Aston Villa and the long wait

Villa draw at West Ham and Dave Woodhall’s happy.

Back to the league and the chance to see how much Thursday’s win affected the team, as well as the effect of John McGinn’s absence.

Life without our errant midfielder was easily solved – in the almost total absence of available midfielders Unai Emery chose to almost play without one, picking a team that looked like it was some sort of 4-1-5 formation. It didn’t really work and Villa were second-best for much of the first half. Villa did, though, have chances with a shot from Ollie Watkins well saved and what seemed to be a good shout for a penalty turned down. Then we lost the ball and although it grieves me to admit it, the goal that put West Ham into the lead was well-taken.

Emery wasted no time during the break in putting things right – Clement Lenglet was replaced by Matty Cash which enabled Ezri Konsa to move into his best position and Moussa Diaby came on for Jhon Duran, whose usual exuberance hadn’t had the desired end result. With the defence more solid and Ollie Watkins allowed more freedom as a lone striker, Villa started to look more threatening although this was only after West Ham had a goal ruled out for handball.

Villa started to get on top but Konsa’s mis-hit shot which almost fooled the entire home defence was the closest to an equaliser until with eleven minutes remaining Youri Tielemans played a ball through for Moussa Diaby to run onto and he managed to find space for substitute Nicolo Zaniolo to hit home. It’s probably too late for Zaniolo to do much more than make the occasional contribution before heading off on the next leg of his European adventures but this was a vital one.

Or maybe not. Deep into stoppage time Villa can’t clear a cross, there’s a claim that the ball has crossed the line and the goal’s given. Then it’s time for a VAR check. And time drags on, and on until it’s finally ruled out, rightly so after watching a dozen playbacks. This is the problem with VAR; if it’s so indecisive that it takes so long – eight minutes in this case – before making a decision something’s definitely wrong. In any case the view from the away end at the London Stadium is the worst outside Mostar yet everyone in there could see the goal should have been disallowed immediately so why it took so long is beyond me.

In the end a draw was probably a fair result and with the other results going our way on Saturday it’s another point gained. The next few games will be difficult although at least we have an international break to rest some tired legs and minds as well as get some of the walking wounded a bit more match-fit. if Villa can still be in fourth place with six games to go we’ll be looking very promising. Sunday’s performance might not have been a vintage one but Zaniolo’s goal might prove to be the most important of his career after all.