Villa Set To Storm Up the Table
Okay, maybe not. Yes, we got a vital win and even by the scoreline I was too hesitant to put in print. But though I am a pragmatist, the West Ham match was one of the most underwhelming overall displays I’ve seen in some time, especially given that it was a win, and a crucial one.
Rest assured, I’m as happy as anyone with the points and the rare sight of Villa hanging on. And I do believe in what I say about it just being about survival, however ugly.
But I was a bit surprised at how no one really stood out for me. And maybe that was a good sign. There’ve been other games with much better passages of play and goals and bigger individual performances where we came up empty handed or with less than we would’ve expected. Facing a side like the Hammers and a manager like Big Sam, perhaps it was always going to be a scrappy and disjointed affair.
At the same time, no one was woeful. And thank god Brad Guzan stayed focused for 94 minutes and change. His reaction at the end said it all.
What I’m going to take away from the game is that Villa finally survived an aerial assault with only a self-inflicted head wound to show for it. And Charles N’Zogbia scored and earned a penalty. We need you, Chuck. Keep it up.
The other bits, well, Jordan Bowery did well enough, all things considered, and I can understand his inclusion in Gabby’s stead for the sake of size and physicality. The same for choosing Baker at left back. Dawkins looks lively. The team as a whole were scrappy and combative, even if we were naive and timid down the final stretch. Westwood was unlucky, and Delph seems much more comfortable playing further up the pitch, though he still managed to be involved at both ends. There’s a decent footballer in there if he can build on those sorts of performances. And find more consistency in his first touch.
The other thing that’s interesting is seeing Lambert’s squad choices over time, insofar as he generally seems to like letting a given selection have a run of a few games. We’ve not seen a lot of chopping and changing, but we have seen more deliberate rotations.
I think it’s become clear that however we might be labeling it, a 4-3-3/4-4-2 is probably the side’s best formation as a default, instead of the 3-5-2. Despite his glaring miss, Andi Weimann will still be important. Charles N’Zogbia is starting to make a difference. Benteke remains influential when he’s not at his best. Darren Bent…He’s still a luxury, but I will thank him for being in the right place to make a vital intervention.
I do think the side needs Gabby just for the pace and work rate out wide. Like someone said yesterday, it really is the case that Weimann, Gabby and CNZ should be fighting to play alongside Benteke.
In the middle, I would agree with the emerging consensus that names Sylla, Westwood and Delph, even though I still know next to nothing about Sylla. I’ve long hoped Stephen Ireland would find a consistent place and consistent form, but it doesn’t look like it’s happening this season, and he’s been noticeably absent of late. He is the most creative passer we have, but it doesn’t appear Lambert sees him fitting into this squad, and he probably is out of place alongside the sorts of players we have.
At the back, while Baker isn’t a long-term answer on the left, putting him in there does give the side some of the height and brawn it needs. He gave himself quite a knock butting heads with Carroll, but he kept right at it, and did a job. Blood streaming down his face, he was fully committed and proved a good example.
As we fight through this final third of the season it remains clear that what the side lacks more than anything are composure and confidence. Perhaps the win will help with both. Long term, they’re the sort of things that should end up taking care of themselves if Villa do avoid the drop.
More experience and familiarity (and less pressure) lead to more composure, which generally means holding onto more leads and seeing out more games, which means more results, which in turn boosts confidence and nurtures composure. It’s just that a side this young and inexperienced at this level needs some sort of place to start from. They’d appeared to have found that stepping off point at Anfield before the Chelsea debacle. But that turned out to be another in a series of false dawns during these last three seasons.
So here’s hoping the upward trajectory was rediscovered on Sunday, even if it was a strange match overall, and that the two upcoming games don’t undermine what was accomplished.
What I’d like to see, besides stealing unexpected points, are feisty, combative matches that build confidence by refusing to let either Arsenal or City dominate and toy with Villa. Two close, hard-fought games are what we need, whichever way they finish.