Aston Villa and a vacant situation

Villa’s goalless draw with Burnley has Dave Woodhall rueing a few missings.

Even in normal years a lot of businesses would be winding down for Christmas now, but I didn’t think the Villa would be one of them. Injury, illness and Mike Dean meant that we went into the game with Burnley missing five recent regulars to add to the long-term casualties and with nobody except Dean Smith knowing what formation we’d be playing.

All season a glance at the bench has shown Villa’s lack of experienced cover; for this one the same conclusion could be reached by looking at the starting line-up. When we’re finally allowed back into the ground, the proposed increase in substitutes might mean you’ll get a place on the bench if you arrive early enough.

Villa don’t tend to suffer from niggling injuries to fringe players. Any time we have a doubt it’s invariably to an important member of the team and leads to an extended lay-off. The five missing from this game included our two most consistent defenders and the centre of midfield, plus a player vastly improved from last season. And all this against a team versed in the black arts of niggling, distraction and outright thuggery.

The match went as well as could be expected, or possibly feared. Villa dominated possession – 27 shots tells its own story – and hit the woodwork, had shots kicked off the line, missed sitters and generally, as the saying goes, did everything except score.

None of the team played particularly poorly, but nobody stood out. Jack Grealish apart, there’s no-one who can win a match with a flash of genius and there were too many examples of the wrong ball being played, leading to the chances that did come falling to players who you wouldn’t them to fall to if either your life or your money were at stake.

At the other end Emiliano Martinez was his usual self, Tyrone Mings had his best game for some time and Kourtney Hause coped well enough with Burnley’s limited approach. Talking of whom, while Christmas is a time for nostalgia, do we really have to endure a Wimbledon tribute act?

It was two points dropped, although it did at least give a rare clean sheet at home and another lesson in what has to be done to get further up the table, both for players and the club’s owners. By my reckoning that’s three games recently where the team have performed better than in the corresponding fixture last season but got a worse result. Against that, it’s hard not to think of all the times over the years when better Villa teams have conceded a late goal in these circumstances.

Coming up next is a visit to our oldest of rivals. Unless Sam Allardyce has changed the habits of a lifetime we’ll be coping with more of the same, but at least the team should be stronger.