Aston Villa and the signs of optimism

Villa draw at West Ham and Dave Woodhall remains upbeat.

The bottom of the table is a strange affair this season. Not only is it still enough of a novelty not to have the Villa anywhere near, but the teams at the bottom aren’t the ones you might expect, given the way results are playing out. For a start, Wolves seem to be doing altight while it appears that every time I look at Forest’s results they’ve lost, yet there’s only a point between them. There are crisis clubs (Leeds, Everton) whose results continue to make headlines and ones who’ve been dragged into trouble almost without anyone noticing.

West Ham are definitely one of the latter, the sort of team who you look at and think they must start improving soon, but here we are in mid-March and they began the game on Sunday in the bottom three. Despite that, they were still the bookies favourites to beat Villa, which might have been connected with that old devil called injuries. Not only was Boubacar Kamara out, but his presumed replacement Leander Denodonker was unavailable due to a mystery hand injury. This meant John McGinn was back playing deeper, where the world knows he’s less effective, and showed the paucity of Villa’s squad in certain areas. Better news was the return, on the bench at least, of Diego Carlos.

Even better was the start of the match, when the first real opportunity gave Ollie Watkins the chance to show how improved he’s been in recent weeks. A cross from Alex Moreno, a perfectly-placed header and Villa take the lead. Unfortunately it lasted less than ten minutes, because after Watkins headed off the line, Leon Bailey’s needless challenge gave away a penalty that not even Emiliano Martinez could save.

Watkins could perhaps have done better with another chance in the first half, Martinez made a couple of good saves in the second. Emiliano Buendia should have won Villa a penalty and it’s easy to be paranoid when you see decisions like that. Maybe the world really is against us.

In the end a draw was probably a fair result and what was pleasing is that it came about because Villa were a bit off from the form we’ve shown lately, while West Ham couldn’t have done much better. Villa are a solid mid-table side showing signs of progress. Some of the long-established players who you thought might have been incapable of improvement seem to have found another level – McGinn was again impressive despite not being entirely comfortable with the role he played, while six goals in seven games for Watkins is the kind of scoring consistency we haven’t seen since the glory days of Christian Benteke. Bertrand Traore also showed that he might have more of a future at Villa Park then seemed the case, while Jhon Duran’s first goal surely can’t be far away.

It wasn’t a great game, but there was still plenty to take encouragement from. For the first time in a long while I wish the season was only just starting, rather than entering its final stages.