Aston Villa and the gathering clouds

Villa lose 3-1 at home to Southampton. Dave Woodhall is not happy about the afternoon’s events.

I wonder how many early Christmas presents were amongst another forty-thousand-plus gate at Villa Park on Saturday. For them the bad news is that there isn’t a money-back guarantee.

The one crumb of comfort was that any hope of a change in Villa’s recent fortunes was soon extingished and it wasn;t long before the harsh reality set in.

John McGinn, who’s been playing through injury already, suffered what was later confirmed as a broken ankle after eight minutes and from then on Villa lost whatever little confidence still remained. Southampton’s first was the result of Bjorn Engels seeming to be running through treacle rather than on grass, their second was yet another failure to mark the opposition at corners.

Two down at half-time and a third was always likely. It came not long afterwards and yet again Villa’s defence was at fault. With the match won, the visitors eased off and Villa did at least show a bit of something vaguely approaching an attacking idea in the last fifteen minutes with Jack Grealish winning Goal of the Match for his late effort.

But ‘effort’ is perhaps not a word that should be used on an afternoon like this. Villa lacked it all over the pitch. We’ve already seen this season that the team are capable of playing well when they’re on top. What they can’t do is battle when things are going wrong. There aren’t enough leaders and too many players go missing when they should be stepping up. Douglas Luiz gives the impression that he doesn’t want to be here, Marvelous Nakamba and Bjorn Engels have slipped massively from their impressive form of the opening weeks.

Dean Smith has had an easy ride so far, and given last season’s miracle working he’s probably deserved it, but from now on he has to prove that he’s up to the job of being the Villa manager. Go to three at the back, play two up front (please), do something because at the moment Villa’s one-dimensional play is telegraphed well in advance; we could have a friendly against a non-league team from Africa and they’d know how to set up against us.

And so we head right into the heart of the time when seasons can be won or destroyed. It’s also the time for nostalgia, so here’s something from the past to think about. In 2012 we won a League Cup quarter-final, went on a nightmare run over Christmas, lost to a Championship team from London in the FA Cup and suffed total humiliation in the League Cup semi-final before avoiding relegation thanks to a striker signed from Belgium the previous summer. Happy Winterval.