New manager, old result. Dave Woodhall at Villa Park.
So, who do you blame for that one?
No Lambert, no Cleverley, the other usual scapegoats missing and still the same old problems. Villa go into the lead, let in a stupid goal on the stroke of half-time then, when they look set for at least a consolation point, Ron Vlaar makes an even more stupid error to concede a penalty and get himself sent off. The team lose, drop to nineteenth and it’s now three points in ten games.
Anyone who thought that getting rid of Paul Lambert would see a miraculous recovery was proved hopelessly optimistic. Negativity and a lack of confidence are too deeply ingrained into the Villa Park psyche to change overnight; there was over fifty minutes of play between Stoke’s equaliser and the final whistle but at no point did it seem as though Villa were going to shrug off the setback of conceding a goal and get anything from the match.
If I’m going to clutch at straws I might say that letting in that late goal will shock some of the complacency out of the club and might jolt a few of the team into realising that they will have to fight over the next twelve league games if they’re going to remain top-flight players. But that would infer that they can be bothered to put up a fight, and I’m not sure that many of them can.
Christian Benteke, for example, is a shadow of the player he can be while Ron Vlaar is not exactly doing himself any favours if he wants a last big contract this summer, whether it be with Villa or from anywhere else. In between those two, the sight of Stephen Ireland bossing the centre of the pitch (another former player whose best Villa Park games have been for someone else) shows what our own midfield was like.
The situation is not irretrievable, although it is worrying. I still say that the current Villa squad could be nearer the top of the league than the bottom but there has to be a massive turnaround in attitude. Too many players are out of form or downright disinterested and the situation has to be sorted while the bottom of the table remains so tight.
Off the field, Villa CEO Tom Fox made his first public appearance last week, at the AGM of the Villa Supporters Trust. He spoke confidently of the desire to improve the club’s commercial and marketing performances, and of the work that’s being done to put in place a managerial set-up fit for the upper echelons of the Premier League (although he wouldn’t commit to paying all club staff the Living Wage – we may be part of a £5 billion TV deal but £7.55 an hour is too much to pay the staff).
All very well, but you have to be in the Premier League to be at the top of it, and I fear that Villa are gearing up so much for the long-term that they can’t see what’s happening under their collective nose.