Aston Villa and the world of wonder

Villa lost at home to Watford and Dave Woodhall watches.

Sometimes, all you can do is wonder. Steve Gerrard promised changes after the disappointments of the past two games, but all we got was Danny Ings replacing Ollie Watkins. If he’d decided to give the other ten players a final chance the idea, laudable though it was, failed miserably as Villa yet again failed against opponents who were limited but still did enough to get the points.

After an early would-have-been-given-at-Old Trafford penalty shout was turned down, Villa had most of the ball in the first half but hardly did anything with it. A shot from Ings that hit the bar was the closest either side came to scoring, but there were a couple of warnings when Watford broke and Emiliano Martinez had to move sharply off his line. It was clear early on that the visitors tactics were to defend in depth, close down and hit on the break, and they managed to do it with worrying ease.

Villa continued to have the majority of the play in the second half but still failed to show that they might be able to come up with a plan to win the game other than hope Watford would eventually tire and make a mistake.

If anything summed up the afternoon it was a couple of strange substitutions. Ollie Watkins came on for Douglas Luiz, despite Villa’s two main strikers never having looked like they could ever work together. Then Matty Cash was replaced by Ashley Young, who looked totally out of place at right-back. The last throw of the dice was at least more understandable; Leon Bailey coming on for Emiliano Buendia, a like for like substitution both in the style of play as well as, sadly, in the effect both players had on the game.

With twelve minutes to go Watford, who had been looking to waste time for most of the half, broke once again and now there was no mistake. Villa barely threatened again, Watford gave an object lesson in how to run down the clock by fair means or foul and in their one remaining attack it took a marvellous reflex save from Martinez to prevent another goal.

This was the third in a run of games that should have seen Villa moving up the table. Nine points were possible, we got one. There’s no realistic prospect of relegation, although the very fact that the word is being mentioned shows how Villa’s hopes have fallen since the start of the season. The team is woefully unbalanced but even allowing for that, the players are underperforming to an alarming level. Luiz and John McGinn were given yet another chance on Saturday and they repaid the manager’s faith with more anonymity. For all the money that’s been spent, and all the attacking flair that we possess, Villa played without any real shape, and seemed devoid of intent. Watford, perennially in a state of turmoil and odds-on to go down all season, knew what they had to do and managed it with ease. They’re in the bottom three, our man of the match was the goalkeeper.

While it would be ludicrous to start talking about Gerrard’s future, this is probably the first time in his career that the manager has struggled, and in the last two games he hasn’t shown much indication that he’s able to turn the situation round at the moment. You have to wonder what he’ll do next.