Aston Villa and the old failings

Villa lose to Nottingham Forest as Dave Woodhall watches.

Strange things are happening at our club. It’s not just the winds of optimism blowing through Villa Park at near gale-force levels; events elsewhere are also beyond what we’ve become accustomed to. Saturday evening, for example, when Arsenal played Newcastle. Was it best for the team in third place to win and keep Villa well ahead of sixth, or for sixth to win so we could potentially go third? Such a dilemma has been beyond our imagination for so long – I’m more used to wondering how many teams can go above us over the weekend if we lose.

As it was, Newcastle beat Arsenal and we had the chance to take third place, even if only for a few hours. No doubt Unai Emery was watching their match, working out how to beat both teams as well as VAR. He probably didn’t have to think as hard about the team to start against Forest. Alex Moreno was on the bench, Jhon Duran wasn’t and the rest was no great surprise. And neither, to seasoned Villa watchers, was the result.

Last week I said that one of the problems that hold Villa back is the sense of fatalism around the club, the resigned belief that however well we might be doing, soon it’s all bound to go wrong. A routine win at home to Luton seemed to resolve that; losing at Forest brings all the old doubts flooding back.

Although it wasn’t a particularly bad performance, neither could Villa claim we were the victims of bad luck or bad refereeing. There’s probably someone employed by the Premier League who will say we had more possession than any other club who’ve lost two-nil away on Bonfire Night since 1992 but it’s irrelevant if you don’t do anything with it.

We went a goal down inside five minutes after a long-range shot that should have been closed down well beforehand. For all Villa’s dominance at home this season, losing an early goal away invariably means an unhappy rest of the match and that’s what happened. Nicolo Zaniolo should have done better soon afterwards when being put clean through but his first touch was poor and the resultant shot easily saved. There were other chances and then the second Forest goal showed what kind of an afternoon it was. Emiliano Martinez got the blame but on another day the shot he saved would have bounced back into play rather than over the line.

Ollie Watkins failed to get a clear header away when a cleaner contact would have been a certain goal and Moussa Diaby could have done better with a late shot. That’s about all you can say; Villa didn’t really deserve to get much more from the afternoon. We know Unai Emery looks at every match with deep critical analysis and he’ll certainly learn a lot from this one.

The unbeaten run is over and time for another one to start. Alkmaar on Thursday then next Sunday against Fulham will be good places to start.