Of Lions and Tigers

Villa draw 2-2 at home to Hull City and once more Dave Woodhall is wondering what comes next.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The idea was that the Villa got to January in touch with the top six after a difficult run of games, then improved on the squad and made the most of what should have been an easier set of fixtures at the start of 2019.

We did the first bit with no trouble. In fact, looking at the way the team played against the sides above us, automatic promotion wasn’t out of the question. What certainly wasn’t part of the equation a month ago was going two down at home to Hull City. Yet it was no more than the Villa deserved; against a fitful midfield and the usual error-strewn defence, the form team of the Championship had little trouble in making sure the match was as good as won well before half-time.

Luckily, James Chester pulled a goal back as many in the crowd were headed for the concourses, or in some cases the exits. This revitalised the team for the second half and when you’ve got a striker as good as Tammy Abraham in the side there’s always the chance of a goal from nowhere. One promptly arrived and with half an hour of play remaining Villa had plenty of time to push for a winner but ran out of ideas and in the end were hanging on for a point.

In the circumstances a draw was a reasonable result and 2-2 was definitely a ‘bite your hand off for it’ scoreline at twenty to five. But, it’s another opportunity wasted, the gap has got wider and the number of games available to close it has got less.

Just as importantly, with ten days left until the transfer window shuts, Villa’s team looks no stronger. Lovre Kalinic hasn’t made an immediate impact – he was slow to get down for one of Hulls’s goals, then made up with a tremendous late save, while Kortney Hause was still on the bench (maybe hasn’t trained enough. Hause – trained? Perhaps not).

At the very least we need a left-back and another midfielder, preferably one who can put his foot on the ball and then pass it to another Villa player. Then again, as we haven’t had one of that particular breed since Stilyan Petrov, I’m not holding my breath.

But the biggest problem the Villa face, much greater than signing a couple of new faces, is one of knowing where we go next.

We have to get back to the Premier League as soon as possible, so it’s hardly surprising that calls for patience can be shouted down. After all, what might have been enjoyable as a holiday is turning into a long-term residency. Against that, though, the dangers of short-term planning are clear. I make it that Villa’s first-choice team were signed by or came through the ranks under five different managers and have played for anything up to half a dozen, while three owners have also had an influence. I’ve lost count of the number of playing styles, philosophies and business models we’ve tried, and all have failed.

We’ve signed youngsters from the lower divisions, brought in players from abroad in the hope of selling them on for a profit, spent a comparative fortune and signed highly-paid experience on loan. None of it’s worked and despite spending more money in three years than some clubs in this league have spent in their entire existence, we’re no nearer promotion now than we were when we first got relegated.

And that, to me, means that we’ve got to start thinking beyond this month, or maybe even this season. If Villa do manage to get into the play-offs and by some miracle end up in the Premier League, we’d need at least a dozen new signings in the summer to stand any chance of survival. Whether that would be possible, or practical, is debatable. But last season’s gamble of throwing money we didn’t have at an all-or-nothing attempt at promotion not only failed, it threatened the very existence of the club and we can’t rely on a couple of billionaires to come to the rescue every summer.

Paullambertsipswich Town are up next at Villa Park. I don’t think there’ll be much patience shown to anyone.

2 thoughts on “Of Lions and Tigers

  1. As Dave Woodhall says above, it seems Villa are stuck on repeat and this time around they are suffering the consequences of last season’s desperate gamble added to the tradition of a club culture where the team seems to retreat to their comfort-zone as soon as they think they’ve proved a point. Having miraculously arrived in January with what looked like enough points to form a bridgehead for assailing the play-off places they have gone from bad to worse and with the hope fading that players would be arriving to reinforce the famously dodgy defence, optimism is thin on the ground. Watching other teams demonstrate the standard required for promotion hardly helps. Villa are a long way short and some of those teams have coped with injuries and the loss of key players with hardly a blip.

    So hopes weren’t exactly high going into Saturday’s home game against a free-scoring in-form Hull team. By the time Jarrod Bowen had added to his scoring spree from a Villa assist and Evandro had made it two, it looked like it was going to be another day of shame for Villa. But having shown their villainy, it was time for a hero to emerge for Villa in the form of James Chester, who hooked clear a goal-bound killer from Brentford from under his own bar, to keep Villa in the game, and went on to score at the other end of the pitch, to inspire his teammates and give Hull something to think about at half-time.

    The second-half turned out to be a curate’s egg for Villa and the best of the good bits amongst the bad and the indifferent was a typical goal from Tammy Abraham, which saved the day and a lot of Villa face. The final whistle was greeted with relief and gratitude, as well a vague sense of achievement for coming back from the dead and ending Hull’s winning-streak. But in the final analysis, a club the size of Aston Villa should not be living on scraps and consolations in the second tier of English football. Looking on the bright side, if there is one, Villa don’t compare badly with the rest of the also-rans, and should a few more Villa players follow James Chester’s example and step up to the plate, the highly unlikely might still be possible. Only cock-eyed optimists need apply for that one. But in the meantime UTV!

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