Dave Woodhall on Villa’s weekend.
You’re nobody in the multi-national media world these days unless your website’s been hacked. Sony, Fox and now the Birmingham Press. That’s why this story is a few hours late, which also allows extra time for reflecting on a disappointing afternoon for Villa.
Local pride aside, the game at the Hawthorns was a mid-table match between two mid-table teams. It was scrappy, offered little in the way of excitement and would otherwise be forgotten as soon as the matchday traffic had died down. Yet again ‘frustrating’ was the best word to describe both the ninety minutes of play, and the whole situation Villa find themselves in. After two straight wins the team had begun to pull clear of the danger zone and another three points would have lifted them into the top half of the table, above Liverpool and Spurs. After Paul Lambert’s encouraging words about trying new things there was also the hope that Villa would have some form of attacking intent.
For twenty minutes they weren’t exactly Cruyff’s Holland but they were tidy enough to show promise for the rest of the game then came the moment that changed both the match and possibly the rest of the season. Kieron Richardson, deputising for Ashley Westwood, was sent off for they type of challenge that probably deserved a red but wouldn’t have been given at every ground, against every team. And so Villa promptly retreated into their shell, as we’ve seen so often.
I once compared Alex McLeish to boxer Audley Harrison; all the attacking intent is there at the start of the contest but the first setback saw his defence-first strategy automatically take over. Lambert seems to have the same instincts. For all the promise of that opening period, and for all that Albion were there for the taking, he waved his troops back and yet again the final result seemed inevitable.
Once they went a goal behind there was little Villa could do except in the final minutes when Albion started to hang on slightly more desperately than they had before. Christian Benteke had one of his worst games, Gabby Agbonlahor was typically ineffective. Usually a handful in derbies, Gabby should be dropped by now – he’s nowhere near good enough to be irreplaceable. Like the equally disappointing Charles N’Zogbia, he’s running out of excuses.
On the positive side, the Okore/Clark partnership continues to show promise and Carlos Sanchez improves with every game, which begs the question why Paul Lambert can be so good at buying in the mid-range end of the transfer market and so bad at moulding such individuals together into an effective team.
Next up are Manchester United, coming into form nicely, then on Boxing Day Villa are at Swansea after having won by my reckoning one in our last 13 games on 26th December.
We had the opportunity to give ourselves a relatively peaceful and relaxed Christmas with the chance of looking forward to 2015 with some guarded optimism. But that would never do, would it?