Currently sitting in 18th place in the Championship table, Aston Villa will tonight entertain Brentford at Villa Park, looking to claim a first win in five games.
It has been a mixed start to life in the Championship but the facts remain that Villa are at present, ten points behind league leaders Huddersfield Town. Considering the investment during the summer window and the quality of players brought to the club, supporters can be forgiven for having expected to see the side placed further up the league standings.
Whilst the recent results have been disappointing, the general performance, with the exception of the Bristol City contest, has been a stark improvement upon last season’s endeavours. The current side’s main issue has been a failure to put games to bed when they have been firmly on top. For instance, our first home game of the season perfectly showed the importance of taking chances at key moments of the game.
Against Rotherham, admittedly a poor side on the day, Villa were dominant in the first half and crucially went into the half time break with a two goal lead. The timing of the second goal just before half time gave Villa the impetuous as they pushed onto secure a comfortable 3-0 victory.
Three days later and Huddersfield were the visitors. The game began in a similar vein, with Villa very much the dominant side in the opening half and Ross McCormick giving the hosts a deserved lead. Further clear cut chances prior to half time were not taken and in the second half, Huddersfield came out a changed side. The visitors were the far better side after half time and were gifted the stroke of luck their persistence deserved. Villa on the face of things had certainly squandered two points.
The visit to Derby County saw Villa once again carve out the best chances of the game but the match ended in a goalless draw. Taking a point away to Derby is by no means a bad result but in the context of the game, it was disappointing to not take all three.
Sunday’s meeting with Nottingham Forest, was another example of the side’s inability to hold out for victory. To their credit, it was in fact the first time this season that Roberto Di Matteo’s men had come from behind in a game.
Having worked so hard to get in front in a game that they had by in large dominated, it was frustrating to see the hosts once again squander the lead late on and share the spoils. Our last two home games have very much been four points dropped.
Looking at the positives however, Villa are still unbeaten at home this season and the general play and chances created is encouraging. Defensively, the side is much improved but errors late on in games are proving costly. It seems apparent that Di Matteo has identified his favoured back four and on the whole they have defended well.
The biggest concerns currently lie in midfield and attack. It is great to see Villa creating so many chances but with the firepower we now possess, it is not unrealistic to see Villa winning games more convincingly.
The strengths of Kodija, Gestede and McCormick at this level are well documented but at this moment in time the side is struggling to make their dominance of most games count. Kodija debut on Sunday was encouraging and Gestede and McCormack both getting on the score sheet hopefully bodes well. As their understanding with team mates continues to develop, Villa should have more than enough goals in the side. At the moment the side is not being as clinical as its general play deserves or warrants.
Sunday’s draw with Forest proved that the central midfield area is a position which Villa needs to improve. The pairing of Westwood and Gardner started the game brightly but allowed the contest to get away from them. Gardner’s miss placed pass led to Forest’s first goal and the challenges of both players for the two goals left a lot to be desired.
Both players, in particular Gardner, divide opinion amongst supporters. Whilst the season is very much in its infancy, Gardner’s performances thus far have done very little to convince doubters of his input to the cause. Having a passing range is all good and well but the telling impact and influence on the game of late is minimal. By in large Sunday’s game passed Gardner by and it was no surprise to see him substituted.
Once both players are fit, it would be safe to assume that Miles Jedinak and Aaron Tshibola, would be the first choice pairing. Jedinak’s qualities and leadership skills are there for all to see and undoubtedly will be one of the first names on the manager’s team sheet. Tshibola has started the season well and certainly has more involvement in games than Westwood and Gardner. It will be interesting to see what side Di Matteo goes with this evening but should Westwood and Gardner be selected once more, this would cause ground for concern.
The atmosphere at Villa Park this season is a vast improvement on recent years and it is important to keep the momentum going. By in large, Tony Xia has played a huge role in improving the feeling down at Villa Park. His hands-on approach has been refreshing and he has stuck to his word and given the manager the financial backing needed. Now it is the time for the players to start producing the goods and turning performances into results.
A victory this evening would go a long way to keeping the positive vibe and more importantly would see Villa close the gap on the sides above them. With 40 games of the season to go, it’s fair to say its early days for panic but another winless game at home would lead some to question the sides chances of automatic promotion.
Many of the league’s top sides are still to head to Villa Park but it is vitally important that the side make Villa Park a fortress once more and a tough place to visit. It has been clear so far that the visiting team’s fans and players to date have enjoyed the occasion. Now it is the responsibility of the players to make the trip a daunting proposition for the opposition and not somewhere they treat as a big day out or at worse somewhere they can pick up points.
If the club holds genuine promotion aspirations, then a strong home record will be vitally important. Tonight’s game presents an immediate opportunity to right Sunday’s wrongs and get an all important three points. Here’s hoping for a stress free evening at Villa Park and a return to winning ways.