Dave Woodhall watches Villa lose their way on the other side of the Thames.
Villa are a bit like a London cab driver; they don’t like going sahf o’ the rivva. In recent memory an assortment of Villa sides have struggled to win at Wimbledon, not done brilliantly at Charlton and lost every game at Millwall. All those clubs have thankfully vanished from the Premier League but in their place have arrived the unlovely Crystal Palace to annoy and frustrate.
Not always. Villa somehow managed to win at Selhurst last season in the same way Blues got a string of wins against us in the seventies – kick off, defend for 89 minutes and score with your second kick of the game. That was never going to happen again, so a routine defeat on Saturday afternoon was no great surprise.
Villa started the game well, and if only they’d been able to score during a bright first half they could well have got that elusive south London win. Unfortunately the best chace fell to Gabby Agbonlahor, and whatever he might be these days, a ruthless predator in front of goal he ain’t.
I like Gabby – he’s one of us, his loyalty during his good and our bad times is unquestioned and he’s always been a big game player. The trouble is, it’s hard to see what he brings to the party now. He’s not, and rarely has been, a regular goalscorer. He’s not brilliant in the air or at holding up the ball so you can’t see him being an ace provider, and he isn’t a winger either.
That apart, Villa could have been pleased with their first half performance, against a side who look easily capable of a comfortable top half position. The trouble came during the break, when Alan Pardew rallied his troops, or rather re-shuffled them, to greater effect than did Tim Sherwood. Palace were well on top after the restart and their opening goal seemed inevitable as Villa tired in the sweltering heat.
Ironically, the goal came a couple of minutes after the arrival of Adama Traore, to the excitement of a Villa following who wanted to see if the hype could be lived up to. It would be wrong to say on such limited evidence that Traore is the future of fooball, but he certainly did enough to show that he’s more than, in the words of Tim Sherwood “not one for this season”. His cross led to Villa’s equaliser, he looked lively throughout his cameo appearance and he should have left the pitch if not a winner, then certainly not a loser.
Unfortunately Jordan Amavi chose the wrong moment to make his first Villa mistake and, with help already given by Brad Guzan, what could have been three points turned into none.
One win from the opening three games is about par for the course, but it could have been more. At least the problems are obvious, which means that in theory at least they should be easier to fix. A goalscorer, maybe a keeper and at least one new defender (would anyone be in the slightest bit surprised if Villa re-signed Ron Vlaar when he’s fit again?) would improve Villa’s prospects no end. The problem is finding them, but that’s what the management are paid for.
Coming up in the next seven days are Notts County, who look like being this season’s candidates for “Shame to see them go out of the league – whatever went wrong?” in the League Cup, then one of the teams who have genuine reason to fear playing the Villa, namely Sunderland. They should be two straightforward wins. Those shouldn’t be famous last words.