On your marks, get set…

Dave Woodhall looks forward to a potentially busy week at Villa Park.

Someone once told me that the best way to look at pre-season friendlies is to judge them by the half-time score, before the substitutions started. By this token Villa’s 3-1 home defeat to Middlesbrough can be seen in a better light – the team were a goal up at the break and not too looking bad. Then came the start of the second half and with it the inevitable mistake that led to a goal, which led to an inevitable second goal,and so on.

If you wanted to use my first-half adage it was an encouraging display, provided you ignored the minor fact that Villa had made just one change at half-time. In fact Robert di Matteo brought on just two substitutes throughout the match, which might give a clue that he’s already decided what his starting line-up will be when the real thing begins next weekend. And if it’s anything like the team that started on Saturday, getting out of this division might not be as easy as we’d like.

Players such as Leandro Bacuna and Ashley Westwood might yet prove to be good enough at this level, but the signs so far aren’t promising. Villa aren’t showing much invention and the hope that defence is now more organised was shown up by the ease in which Middlesbrough piled on the pressure in the later stages of the game.

If there is one hopeful spot in what’s been a mixed batch of pre-season results, it’s that last season’s problems are still glaringly present and the main priority in August has to be plugging them. It doesn’t have to be done in a hurry – the Championship is traditionally a tight division and the right player is worth waiting for, as a couple of wins can see a side going from struggling to the promotion spots in no time. There’s no need to panic just yet, even if a few signs that money is available would be good to see.

Most importantly the team still has a defeatist attitude which shows itself at the slightest setback. To see heads dropping when the opposition equalise in a friendly is to wonder what the big mental problem is. New manager, new owner, but still the same attitude. There needs to be a wholesale clearout but in football as in every other business you can only sell if there’s a buyer and, attractive as it might sound, di Matteo can’t exactly leave a job lot of unwanted players out on the pavement on Trinity Road and hope someone takes them away.

So, what does the upcoming week hold prior to the trip to Sheffield? Idrissa Gana may or may not be off to Everton and Tony Xia has hinted that he won’t be the only one leaving. The good doctor has said a few more things via his Twitter feed, and if you can make any sense of them then congratulations. There are few certainties in life, but one thing you can bet is that if Xia remains on social media for much longer it’ll all end in tears.

And so, with as much fanfare as we can muster, the league programme opens on Sunday. 4,500 Villa supporters will be headed to Hillsborough, even at Wednesday’s exortionate prices, for a game that’s on TV. It’ll be our biggest away following in the league for years. It promises to be a memorable occasion and this time the revolution will be televised.