the transfer window.
It was obvious that Villa needed a couple of players. With one central defender out with a long-term injury and another whose fitness is unreliable at best, experienced back-up was a must. Equally, we’ve been crying out for a midfield playmaker for years. Wes Hoolahan was supposedly the target and although there were regular assurances that others were on the horizon, once Norwich decided he was theirs and he was staying, nobody else was ever mentioned. It was a throwback to the days when Villa managers chased one player endlessly (Benni McCarthy, anyone?) and once he was out of reach they had no back-up.
It also leaves us with a final third of the season where Villa’s tactics have been worked out time and again, yet the manager still insists on using them. Last season Villa bought the unknown Yacouba Sylla in January when experience was needed, although in fairness the player did well during the run-in. The situation now is nowhere near as bad as it was twelve months ago but it does beg the question of just why whatever dangers may lie ahead in the next 14 matches weren’t minimised.
The first of these is next Saturday against West Ham. If we aren’t best of the rest anymore perhaps we can make sure we’re the best in claret and blue.