Aston Villa 1 – 3 Barnsley
Before the match, there were hopes that this might prove to be the ninety minutes when it all came together. Instead, we witnessed a defeat which was arguably as bad a performance as seen at Kenilworth Road in the EFL Cup last summer.
And at the end of ninety depressingly familiar minutes, the chorus of boos which accompanied the players trudge from the pitch, tells you the story which you need to know.
Seven points off relegation; that’s how far we’ve slipped, I’m not even looking upwards because we’re more in danger of dropping into the fight. Hull’s record under Bruce was impressive in terms of promotions but he didn’t fight relegation particularly well.
Conceding the first goal is always a problem with a team which isn’t scoring many, and that is us right now. Confidence is shorn from the squad, with little or no prospect of it returning in the next few games. Newcastle and Derby, for all their problems, will both be relishing facing us.
Yet the evening began so promisingly, although so did Saturday so some caution had to be applied to the pattern of the match. Adomah and Lansbury were the prinicipal threats, with Davies in the Barnsley goal much the busier of the two ‘keepers.
But all the pressure and possession in the world means nothing if you don’t score. And we didn’t, with a certain inevitability about the sucker punch. And it was one helluva right hook from the referee; it certainly seemed more of a slip than any foul play by Amavi but when your luck is out, it’s completely gone. Armstrong made no mistake from the spot.
Suddenly it was Sam Johnstone who was the busier of the two keepers and a fine save from Kent’s free kick will go a long way to instilling some self-belief in the youngster. He’ll need it with a porous defence ahead of him; Bradshaw’s second was entirely preventable but the will to do so was missing from the back four.
Kodjia then did what Villa do best: give you hope. Half-time was almost upon us and heads had barely been lifted out of hands from Barnsley’s second when the Ivorian fired home at the far post. The combination of Kodjia and Adomah worked a treat; if only we could get it firing on all cylinders more frequently.
As with last season though, we should never underestimate Villa’s ability to self-destruct. Kodjia went from hero to Villain when he made a complete hash of his clearance, the ball gleefully slammed home by Bradshaw. At 3 – 1 down, there was life on the Villa bench; too little, too late.
Green, Bjarnason and Bacuna all entered the fray with 15 – 20 minutes to go but we needed a brave decision from Bruce at half-time. Having got ourselves back into the game, we had to capitalise and inject some pace into the proceedings. Instead, we continued in the usual blind alley fashion.
It’s a worry how quickly confidence has drained, even more so with Blackburn having 3 of the next 4 games at home, where they are doing reasonably well. There’s a lot of hard work to do on the training pitches to get this right and build a platform for next season’s promotion charge.