Dave Woodhall isn’t downheartened despite Villa’s failure to win on Saturday.
Some footballing myths are easily debunked by checking the facts. Villa, for example, are thought of as having a good record against Sunderland, yet before Saturday’s game at Villa Park we’d only beaten them once at home in the last six attempts, in that 6-1 demolition which hinted that Paul Lambert might have known what he was doing. Four of those games were draws, which means that another draw shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise.
Other myths, though, are harder to shake off. Villa’s injury record, for example. If points were awarded for missing players we’d have spent the past five years challenging for the title instead of struggling in the bottom half, and again, in the opening month of the season several key players were already out due to a mixture of injury and a sickness bug.
Adama Traore and Jack Grealish were particuarly notable absentees, and when Villa went a goal down early on the worst was definitely feared. However, two goals from Scott Sinclair, one a penalty and the other a tap-in after some sublime passing had ripped through the Sunderland defence, meant that at half-time the talk was of how many Villa should get in the second half.
And that, of course, was a big mistake because Sunderland started well, equalised after Villa conceded from yet another deflection and despite having a solid half-hour of pressure Villa couldn’t get a winner. I say half an hour, but they should have had a lot more time than that after a display of timewasting from Sunderland that went unpunished by the referee until the dying minutes, and even then there didn’t seem to be any extra allowance made.
However, and this says a lot about the spirit of optimism currently sweeping through Villa Park, despite dropping two points against a side who are sure to feature amongst the relegation candidates this season, there was little complaint at the end of the game. Villa had played well, there had been plenty of flair despite the casualties, and on another day four or five goals wouldn’t have been undeserved.
Sinclair got the headlines for his goals (five in five games is good enough, five in five days is a bit special) but I was particularly impressed by Idrisa Gueye, who showed that he could be an all-round midfielder of the highest quality, and once more Jordan Amavi gave a performance that heralded a star of the future.
There’s still a long way to go. On this showing Villa would lose more games than they win, but that’s not really the point. With so many players coming in over the summer, anyone who expected instant results was always going to be disappointed and this team shouldn’t be judged until the New Year at the earliest.
There are still gaps in the team to fill – when Alan Hutton is your calming influence in defence you know there’s at least one obvious vacancy – and a reliable goalscorer is needed with Rudy Gestede needing time to adjust to the Premier League and Jordan Ayew best described as erratic at the moment. Hopefully the next couple of days will be busy ones for Tim Sherwood and the club’s finance experts.
Ultimately though, the best thing to say about Saturday is that despite the result, I left Villa Park happy, and I wasn’t the only one. I’d seen a good game and I’d seen what could be the semblance of a plan for the future. Of course, it might turn out to be no more reliable that the Lambert blueprint for success, but there’s no harm in looking on the bright side.