After Villa go out of the Carabao Cup to Chelsea, Dave Woodhall finds positives.
Losing on penalties is a gut-wrenching way of going out of any competition, at whatever stage. And I don’t think the Villa should take much pleasure in moral victories, whatever the opposition. There are times, though, when you have to say well done, and look at the plusses that come out of a defeat. Wednesday night at Stamford Bridge was one such occasion and, in the same way that the most significant game last season might not prove to be THAT win over Liverpool, but rather the FA Cup tie, so the ninety minutes in which Villa’s patched-up side matched Chelsea’s much-changed but still star-studded line-up could become equally significant as the club continues to make strides at all levels.
Villa made nine changes to Chelsea’s ten, and the line-up at kick-off showed that we’re starting to develop a squad rather than just a team. By the end of the game they’d shown that each one of them is worth his place.
If you’re being honest, Chelsea deserved the win on the balance of play. They were the better team, had more chances and controlled much of the game. I don’t particularly want to be honest, though. Every Villa player gave his all and Cameron Archer’s header, coming just ten minutes after Chelsea had gone into the lead, was not only deserved, it was worthy of such a stage. A few months ago he was struggling to get a game for Solihull Moors; now he’s taking on and matching the best in Europe. That’s not bad progress.
Archer’s equaliser led to Chelsea bringing on the best striker in the world in an attempt to get a winner. Villa had brought on Jaden Philogene-Bidace. Still there was no difference between the teams, right up until the final whistle. Perhaps it was expecting too much to have a fairytale ending; there’s no romance in football now, and so it proved with Chelsea winning the shoot-out. To my mind Dean Smith was right to keep the youngsters away from the penalty spot – for any of them to be seen as the one who cost us the tie would have been heartless after all they’d done.
And so Villa’s search for a trophy goes on. Maybe if Smith had picked a stronger team we might have won, and maybe if Danny Ings or Ollie Watkins had been on the bench they might have made a difference. Or maybe if Chelsea had been unchanged then rather than reflecting on a night when they did us proud, our Young Lions could have endured a heavy and confidence-shattering defeat. If me granny had…
Tony Morley once said that when he was in his pomp all the Villa teams, from the schoolboys upwards, played in the same style, “And all the other successful clubs did the same”. You can tell now that after years of dislocation, you could take any Villa player, from whatever level, put him in the first team and he’ll know how to play. It takes some doing to achieve that, and again, whatever happens during the rest of this season, you just know after nights like this that we’re on the right lines.