Bruised, battered but definitely unbowed

Dave Woodhall looks at Villa’s week and the damage incurred.

It must be written into every Villa manager’s contract that at some stage in the season he must be faced with an injury list that makes Bodymoor look like the closing shots of a B Western, with a handful of dazed survivors surrounded by the dead and wounded.

The last week has given Steve Bruce’s patched-up army the stiffest test of the current mini-revival and although the team’s unbeaten run ended in familiar fashion, there were still a couple more signs of progress.

Losing to Huddersfield was no great disgrace – they’re definitely the surprise package of the season and would have caused even a full-strength Villa team problems. Yet again we started well, matched the home side for most of the game but a daft defensive error, this time caused by slack marking at a corner, cost us a goal and yet again once Villa went behind they never lookeed like getting back into the match.

Then it was on to a date at Villa Park with Sheffield Wednesday, another team in the play-off places although there’s less surprise that they’re up there. Villa didn’t wait until kick-off for the day’s first injury, Henri Lansbury going down during the warm-up, and on the subject of Tales of the Unexpected, the only eye-raising aspect of Nathan Baker having to be replaced during the first half was that he’s had such a long (for him) run of games without incident.

The manager then threw in a surprise of his own, with Mile Jedinak dropping into defence and a formation change to Bruce’s preferred 4-4-2. it worked almost imemdiately, with Jonathan Kodjia finishing off another surprise move, namely Villa scoring from a well-worked set-piece.

Of course, as we’re a big club playing at home we got the better of the debatable refereeing decision, with a Wednesday penalty appeal turned down, while a two-footed assault on Conor Hourihane at the start of the second half saw the visitors down to ten men and their manager Carlos Carvalhal banished to the stands, for arguing with the officials as well as crimes against fashion after sporting a very bad fake fur collar.

Villa were in control from then on. A couple of chances were missed before Kodjia rounded the keeper to finish off a smart bit of teamwork and make sure of the points. That’s twelve out of fifteen and one goal conceded. Kodjia naturally got the headlines but credit also for Alan Hutton, who has been turning in some competent performances of late and Sam Johnstone, getting steadier with every game.

A comfortable win against a side who will be pushing for the play-offs at the end of the season was the best result for a long while and also highlights the frustration that has surrounded Villa Park lately. I know it’s ifs and buts, but during the post-Christmas slump Villa could still point to three or four games where they started well only to fade into defeat. Early goals, or even a tighter defence, in those games might have made a big difference to the results and also to the importance of the rest of the season.

But what happened, happened and what’s left is to learn from past mistakes and plan for the future. Villa have a run of winnable games starting with a visit to Wigan on Saturday and a steady climb up the league will play a massive part in deciding what the playing strength will look like in August.