Villa lose to Leeds and Dave Woodhall isn’t all that surprised.
Back in 1998, when Villa had the half-season of dreams, John Gregory commented that people were forever asking him when it would end. “Why do people think it has to end?” was his reply. “When I crack that I’ve cracked this club.”
That dream start did end, and Gregory subsequently never did crack that mentality, or the club. Maybe it’s because we invariably fail to live up to good starts, but Villa Park always seems to have an air of fatalism, of waiting for it all to go wrong.
The game on Friday could have seen history being made – for all our past glories Villa have never started a season with five straight wins. Opponents Leeds were mid-table and their results so far hadn’t lived up to the Bielsa hype. An unchanged Villa should have won comfortably against a side missing players in key areas. But this is Villa, and things do come to an end.
The team got off to a decent start, and arguably had the best of a fairly even first half. Jack Grealish could have scored a couple, and had the second gone in it would have been hailed as great even by his standards, with that history-making win the likely result. They were starting to get on top after the break, then Leeds scored and from then on there was a cave-in worryingly reminiscent of last season.
In the end 3-0 was a fair scoreline. It was Leeds’ night just as Villa have already had nights, and afternoons, when things have gone perfectly this season. Leeds did what they always do. They had admirable workrate and stuck to a plan that was intended to counter Villa’s attacking threat then put into action one of their own. .
In contrast, too many Villa players were off their game and once the visitors were on top there was an inability both on the pitch and in the dug-out to come up with any effective alternative to what was going wrong. Defensively Villa were all over the place and midfield was anonymous. Maybe there was a bit of over-confidence, or perhaps the efforts of previous weeks have provided a mental pressure that told on the side
And so history wasn’t made. This early in the season defeats can sometimes be a blessing in disguise, provided you can learn from them. The main lesson to be learned, or rather remembered, from this one is that substitutions can be made earlier and tactics altered. We know Dean Smith can do it, but since promotion he’s been a bit reluctant to change things on the hoof and that’s an area where an improvement can be made. Dean ‘s Villa have also had the worrying habit of going on lengthy bad runs (as did Gregory’s Villa side) so that’s another concern.
Then again, things have to be put into perspective. Twelve points from five games is a return anyone would have welcomed; the next five games are all winnable and at the end of them we’ll have a better idea of how the season will end up. Provided we do learn. then there’s no reason why Friday evening should be anything but a temporary blip. I hope.