Aston Villa and the blank generation

Dave Woodhall finds the positives from Villa’s nil-nil draw with Wolves.

I’ve been saying for some time that this season is one of those rebuilding periods when at times it might seem as though the Villa have reached their natural level, but if you look a bit closer there’s still progress being made.

Saturday afternoon was a case in point. The performance and result against Wolves might have appeared disappointing, and a nil-nil draw at home to a team below you in the league is always a ‘could do better’ moment. You could also say that it meant we’ve taken four points this season off a side who were being tipped as good outside bets for the Champions League and whose ambitions in recent years have vastly outstripped ours, even if they do sometimes seem a bit, er, idealistic.

Jack Grealish and Matty Cash were both still out, which meant that attacking inspiration and defensive solidity were both weakened, and although they were present, unfortunately it was in different halves of the game. Douglas Luiz and Trezeguet were back, Morgan Sanson made his first start and Villa began well, Ollie Watkins and Ezri Konsa both hitting the bar in the opening fifteen minutes. For all Villa’s first half dominance, that was the closest we came to scoring although on the run of play two-nil at half-time would have been a fair reflection.

If I took any notice of other clubs I’d have seen that Wolves always seem to do better after the break and so it proved again. During the second half Villa’s defence was regularly tested and on the rare occasions when the ball got past our back four, Emiliano Martinez showed again that there surely can’t have been a better value signing last summer anywhere in the league, in any position. And as usual, if you didn’t have Martinez as your man of the match you’ve have nominated Tyrone Mings, who seems to have realised that there’s a time to be Franz Beckenbauer and a time to be Shaun Teale. Ahmed Elmohamady also did well in keeping the other Traore quiet.

Ross Barkley came on for the last half-hour and failed to take advantage of the opportunity to show that he’s capable of repeating his early form. He replaced Sanson, who had a quiet but promising game and will be the better for the experience, as will the latest couple of young unused substitutes to make their way into the matchday squad. Again, it’s a sign of progress that they were there because Dean Smith thinks them worthy of a place on the bench rather than because we had no-one else available.

Villa could have nicked a goal from a stoppage time corner but it wasn’t to be and the game finished goalless. That took us to forty points, which was always going to be the first priority this season. It’s the only time we’ve reached that mark in the Premier League at all since 2012-13, which is a statistic to be ashamed of, and was the fourteenth clean sheet of the season, which is a bit more cheerful.

There might not have been a lot to shout about, and in truth there hasn’t been a great deal for a couple of months. But even if there hasn’t been much excitement in that time, neither has there been any real cause for despondency. It’s all progress.