Villa lost two-nil at home to Albion on Saturday. Dave Woodhall wonders what comes next.
Two years ago this week I called a 3-1 defeat at home to Barnsley the lowest point in the Villa’a history. I’m not sure whether it was beaten by the events of the past five days; the performances against Brentford and the Albion weren’t as eye-bleedingly awful but the feeling of desperation is up there.
Villa weren’t second-best all over the pitch on Saturday afternoon; in fact, for the first half-hour or so there wasn’t much to chose between the two sides. But a bit of defensive worry, followed almost immediately by a deflected second, and the game was over.
I often refer to something Graham Taylor once said, when he talked about turning up, getting the points and going home following a routine away win. To be able to do that is the sign of a team on a roll; it happens for us occasionally but more often it’s the opposition that take the points from Villa Park without scarcely breaking sweat.
Albion didn’t have to do much in the second half, just make sure that they made no fatal errors because Villa were certainly not going to create anyhing resembling a match-changing opportunity.
And so, as our oldest rivals celebrated what must have been one of their easiest wins in a series that goes back well before the formation of the Football League, we have to wonder what happens now. It’s been made clear that Dean Smith is part of a long-term that may or may not ultimately include him in charge. Having such a plan is commendable, and about fifteen years overdue, but when you’re fixated on the horizon it’s easy to lose sight of what’s happening under your nose.
The same sort of problem occurred during Gerard Houllier’s brief time in charge – he was attempting to put together a strategy that would have stood the Villa in good stead for the future, but results suffered against a backdrop of injuries and one manager’s players being instructed in the philosophy of another’s.
Only when the team went back to basics did the team’s form improve, and one of the great what ifs? of Villa’s modern history comes when wondering what he might have achieved. Then again, Houllier was helped by being able to spend £18 million on Darren Bent to help fix that short-term hole and players such as Ashley Young still on top form. Dean Smith has a fraction of those resources available to help him do what’s required right this minute.
And if I wasn’t depressed enough, Jacob Ramsey, aged 17 and a bit, made his debut during the second half. Not that he played badly, but it was bad enough when the players started to be younger than me. Then they could have been my sons. And now, just about, one of them is young enough to be my grandson. Cheer me up, someone.
One thought on “The generation game”
Sadly the miracle didn’t materialise. Villa showed a lot of promise in the opening half-hour and then the Baggies did what they’ve done many times this season and scored a quality goal against the run of play. I watched them do exactly the same against Leeds, but even more profoundly, and Villa aren’t as good as Leeds. Even when they have not been at their best, the Baggies all too often scrape a point by fare means or foul, just as they did against Villa at their gaff and again against Forest, also at home. It is the combination of their ruthlessness and efficient style of football, plus good fortune, which has made them promotion prospects. Recent form bears witness to the fact that Villa lack the same qualities.
Villa recruited on the basis of improving the team but just about every recruit has ended up shoring up a team wracked by injury. Villa’s recruits were assembled on the basis of playing flowing possession-football but manager Smith has been forced by necessity to set his team up to play a style, that some key players are not equipped for and it should be no surprise that Hourihane struggles to impress in his current role. He’s a goal-scoring midfield player who has the wrong instincts for the role he’s now expected to play. John McGinn is a thrilling swashbuckling ball-winner in the centre of park but he does tend to give the ball away. Both players would have their game transformed if they played along side Jack Grealish.
Villa were set up to utilise the talents of the best player in the Championship, in Grealish, and being so dependent on a player of such unique qualities means that the gap he creates when he’s not available is not so easily filled. The Albion’s loss of Harvey Barnes after his loan deal was ended, did not prove a problem because he could be easily replaced by other members of the squad. No one anticipated that Grealish would be absent for so long. It seems certain that the present set of players could have easily coped without him for a few weeks but as it begins to stretch to almost three months, we are witnessing how his absence has sapped both the manager’s and players’ confidence as performances have suffered.
Villa’s performance on Saturday was a massive disappointment, especially when viewed in the light of what looks like a trend, but I think the reasons are clear and easily understood. Sadly, as postmortems dominated post-match proceedings. The one thing which seemed to get lost was the fact that a former Villa prodigy in Gareth Barry was on the same pitch, as one we hope will prove an equally successful prodigy in Jacob Ramsey. Where there’s youth there is always hope. But no one needs reminding that you can live in hope but you can’t live on it. UTV!
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