Aston Villa and it’s happened again

Villa lose to West Ham, Dave Woodhall curses modern technology.

Another week, another kick-off time. Monday night eight o’clock has been going since 1992, which in Premier League years means it’s ancient history and no doubt due for a change.

Talking of which, Dean Smith chose to keep the team changes to a minimum, with Conor Hourihane a straight swap for the injured Ross Barkley in terms of role if not ability, which admittedly is a bit unfair, because you pretty much know what you’re going to get from our Irish international. Most games he’s a consistent six out of ten player; if he could add an extra mark regularly he’d be looking at a place in the regular starting line-up.

But while consistency can be a virtue, it isn’t when the only constant thing you manage is losing games you should have had wrapped up long before the end. Hourihane was part of a midfield that was tidy enough and did what they had to do. The problem was in front of and behind them. West Ham got off to a good start with a goal that should have been cut out, but yet again Tyrone Mings was half a second low to react to an opposition corner.

Villa managed to put that behind them and Jack Grealish’s stunning equaliser midway through the first half should have been the impetus to go on and win the game, but as with last Saturday chances were missed and the second half started in the same manner as the first had – with West Ham going into the lead thanks to an easily preventable header.

Again, Villa were the better team afterwards but more chances were missed, not least Ollie Watkins’ penalty. It was beginning to look like it just wasn’t going to be our night, then in stoppage time Watkins did well to shrug off what seem to be a clear foul and put the ball into the back of the net.

But no. No foul, which would have been a strange enough decision, but it also seemed that in attempting to defend himself from this assault, Watkins had strayed offside. Or at least, his wrist and a couple of fingers had. Clear, it most certainly wasn’t. Obvious, never in a million years. In fact, if we’re going down that road the only clear and obvious thing about the incident was that Watkins was clearly impeded.

I didn’t agree with VAR when it was introduced, mainly because I thought it would take a lot of the spontaneity out of football, although I was prepared to see how it went before I decided that it was killing the game. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that it would be used in such an inconsistent, cumbersome and downright bloody stupid manner. Last week we were denied a clear penalty because it wasn’t obvious enough, this week a goal was disallowed because a player was moving his arm to avoid being wrestled to the ground.

Yet again, the big talking point of a match is what someone did while watching on a screen miles away, to be debated on Twitter and talked about ad infinitum. And that, of course, is what the TV companies have wanted all along. There’s no mileage in a game that doesn’t get clicks on the websites and hits on the media channels once the final whistle has blown. Premier League football isn’t a sport anymore, it’s a computer game.

It’s frustrating, although nowhere near as frustrating as the fact that yet again, Villa were in a position to beat a side who are looking useful themselves, only for silly individual errors to cost us. Again. The biggest worry is that this is now four defeats from five. In the last two we’ve played better than in the corresponding fixtures last season but got worse results. Whether that’s a bad thing or a long-term blessing, we can only wait and see.