Villa lose at Southampton, with Dave Woodhall wondering what comes next.
Having a match on Bonfire Night brings back all sorts of memories for those of us of a certain age (in other words, getting on a bit). There was Andy Gray scoring twice in a rare win at Anfield in 1977, Peter Withe doing the same for an ever rarer win at Old Trafford in 1983, Gordon Cowans dominating at the same venue in 1988, during a 1-1 draw on the night of the worst fog ever and then twelve months later David Platt inspired the 6-2 win over Everton that showed the quality of Sir Graham’s team. Yes, they all do seem like ten minutes ago.
Unfortunately Dean Smith didn’t have anyone of that quality to call on this year at Southampton. It would be an obvious and cheap jibe to make if I said that any one of them would have got into the current Villa side even at their age but I may as well make it.
The team he did put out had the patched-up look about it of a side missing several key components and once the match got underway it had the worn-out look of a side who know what was in store and wanted to get it out of the way as quickly as possible. A bit of bad luck, again, a bit of mis-kicking, again, and Villa were a goal down before everyone had got into their seats. The team could have conceded further but luckily Southampton aren’t up to much and one-nil at half-time it remained.
The second half saw an improvement and a couple of reasonable chances missed but once again Villa lacked the spark, and perhaps the desire, to change the situation. Substitutions from a bench that showed the impact of the perennial injury crisis were made more in hope than expectation, to no avail. Cameron Archer isn’t yet the saviour of the team and Keinan Davies never will be. Leon Bailey still isn’t fit, Emiliano Buendia still hasn’t hit anything like the form he’s capable of, while Morgan Sanson remains missing, presumed either injured, or ill, or kidnapped by aliens.
The final minutes were played out in an atmosphere of resignation on and off the pitch. To continue with the nostalgia theme, it had the feel of visiting Blackburn in the final days of Brian Little’s reign, when everything seemed to be going wrong and there was the all-pervading feeling that whatever had happened was beyond the understanding, and perhaps the ability, of anyone who could put it right. At least this time there wasn’t a five-goal humiliation or a star striker trying to take on sections of the Villa support.
And unlike some of those triumphs of years gone by, when the final whistle heralded the inevitable conclusion of an average team beating a poor one, neither was there a peasouper fog or a barrage of fireworks to negotiate on the way home. That, at least, was a blessing.