There’s a joke to be had somewhere. The gallows humour so often attributed to football supporters left me wondering if we were able to see the Forestieri from the trees. Immediately the song “Same old Villa, always beaten…” raced through my mind.
Losing by a single goal at Hillsborough carries no shame in defeat. The real shame is that it was once more self-inflicted. Pierluigi Gollini won’t forget his first competitive match for Villa, that’s for sure. His late miscued clearance received the harshest punishment but shouldn’t disguise the fact that there were a number of positives to take from yesterday’s game.
The first is that despite this being their first competitive match together, Elphick and Baker forged a decent partnership in defence. They had their moments but the most parsimonious defence will always concede chances. Denying goals is the key to it all. Elphick even managed to spill claret for the cause; OK, it wasn’t Terry Butcher in Rome but the indefatigable spirit is what most impressed.
There were moments, opportunities before the goal where Villa could have broken the deadlock. They weren’t taken by Gestede or Ayew, or Ross McCormack – whose debut was promising considering how late in last week he joined – later on, and in these big games those moments can return to haunt you. I think the biggest concern is that the shadow of last season still hangs over some players.
Jordan Ayew, for example, can be mesmerising with the ball but without it, you wouldn’t know he was on the pitch. More endeavour to create openings and space for colleagues. Similarly, Gestede is one-dimensional at times and this is the level at which he made his name.
There were factors involved in both issues though. The lack of width from Hutton and Cissokho was as baffling as it was worrying. Without support, the opposition being stretched across the width of the pitch, you don’t make the most of Gestede’s aerial ability whilst compacting play stifles Ayew’s pace.
In highlighting the positives, you can’t escape the negatives. We can’t ignore the goalkeeping lapse nor can we hide the fact that the midfield was, I felt, too reactive at times. Winning games comes from a solid defence but the midfield has to transition defence into attack and more smoothly than Villa managed yesterday.
Ultimately, as Roberto Di Matteo said afterwards, with ten minutes to go in a big match, you want to close out this game. Perhaps nick a winner but certainly not lose. We didn’t manage that and disconcertingly, we lacked concentration and application. Not just from Gollini but elsewhere on the pitch as well. Options when in possession, quick movement without; we weren’t consistent enough over the 90 minutes.
Newcastle got a bloody nose on Friday, Villa on Sunday. The standards in this division are higher than we may like to admit but there is no reason to think we can’t reach the play-offs at least. Beating Huddersfield tomorrow is absolutely vital; Derby away on Saturday is another tough introduction to life in the Championship and developing a winning habit quickly is a must.