Aston Villa and the unusual position

Villa draw two-two with Albion. Dave Woodhall draws some conclusions.

Some time ago I was interviewing Kevin Richardson and he told me about his season with Southampton. “They were having their best run for years and were on course for Europe. Then it was a case of ‘Okay, we’ve got 42 points, we’re safe’, the results slipped away and we missed out on Europe.”

Maybe that’s the problem with the Villa – as I’ve said repeatedly lately we’ve had five games in the past ten seasons safe from going down so perhaps we can’t cope with meaningless ends of season. To go back even further, if you take into account relegation and promotion battles, European qualification chases and the odd title race, there’s only been three or four times in the past three decades or so when our season has been over so early. Which is another way of saying that we shouldn’t have been all that surprised at the result on Sunday evening, even if the way it came about was a bit more dramatic that the previous 91 minutes deserved.

The formation was no great shock, Ross Barkley in the team was, or should have been. Deano does seem to have his favourites – Henri Lansbury was in the same position a year ago – who he gives every chance to prove themselves.

Perhaps it might have been worth giving Barkley a start to see whether he can show enough to make his loan deal permanent, but surely he’s now used up his last opportunity after another anonymous performance.

In other circumstances it wasn’t a bad game, and the way Villa played certainly had its moments. The team started well and the move that led to Anwar El Ghazi’s opening penalty was as good as anything we’ve seen for months. A goal up and we were looking good for a rare win when a gentle breeze drifted across the penalty area and an Albion player subsequently went down. One-one and worse was to come after the break when Ezri Konsa, the most consistent defender imaginable, slipped with no Albion player near him, they picked up the ball and a shot that seemed to be headed closer to the corner flag than the post was deflected in off Tyrone Mings.

Villa piled on the pressure from this point to no avail; Keinan Davis came on for Disappointment Barkley (that one would have worked better if Marvelous Nakamba had been the player coming on) and hit the woodwork but there seemed no way through. We had the welcome sight of Wesley making an appearance for the first time in sixteen months as stoppage time began, then seconds later there was the even more welcome sign of Davis confidently putting home his first Premier League goal, and it could hardly have been more important, or more of a confidence boost for a player who seems to have so much to offer but has always seemed to suffer some misfortune or other at the wrong time. I wish he’d have celebrated it a bit more, though.

70% possession and 24 shots, eleven of them on target, should equal three points. It didn’t, and the poor run of form continues. On the other hand, Davis continued his improvement and surely deserves a starting place soon, Barkley has equally surely drunk up and left the last chance saloon and our one-time record signing has come back from a career-threatening injury. There have been worse end of season non-events.