A swing to the right

Dave Woodhall talks about Villa’s 1-1 draw at Bristol City and their latest transfer deals.

It’s been a few years since someone told me that for one season Sky paid Stoke to not be live on TV. Apparently their Tony Pulis-inspired football was so off-putting to the viewers that Sky paid them the amount they were due under the terms of their Premier League’s contract with the TV company but didn’t show as many of their games as they had to.

I like to think it’s a true story, and I also like to think that the Villa might be the recipients of such largesse one day. After all, we’re hardly a great advertisement for the finer points of football and our record in televised games is even worse than our record for ordinary kick-offs.I’ve no idea why the weekend’s game against fellow mid-table mediocrities Bristol City was shifted to Friday night. It certainly wasn’t for the prospect of a feast of entertaining football.

After a couple of games where Villa seemed to have finally realised that the opposition half of the pitch isn’t necessarily landmined, Steve Bruce employed a three-man central defensive unit at Ashton Gate. I used to like this formation – more than twenty years ago, when we had defenders of the quality of Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu, plus Gary Charles and Alan Wright as attack-minded wing-backs. The players Bruce has at his disposal are hardly the same level.

At least the manager changed the formation around when he realised it wasn’t working, although it didn’t make a great deal of difference to the end product. Villa lacked penetration in the danger zone and there’s no-one in the team who seems capable of conjuring a goal out of nothing. Then on the hour a needless foul was given away by John Terry and Villa’s old failing of an inability to clear their lines proved costly.

That should have been it, game over, because the Villa never come back from a goal down. But, and this is the thing that gives me a glimmer of hope from the game, almost without realising, that aspect of the team has changed. We let in four goals in last week’s three matches. After each one we scored within a few minutes and this latest one, Josh Onomah’s first for the Villa, might have taken a deflection but it’d about time we had that sort of luck going our way.

Scott Hogan came on and didn’t get much opportunity to win the game, John Terry was involved in a couple of appeals for handball at the other end but the home team didn’t seem to realise that John Terry does not concede penalties. The Premier League’s edict is still valid at a lower level. Sad to say, at the moment that’s about the only benefit that’s come from Terry, because while I don’t think he’s been as poor as some say. neither has he had the galvanising effect I’d hoped for. Then again, it’s always good to see a Villa player booed by the opposition’s supporters. I love it when we’re unpopular – all the best teams are.

Whether Villa will end the season as one of the best teams in the Championship is still up for debate, as is whether a draw at Bristol City is a point gained or two dropped. The old adage of win at home and draw away still holds good but only if you win all your home games, and Villa Park has rarely been the fortress we like to think it is, even back to the days of Ron Saunders.

To get back on track we have to regroup after the international break and win our next two games, both of them at home, against Brentford and Middlesbrough. We’ll be bolstered by Friday’s loan signing of Robert Snodgrass, another wide/attacking midfielder to join what seems at first glance the most unbalanced squad in the league. I’m sure Steve Bruce knows what he’s doing, or at least what he wants to do, but I’ll be a bit more convinced if he uses the last few days of the transfer window to bring in a defender or two.