Aston Villa and hitting the wall

Villa draw nil-nil at Brighton. Dave Woodhall watches.

Looking at the earlier results on Saturday one thing struck me. Leicester, where Villa won earlier in the season, beat Liverpool, who we find such easy opponents now that we send the youth team to play them. Spurs were well beaten by a Manchester City side who sem almost unbeatable but who still needed help from the officials to get the points when we played there. By that standard there’s no reason why Villa couldn’t sneak into the Champions League places.

The trouble is, and has been for as long as I can remember, is that while a reasonably successful Villa side can usually match the best it’s the battlers at the foot of the table we struggle against.

At first glance Brighton certainly fall into the ‘strugglers’ category, but no matter how far down the table they might have been at the start of the game, they were right in form and bound to provide a stuff test for a Villa side who have been a bit inconsistent of late.

If the performances have been inconsistent, the starting eleven certainly hasn’t, and we were back to the tried and tested with Dean Smith’s preferred line-up kicking off once more. And that could be the problem. Complacency could have sent in, or tiredness, or maybe the opposition are working out how to play against the Villa because this was undoubtedly a poor performance. For most of the match it looked like a training session of the attackers v defenders variety with Villa’s back five working overtime while the rest of the team struggled to get a look in.

Luckily, Tyrone Mings carried his recent good form into this one while Emiliano Martinez was as good as ever. Goalkeepers might not cost as much as forward players and the money spent on Martinez in the summer might have raised eyebrows, but he’s starting to look a bargain of John McGinn proportions.

The substitutions were either for injury (and let’s hope that Matty Cash isn’t too badly hurt) or like for like, when perhaps a tactical switch allowing Jack Grealish to move inside might have been better. It wasn’t Villa’s night, though, and with Jack tightly marked and largely ineffective the game fizzled to an end with Villa the side most relieved to hear the final whistle.

If you want to draw one positive from the evening, we’d have probably lost this game in all of the past ten seasons. Not only have Villa proved they can attack gloriously now, there’s also a resilience that can eke out more from a game than we might deserve. The way we play has worked well so far, but now we need to change things round a bit. Up next are Leicester, who on their day are as good as anyone, although as we’ve shown, they’re beatable. I’d be thinking about brining back Marvelous Nakamba to partner Douglas Luiz, pushing McGinn up further forward or giving a start to Morgan Sanson.

We can’t really complain about what’s happened so far this year and as with all rebuilding jobs there will be days like this. Much as it’s good not to be looking over our shoulder, though, I hope that a season which has provided so many memorable moments doesn’t just drift from here.