Following the hard-fought point Villa rescued against Leeds, the side turned in a rather underwhelming performance against Millwall last week, and Villa were lucky to get a point in the 0-0 affair. I was taking notes during the game, but then I stopped. There wasn’t really much notable going on.
My basic takeaway was that if nothing else, we got outworked. We looked in good shape for about 10 minutes or so in the first half, and if we’d scored then, who knows. But we didn’t.
So, due to Millwall’s profligacy, we got away with a point. Sheffield United have hit a rough spot so we’re sitting fifth, level with them on points, and travel to now fourth-placed Derby to try and get back on track. The Rams’ four wins in their last five have seen them climb one point and one spot above us.
Ah, the Championship. Normally, you wouldn’t necessarily be fretting at a run of three wins followed by two draws. But in a league where at least one team seems to run away with it each year with another not far behind, every point counts. Sometimes a draw is a good result. But you can’t have many poor draws in such a competitive environment.
When you look at the stats, and scorelines, the obvious issue is that Villa are goal-shy. Of the top 10 sides, only Middlesbrough (27) and Preston NE (25) have scored fewer than Villa’s 29. We’ve got a decent differential at +11, but still find ourselves 14 points off the pace Wolves are setting. Fortunately, Cardiff are a bit closer at seven points away. But making up those seven points is the trick.
Whatever Bruce’s tactical preferences, Villa aren’t fielding a very threatening front line at the moment, and it’s a bit of chicken and egg in terms of how the set-up, available players and Bruce’s approach are impacting results.
What I can say is this: We’re not easy to beat, only the top three sides have lost fewer games, but we’re still not ticking over.
I’ll also say it’s true that our depth has been tested. Perhaps this is about as good as we could’ve expected, given the absence of a true danger man up front.
Adomah has been outstanding, but we always figured he wasn’t the sort who was going to keep scoring for fun. Snodgrass, virtually no return in front of goal. Davis is being asked to do a lot, and hasn’t taken the two or three opportunities that have come to him over the last couple matches.
Now we’ve got Hogan back, giving us a true striker once again, but one we can’t seem to play to. Perhaps Grealish can strike up an understanding with him. I really don’t know. O’Hare doesn’t figure into the equation, apparently. Which is a shame. He brings something different, and the side seemingly could use that. Of all the players available, the one who has seemed able to give Hogan the right sort of service in the past is Elmohamady. And the upcoming window isn’t looking terribly promising in terms of solutions.
For today, Grealish is getting the start over Davis. Elmo returns at right back, Hourihane’s in with Lansbury out, and Mile is stepping into the back line. Onomah and Whelan remain. Hogan and Gabby are on the bench.
As Villa head into the congestion of festive fixtures, this would be a fantastic time to see Grealish take the bit. We need creativity, guile and threat in the middle. He can tick those boxes. And really, our fortunes might well depend on him. It’s obvious, of course, but Villa could well be out of the playoff mix come January if we don’t find some wins against the teams up around us, starting today. I haven’t given up on second, by the way, but I’m not necessarily seeing it happen.
So if nothing else, I’m looking at the next two fixtures to tell us something about our prospects if we do make the playoffs, and I’m hoping to come away encouraged. We’re Villans, and that’s what we do.
Over to you.