Aston Villa and the jaws of victory

Villa managed to led slip a two-goal lead against against Leeds. Dave Woodhall has seen it all before.

Back in what those of a certain age like to call the time of proper football, the lowest crowds of the season were invariably the Saturday before Christmas and the last match of the season. Sky and its assorted corporate sponsors have now hyped the finale to such an extent that grounds are full to witness the vital clash to decide twelfth place but Christmas is still Christmas so it was surprising, to say the least, when Villa announced that the match against Leeds was a sell-out several days in advance, for a Sunday 1.30 kick-off on 23rd December. It was, of course, further proof not only of the club’s potential but also shows that despite a couple of recent semi-setbacks, our supporters are still buying into the Dean Smith revolution.

And such an audience deserves the perfect start, which we got after five minutes when Tammy Abraham scored from close range after some impressive approach play. Ten minutes later and another goal, this time from a player who regards twenty yards as close range, Conor Hourihane.

Two up and there could have been more, then Leeds got back into the game and Villa’s makeshift defence started to struggle. But they got to half-time with the two goal lead and everything was looking fine. Jonathan Kodjia could/should have put the game beyond doubt, missing from close range at the start of the second half and from then on the old doubts cameback.

Leeds scored twice in five minutes, and helped by a lenient referee were well on top for most of what was left of the game. Villa did well to hold out and ironically it was the visitors who seemed happiest with the point they were about to finish with until the sixth minute of stoppage time.

We’ve been here before; there can’t be many teams who’ve managed to blow a two goal lead so often although that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. This one marked the end of a difficult run of games that have seen Villa stay in contention without making much inroad towards the play-off places. It should all start getting a bit easier now, even if Villa have got shooting themselves in the foot down to a fine art.

To keep with the vaguely optimistic theme, this is another game closer towards being able to reinforce a team that even without injuries has been woefully unbalanced, and maybe Dean Smith deserves a lot more praise just for keeping them in contention. Any team at any level would have struggled to counter the absence of players of the quality of Jack Grealish and this week’s casualty, Axel Tuanzebe.

That Villa were so depleted against the strongest and most in-form team in the league was typical of the luck that seems to be bedeviling us at the moment. As someone said to me before the game – why is it that Villa always seem to play teams just when they’re coming into form?

If luck does seem itself out over the course of a season then we’re due a big slice of it from now until May. And we may well need it – the first half of this match showed why Villa should be running away with the league. The second 45 minutes showed why the play-offs are our only realistic hope for promotion. And that last ninety seconds showed that there’s a worrying doubt we might not even get that far.

2 thoughts on “Aston Villa and the jaws of victory

  1. It seems my conclusion that Villa had escaped the Albion game without a serious casualty was a bit premature and with Jack Grealish still nursing his Baggies-inflicted wounds, the fates added an extra blow to Villa’s prospects when Axel Tuanzebe joined the walking wounded, which depleted the one area where Villa couldn’t afford to be depleted.

    We knew it was going to be a tough afternoon out against Leeds but what with the missing personnel and the referee ignoring several fouls on Johnathan Kodjia in the opening minutes the challenge looked even more onerous than dreaded. So when the game reached 17 minutes and Villa were two-nil ahead, with the Leeds’ manager howling ‘Come on!’ in despair from the technical area you couldn’t help feeling a bit surprised.

    The trouble was that despite Villa’s two classy goals it always looked like Leeds would score. They were using their much-beloved diagonal ball to the right wing with their usual accuracy and the Villa defence were increasingly finding themselves out of position. Luckily for Villa Leeds never got a clean strike on goal from the several half-chances that they made in the first half, and goalkeeper Nyland was never really required to do anything special, despite some increasingly desperate scrambling from the Villa defence. The safe harbour of half-time arrived with much relief but there didn’t look like there was much respite in store.

    The question was whether Villa could provide themselves with a little more insulation before Leeds made their breakthrough. Villa missed an early chance in the opening minutes of the second half, battled away until the hour mark, at which point they conceded two quick goals, very much in the style of previous unhappy managers, and then punch-drunk, they conceded the agonising coup de gras five minutes into added-time, which was killingly reminiscent of miserable seasons left behind.

    In analysis Villa’s overall performance lacked most of the characteristics we were beginning to get used to under Dean Smith. They didn’t pass the ball well and never looked entirely comfortable for long periods of the game. Leeds deserved the win and showed why they now top the table. For Villa it was rather an unpleasant lesson in what the squad is lacking. But with Kodjia and Abraham looking formidable up front, it still looks likely, that if Villa could solve their defensive problems, they could be back in the mix within weeks. UTV!

  2. bloody hell! (works on many levels…..)

    Merry Xmas Dave, and Villans wherever in the world you are!

    ps Looks like we’re going to have to up the 110% for 2019……

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