Aston Villa and the grim north

Villa lose at Burnley. Dave Woodhall watches and learns.

The recently-deceased Josef Venglos wouldn’t have recognised the Premier League now but he would have approved of the coaching methods used, because he was instrumental in bringing them to England, even if they were often ridiculed at the time. He would certainly have approved of what Dean Smith is doing with the Villa, despite the occasional setback.

John McGinn returned from suspension, there was something approaching strength on the bench and a damp January Wednesday night in Burnley promised every cliche from the Flash Foreigners Don’t Fancy It handbook that Dr Jo had thrown at him incessantly during his unfortunate time in England.

Anyway, Villa started the game well, looking as if every one of the side, whichever corner of the globe they may have come from, were well up for the challenge. Matt Targett laid on the opening goal for Ollie Watkins to stick in his tenth of the season and there should have been many more.

It was a repeat of this fixture at Villa Park, when 27 shots somehow failed to bring a single goal. Now Villa had finally got the ball into the back of the net, surely plenty more will follow. Sorry, we don’t do things like that, with Ross Barkley’s shot that came off the bar just one of the many chances that could have killed off the game.

One-nil at the break and Burnley were much improved in the second half. Villa had switched off and the equaliser was no great surprise. Villa’s defence has been at the heart of our improvement this season but they should never have allowed so much space from the corner that put the home side back into the game.

But where there’s Jack Grealish there’s always life; his goal after 68 minutes another piece of brilliance and the highlight of a masterful display from the best midfielder in the league. The trouble was that his colleagues were having a communal off-day and a couple of scrappy errors put Burnley into a lead they scarcely deserved but managed to keep until the final whistle. A bit of naivety allowed Villa to be bullied out of a game that was ours for the taking. Dr Jo would have known the feeling.

This was the first return fixture of the season, and like the game at Villa Park it was one of those nights. Villa had a total of 46 shots in both but just got a single point rather than the six we deserved. We’ll play much worse and win; indeed we already have, and while it’s frustrating to record that we passed up the chance to make ground on the top six, there was still plenty to take from the game, as well as one big warning.

In the corresponding fixture last season we lost two players to long-term injury and that almost had a catastrophic effect on the team. Morgan Sanson will undoubtedly be a boost to the squad if not immediately to the first team, but with Wesley still nowhere near a return, history repeating itself could prove just as damaging.