Villa on a long and winding road

Dave Woodhall reports as Villa go down 2-1 at Norwich.

Part two of the Dean Smith revolution took us to the wilds of East Anglia and another significant test of the new manager’s credentials. Getting a result at a packed Villa Park on a pleasant Saturday afternoon is one thing; doing it on a Tuesday night away to a side already in the top six promised to be a more difficult prospect altogether.

I’ve always said that there’s not much wrong with the players brought in by Steve Bruce, just with the way he used them and a starting line-up with just one enforced change from the team that won three days earlier promised to give a good indication of how much depth there is to a squad that’s still the most expensive in the league.

Villa started brightly and were worth the lead that came when James Chester headed home from a Conor Hourihane corner. It could have been more, with several chances missed, the closest seeing Tammy Abraham hitting the post, but as half-time loomed the home side were starting to get their game together. Then came the few minutes that decided the match, Albert Adomah and Tammy Abraham going off injured and Norwich equalising within seconds.

Villa were noticeably rattled and it was no great shock when they went behind from yet another defensive error. I can well imagine John Terry’s reaction to that, both after the match and at Bodymoor during the rest of the week.

And that was it. Villa dropped into the bottom half of the table, but still well in contention. It would be harsh to draw too many conclusions from the evening’s performance given the substitutions Dean Smith was forced to make. Bringing Scott Hogan on for Abraham proved a mistake, although in the circumstances it was hardly surprising that the new manager chose to give a chance to the player he knows best from those available. Equally, it seemed strange not to be able to call on Yannick Bolasie from the bench. But, early days for the manager and at least he now knows the problems that face him in certain areas.

Villa’s defence is still a shambles, although Axel Tuanzabe is proving the point I made earlier about Bruce signing decent players without any idea how, or where, to play them. But in the final analysis there are too many under-achievers who should be taking games by the scruff of the neck – Jack Grealish, this means you – when the situation demands rather than drifting in and out as the mood suits.

As always, this division soon gives a chance to get over disappointment, with a visit to Loftus Rd on Friday night. Defeat is never easy to take but the setback at Carrow Rd will be almost worthwhile if manager and team learn from it. If they show that they can, it will be a massive improvement on what’s gone before.

One thought on “Villa on a long and winding road

  1. Villa’s performance against Norwich must have looked very familiar to Dean Smith, if he had time to recall Brentford’s draw at Villa Park back in August. The same pattern unfolded but the result was much worse. Villa looked better than Norwich for several periods in the opening half-hour and to use the modern parlance, recycled the ball nicely enough but didn’t create much and it seemed fortuitous that Chester scored from the corner which resulted from some typically sloppy attacking play on the edge of the Norwich box. Norwich looked more familiar with the passing game than Smith’s men but Villa reached half-time looking resolute, with Tuanzebe having his best game so far in a Villa shirt. The second-half resumed and within minutes Adomah got a knock on the knee, which was quickly followed by Tammy Abraham getting a kick in the head, and they were both withdrawn, being replaced by El Ghazi and Hogan respectively. Rhodes scored Norwich’s equaliser from the corner delayed by the arrival of Hogan, and Villa reverted very much to their familiar second-half selves, which had rubber-stamped Bruce’s departure. Villa’s intensity dropped and some dithering on Villa’s right allowed the cross which Rhodes poked home for the match-winner. With their noses in front Norwich dug in on the edge of their penalty area in the confident belief that Villa wouldn’t create much and the rest of the game justified that assumption. Given more space Grealish got more time on the ball but didn’t create anything of note and Hogan’s performance was a reminder of his years in the lower leagues. Kodjia was allowed a few minutes after replacing Hourihane but Villa failed to add to their single shot on target. It was all too miserably familiar. Villa have some good players and some very ordinary ones, but they don’t have a team as yet.

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