Aston Villa and the bursting bubble

Villa go down to West Ham as Dave Woodhall looks on.

West Ham have been a bit like the Villa this season. They were expected to struggle but have been getting results and started the day in fifth place. On paper it looked like they’d be hard to beat and a win here would have been further proof that Villa are making steady improvement throughout the year. And it’s always good to beat a team with the most horrible owners in football. At least, it would have been.

There was one change, Anwar El Ghazi replacing Bertrand Traore, which in Dean Smith’s philosophy represents a radical overhaul. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a fairytale return, with El Ghazi being taken off at half-time, but neither was he the most disappointing player in the team. If the first nineteen games of the season were a dream at times, the start of the second nineteen was a bit of a nightmare.

Villa looked lethargic, lacking in any ideas or coherence. There were probably more mistakes in the first half of this game than in the first half of the season, and that West Ham weren’t in the lead after forty-five minutes was down to their poor finishing rather than any inspired defending. Ironically, though, the closest either team came to scoring was when Ollie Watkins hit the post midway through the half and as Villa had managed to get to the break without conceding there was always a chance that they might come back out in a different frame of mind.

They didn’t. Two defensive errors saw the game over as a proper contest. Watkins gave us a bit of hope with nine minutes to go after Jack Grealish had once more created a goal out of very little, but barely had West Ham kicked off again than they’d put the result beyond doubt. Another easily-avoidable goal, another chance to rise up the league squandered. West Ham were by no means world-beaters, and I can’t see them finishing the season in the same position they are now, but they didn’t have to be. All they had to do was the basics, and wait until Villa made mistakes.

Too many of the team had off-days, in fact there was barely any of them who could say that they performed to anywhere near their full capabilities. When Emiliano Martinez plays poorly you know it’s been a game to forget and Jack had probably his worst performance of the season – although even then he laid on one goal and was at the heart of just about everything we created. In the circumstances it’s unfair to judge Morgan Sanson on his ten minute cameo and maybe as a result of this he will be starting sooner than anticipated.

It may be too many games in a short period of time, it may be that the Covid outbreak affected some players more than we, and perhaps even they, thought. At least we do have a few options now, with Trezeguet also coming back from injury and another potential starter for Saturday’s visit of Arsenal.

It was a disappointing night, and if you’re looking for a consolation it’s taken twenty games to have one where we were so poor throughout. Learn from it, put it behind us, and move on.