Dave Woodhall looks at Villa’s draw with Crystal Palace.
Realistically, this was the only game Villa play during the final part of the season where nothing much was at stake – apart from, that is, a few million in prize money. It might be that this inducement was the reason why Steven Gerrard named an unchanged team from Tuesday’s unlucky defeat by Liverpool for what promised to be an entirely different prospect in the shape of Crystal ‘meh’ Palace.
It would have been good to see Tim Iroegbunam starting, or possibly Carney Chukwuemeka, or even Emiliano Beundia and Philippe Coutinho in the same line-up. As it was, we had the Nakamba/Luiz/McGinn central three with Countinho behind the duo of Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings. The best word to describe that selection is ‘predictable,’ and predictable was how much of the match went.
It was an end of season stroll between two mid-table sides who can feel encouraged by the way their respective seasons have gone. Palace can never have many hopes of finishing much above the tenth place they currently sit in, we might have different ambitions, as our latest permanent signing shows, but we’re still glad to get this far without having to look over our shoulders.
The fortieth anniversary celebrations were rapturously received, although anyone looking for a Heroes of ’82-style performance would have been disappointed, not to mention a bit optimistic in the first place. Villa started off brightly, with Danny Ings missing a couple of good chances, but Palace soon stifled our attacking threat and goalless at half-time wasn’t a bad reflection either on the game or of how each team had performed.
Ezri Konsa had to go off with what looked a serious injury, then Jacob Ramsey replaced Nakamba, who typifies much of the current squad. We play better with Nakamba in the side, but how much of that is down to him being good enough and how much is because anyone in that position would make a difference is open to debate. On Tuesday Villa conceded shortly after taking him off, this time a long cross from Lucas Digne found Watkins, who did well to steer the ball past the keeper and into the net.
Buendia then came on for Danny Ings, and immediately looked dangerous but with ten minutes to go a Palace free-kick was knocked back into the box and once again our slack marking led to an equaliser. Villa pushed forward in an attempt to win the match and Watkins should have done better with a late chance, which was the story of the match and of much of the season.
We’ve got two games left, against teams who will be battling for different reasons, and so I don’t expect much in the way of experimentation. What I would like to see is more of Buendia, who must be wondering what he’s done wrong, and a bit of conclusive proof about how many of this squad will still be here come August and how many will be thanked for their service and sent on their way. Since 2021-22 began we’ve had a lot of flattering to deceive and not enough consistency; sorting that will be high on the management team’s list of jobs to do during the summer.