Aston Villa and the home straight

Villa lose at Wolves and Dave Woodhall reflects.

There are times when you have to admit you were beaten by the better side, and other times when you wonder how you lost. This wasn’t really either; it was a game that Villa didn’t really deserve to lose but in the end was no great robbery either. In truth it was what it was – two mid-ishtable teams, one of which has been underperforming for most of the season and the other have had a great couple of months but are now running on empty.

Unai Emery must have recognised the need for fresh legs, bringing in Bertrand Traore to start and gambling with the returning trio of Philippe Coutinho, Diego Carlos and Boubacar Kamara on the bench. It was an attacking line-up but there wasn’t much opportunity to see how well it would perform going forward before they were a goal down from a corner. Villa did go forward after that; Emiliano Buendia had a long-range shot pushed round the post and Ollie Watkins should have done better from a perfect cross, then a good penalty claim turned down but that was all there was from a first half of possession but no penetration.

Despite several substitutions as the second half progressed there was no change in the end product. Ashley Young put a shot wide, Tyrones Mings missed an open goal from a free-kick and you sensed that it wasn’t going to be Villa’s day. Leon Bailey had already come on for Traore, who had been disappointing, then Carlos for Young and in the final stages Kamara replaced Douglas Luiz. The sight of them all back on the pitch was a welcome one for the run-in but neither they nor the cameo from Jhon Duran made much difference to the final score. Being honest, it was one of those games where you could tell a long time before the final whistle that whatever Villa did wasn’t going to be enough.

Wolves are no great shakes and a month ago Villa would have been a different proposition but every shot that was creeping inside the post then is now going wide and every stray clearance is going to the opposition rather than to a Villa player. Ollie Watkins is on one of his goalless runs, the Traore/Buendis/Bailey trio are nowhere near consistent enough, midfield is losing its ability to dominate, defence is looking less impregnable. If we’re being really, really honest Villa have been off the pace since beating Newcastle. Clearly a lot of that’s down to fatigue, although I do wonder if there’s a bit of nerves kicking in as well as the age-old Villa problem of getting ourselves into a good position then finding it easier to fail than to succeed.

There still is a chance of getting into Europe, although it’s ‘outside’ rather than the ‘good’ it was a week ago. Maybe we’re suffering from not reinforcing during January, maybe we wouldn’t have had that phenomenal run if a couple of new arrivals had come in and upset the squad’s rhythm. All we can do is hope that the players Emery selects for the final three games can somehow pick themselves up and get over the line, while other results go our way.