Aston Villa and the usual suspicion

Dave Woodhall watches Villa lose 2-1 at home to Chelsea.

I had hoped that the three month lay-off would have done the Villa good. The newer players would have been more settled, the playing squad would have appreciated that they’re in a battle for survival and most of all, that everyone from Dean Smith down would have worked out what they were doing wrong and worked on how to get it right.

There were fleeting glimpses on re-opening day that Villa were starting to improve, if only slightly. However, it was back to square one with a vengeance on Sunday afternoon against a Chelsea side who showed that even when they were at less than their best they were good enough to take all three points.

Dean Smith kept an unchanged side from the one that drew in the week. Maybe he thought they’d be better for the experience, or whether he’d been encouraged by the clean sheet they’d managed I don’t know, but Chelsea soon proved that they were much better opposition and stretched the Villa defence at will.

But, and we’ve seen this so often the other way round, the only occasion during the first half when the ball ended up in the back of the net was at the opposite end to where it had spent most of its time. Anwar el Ghazi’s shot bounced loose, Kourtney Hause was on hand to tap in the losoe ball and Villa went in at half-time a goal in front.

Which was where the problems started, because while Villa were hoping to (excuse the cliche) nick one on the break, once they’d got the one they didn’t seem to have much idea about either getting another or holding Chelsea out. And this is the most perplexing thing in this most infuriating of seasons. Dean Smith came to Villa Park with a reputation of being a manager who can change things on the hoof. Every time we’d come up against his Brentford side he’d out-thought his counterpart in the Villa dug-out and changed the game throughout. Now, though, he seems unsure and far too inflexible.

Chelsea bring on substitutes ten minutes into the second half that changed the way they were playing. We do nothing for another fifteen, and in that time the game was lost. Admittedly Chelsea’s second took a deflection, although there was a distinct feeling that they’d done all they had to, and were content to sit back from then on. Villa had a couple of half-chances but there was never the sense that they had anything left to turn the game round. If there’d been a crowd inside Villa Park they would have been drifting away long before the final whistle. Sixteenth at half-time, nineteenth 45 minutes later. That’s how tight the bottom of the table is, and while it wouldn’t take much for Villa to edge to safety, they don’t seem to be showing much sign of making the necessary improvement.

And so, as a previous manager often said, we go again. A midweek trip to Newcastle is the next act in the farcical conclusion to the season and if you want to clutch the faintest of straws, Steve Bruce was the manager most affected by the tactical acumen of the manager that used to be in charge at Brentford. Wherever he’s gone to, we could do with him at Villa.