To say Villa’s 0-2 loss to Derby was underwhelming would be an understatement. In the first of two consecutive matches with the teams on either side of us in the table, Villa failed to produce the goods. Fortunately, Sheffield United have been stumbling badly. But the trailing pack is closing, and two points from the last three games is not the return Villa need.

On Derby:

The Good
Sam Johnstone. Jack Grealish. The interplay down the left side. And that was about it.

To expand a little, I did take some encouragement from Grealish going forward. He looked to drive forward, was tidy on the ball, and seems ready to play a role, rather than drift along. The downside is that there wasn’t really anyone for him to partner with up front.

Oh, and Neil Taylor made an excellent tackle to prevent Nugent from scoring right off the bat.

The Bad
Pretty much all of it. Villa weren’t abjectly poor, they were just what we’ve come to expect. Generally too slow going forward, missing the well-placed pass to put players through on the counter, terrible in the air, and simply too predictable overall. And often you see players dithering, unsure, missing the quick outlet, or afraid to try the pass that unlocks a defense.

In fact, I’ve had trouble conjuring up any sort of insightful analysis of late (if I ever do) because every game looks very much the same—they’re starting to blur together. You can tell who’s going to pass to whom. You can tell the ball will be generally slightly behind the advancing player receiving it. You can tell we’ll hug the touchline and give ourselves little room to work with. You can tell that if Adomah gets deep and has support, it will go back to Taylor, then across to a trailing midfielder and come to naught because everything is static in the middle and the defense are back in position.

And often when Adomah gets deep, you’ll see two or three players hemming him in. It’s become obvious he’s our main scoring threat, and he’s having trouble getting free to cross, let alone get in on goal. You can sort of ignore Snodgrass on the right is what teams are basically saying.

Which brings us to the fact you can tell that if Snodgrass does get a good look at goal he’s going to scuff his shot. You can tell that if a player is drifting into space in the middle of the park that he won’t generally receive the ball. And if he does, it’s not really in any sort of threatening position. If we do avoid passing sideways to get it to Taylor to start up the flank, there’s not another clever player to offload to in the middle. You can tell that too many times whoever is receiving a pass either has his back to goal, or is static and marked. You can tell that we won’t handle pressing well.

And of course, I’ll close this delightfully uplifting segment with the choice of Onomah as a striker, when we had Hogan on the bench. Not that Hogan’s been pulling up trees, but really?

The Ugly
Well, you have to go with Whelan’s howler, don’t you. You just can’t gift a team goals, and while I love holiday spirit, Whelan’s was a bit too indiscriminate.

Final Verdict
We’re not going anywhere. Yes, injuries are definitely playing a part. For example, we’d have expected Kodjia to be back to his old self by this point, or close to, anyway, but of course he’s not in the frame. His presence would pull defenses around, open up space, and pose a real threat. Absent Kodjia, there’s no real threat from the front line besides Adomah.

Adomah has done his bit, to be sure, but due to the lack of quality around him up front, it’s too easy to focus on him, and obviously opponents have picked up on this. Grealish can certainly give you some goals, but right now, he’s got no real targets to pick out to amplify his influence.

This points to all the money spent on Hogan and McCormack being a complete waste, never mind the fact it’s hampering our search for a Kodjia replacement. Whatever the team’s weaknesses might be elsewhere, this really is doing us in up front.

Davis is a fine target man, especially given his age, and when he’s on song, he’s also slick with the ball. But he’s hardly prolific, and once again, the lack of a partner is a big reason why.

So, given we won’t apparently look at any of the other players in our ranks, I’m not really sure what to tell Bruce. I could tell him O’Hare isn’t likely to produce any less end product than Snodgrass at the moment. I could tell him that maybe some of the other kids who’ve had good outings wouldn’t do any worse than Whelan and Onomah. I could tell him that whatever it is that’s driving Onomah’s constant inclusion is perhaps hurting the team and that it might be a good idea for him to go back to Spurs in January. I’m not seeing any development. Pretty sure Pochettino isn’t, either.

In short, I don’t really know what to do. Calls for change will inevitably mount if results don’t improve, and I’ve no idea whether it would do any good. But progress seems to have stalled, and I’m not seeing any signs that we’re about to break out of the mold we’ve been set in. You look at the record, and it’s not ‘bad’. It’s just barely good enough to have us in contention for promotion. I’ll leave off whether the team as it is would survive if we do go up.

Perhaps it’s just a bad patch. Perhaps we just aren’t good enough to beat the teams around us and we really are just an also-ran once again. Perhaps Xia has asked too much. Or asked too much of the wrong people.

What I do know is that if we don’t beat a struggling Blades side this weekend, we might find ourselves irrevocably drifting out of touch come January.

Comments 58

  1. it still looks to me as if SB is still looking for his best starting eleven. Scott Hogan hasn’t stepped up, probably still in cloud cuckoo land at landing a contract with the Villa. Maybe a combination of Hogan in the no. 9 shirt and Grealish playing the no. 10 it may create the chances.
    I think he’ll draft in another old sweat to take on the no. 9 birth, ok if he knocks in 10-12 or even 14 in the new year because thats what it needs. Me, I’d take Crouchy from Stoke, he fit and still got it. Thats where the problem is, no threat up front.
    I’m not defeated, I still think we could be playing in the Premiership next season. I’m more confident now than at this time last year.
    The journey continues, Archie at the controls, take a night off….

  2. Archie,

    I think he is, and losing Kodjia was a tough blow. He hadn’t gotten into gear yet, but is the most natural goal-scorer we have, and I think he and Davis would have been a good pairing.

    Agree also about Grealish and Hogan. I’m guessing Bruce had doubts about Hogan over 90 minutes, and since Samba is out, couldn’t think of another option.

    I do also think we can make it up, but I’m bothered by the lack of results against better sides. It just doesn’t bode well for playoff games. But, you never know…We could find a formula by then.

  3. JC

    Very accurate account of current state of affairs. My only different thought is your comment that progress seems to have stalled. I’m not sure we have made much progress in the last 12 months. SB’s preferred line up has a Dad’s Army look about it.

  4. Plug,

    Can’t disagree with you…There was a period there where I thought we might’ve been coming together (so I thought there was progress), but I can see where you’re coming from.

    I was getting stick for being negative in worrying about how badly we’d been outclassed by Wolves, etc., and I was willing to accept we might be better than that.

    But as we go on, looks like what Mark’s been saying, just had a good run of ‘easy’ games.

  5. jc
    good report but disagree on bruce trying davies and kodja ,davies would not have got a look in only for injuries,likewise adoamh was dropped to make room for waste of space snodgrass who moaned about west ham playing him in wrong position ,as far as i can see snodgrass hasnt got a good position ,bruce has got lucky with davies adoamh if he hadnt would guess he already would have been sacked

  6. Thanks, Pretty much what I’m seeing JC with the transition from defence to attack the slowest in living memory.

    Progress? 6 more points at game 22 than last season with RDM’s rubbish team, two wins better, well I am not impressed at all considering we still can’t use the players we bought in Jan effectively. And I also suspect the way we play is adding to our injuries, running instead of passing is tiring and tiredness leads to injury and mistakes. Lose or draw the next 2 and we will be 2-4 points better off than last season by Xmas.

  7. JG,

    Didn’t mean to imply Davis-Kodjia was an original plan. Just that the way things happened, would’ve been on the cards.

    Course, Jack changes things, too. Would we have seen Davis and Kodjia up front, Grealish and Hourihane/Lansbury in the middle if Kodjia hadn’t been hurt again?

    You may well be onto something about injuries. However, seems like most everyone we play ends up running more than we do. They certainly close faster and press harder.

  8. Mark,

    The transition thing is killing me. You’ll see the winger or fullback wide right and open, for example, and someone is trying to look for a pass in the middle, waiting, waiting, then carefully stroking it rather slowly to the player out wide who is now at a standstill and being aggressively closed down by that point.

    That’s if it doesn’t go backward.

  9. Mark
    I seem to see most moves forward being telegraphed which is why we need Grealish, O’Hare amongst others, to get us out of the slow it down premiership model, which doesn’t work so well in the championship.
    This seems to be why relying on individual brilliance isn’t working, as the patterns of play that set them up are so ponderous that it just grinds to a halt, or our passing becomes cr*p & we keep giving the ball back, which encourages & builds up the opposition’s confidence.
    Not impressed lately.

  10. That brilliance we require might just be some quick thinking, at least Westwood when here didn’t dither when he received the ball. Get the ball to Jack while there is space and a forward to hit.

    JC the opposition react quicker and close down as a group we don’t but still run aimlessly between players at times then there’s the older legs having to sprint back to recover. This league is quite an all action one and I think it suits youthful energy so you want those to be the majority 19-25 with a few 26-30, its ok if your Vardy not so if your wheelan.

  11. On getting the ball forward quickly, cast your mind back to the games featuring doyle hayes , quick accurate passing to the wingers or through to Hogan = goals

  12. Well SB will always have a reason not to play many U23s, as he always seems to be chasing the game [his unbalanced need for experience all the time].

    U23s just beat the Baggies 4-1
    Hepburn Murphy scored 2 & O’Hare 1

    SB says that they have to get up to speed for the first team??

  13. Mark, IanG…

    Agreed, when the kids have played you can see the understanding between them. They do play quickly and anticipate each other well. Just a question of whether they have the ability/belief to bounce back from rough days. I’m sure they’d like the opportunity to find out.

    Far as always chasing the game, you’re right, we’ve only looked comfortable a couple-three times closing things out. Now that we’re falling behind on the points haul, I doubt Bruce will entertain the idea of anyone but O’Hare, and that seems a mile off.

    As our other Ian was saying, it’s a shame that we aren’t going at this another way.

  14. And yes, there is a lot of aimless running and playing without the ball. I’ve never liked our average age (starters) when the season started. Even though it’s gone down with Davis and Onomah playing, we’re still not a young team.

  15. John
    Thanks for the accurate summary. You’re bang on with the blur comment. If Villa were a colour at the moment that colour would be drab grey.
    I agree with all the above comments. There’s no inspiration coming through. Villa is mogodon.

  16. Been so long since Tishbola or Gardner have played for us but I wonder if they are any worse than Onamah at present? two more down the gurgler along with RMC and Hogan

  17. Trinity it will depend on where we are by end of feb I think with targets already set for Jan. the time to swap has long gone, thats why I never thought giving him until Xmas was a good idea but you never know

  18. We are much too pedantic at getting the ball forward at pace. Players taking a pass usually have 1 touch to control it, another touch whilst they think about what to do with it and a third touch to pass it sideways or backwards. Whilst doing this, your opponent has time for a sandwich.

    There’s no excuse. Pitches these days are billiard tables. If you are a professional footballer receiving a pass, you ought to be able to pass it on forward accurately with your only touch and then move into space to be available for further ball movement. The thinking needs to be done as the ball approaches you. If players can’t manage this basic requirement don’t pick them. If coaches can’t teach them, replace them with someone who can.

  19. I have to agree with all the comments about the stalling of our progress linked to the lack of inspiration. The players seem to be just going through the motions of earning their wages rather than demonstrating that they give value for money.
    It is not normally the case but I think the fact we are going away for the weekend for a wedding and I will miss the ‘live’ transmission on Sky will not bother me.
    Hopefully a Villa win might change that view in time for the also ‘live’ transmission by Sky of the Brentford match the following week. That however is not one fixture that gives me hope.
    Re giving SB until xmas not being a good idea Mark, you never know there’s still more than half the games to play starting this weekend.

  20. Clive- I just meant by this time we will have transfers targetted, another manager would have no time in that regard. If promotion is going to happen it will be with Bruce this season unless we truly collapse like last Jan/feb, can’t see us getting that bad but equally can’t see us getting much better.

  21. I get your point Mark but I am not sure Bruce’s transfer targets are going to fit the bill unless we get a couple of decent loan players of a better standard than Onomah,
    Still while there’s life there’s hope!

  22. clive- yes mate shame we are down to hoping again instead of confidence, don’t think that will be missed by the doc either.

    looking at Bristol last night and how they have gone about things, two academy players getting the goals can’t help but feel like our teams a bit plastic

  23. Had a look at opta stats, so far we have Adomah on 10 goals in the top 6 nobody else in top 20, snodgrass on 5 assists which puts him at equal 8th with about ten others, we are third in the clean sheets with 9, 11th in the attack stats, 7th in the form guide, nobody in the top 20 for shots total, nobody in the top twenty for passes (Huddlestone top) JT creeps in to clearances at 16th, Hourihane and snodgrass 18th and 16th in chances created, Johnstone 2nd for long passes 🙂

    think that paints a picture? Oddly we would be third if games ended at half time or maybe that signals a lack of stamina?

    this is us head to head with the top six

    1 Bristol City 5 5 11
    2 Cardiff City 5 5 10
    3 Wolverhampton Wanderers 5 1 7
    4 Sheffield United 4 1 6
    5 Derby County 5 -5 4
    6 Aston Villa 4 -7 1

  24. oh and head to head midlands teams

    1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 4 6 12
    2 Derby County 4 2 7
    3 Birmingham City 4 0 5
    4 Aston Villa 4 -3 4
    5 Nottingham Forest 4 -5 0

  25. Everyone making sensible comments, sadly no-one has any real positives, as there just are none.

    I also think, having seen Villa, how they play, how badly most of the new recruits have done, including the injury pattern, that we can possibly attract any players to make a significant difference to the team.

    I feel that not much will happen, in a positive direction, until John Terry returns, and adds some steel. He has been the most positive signing out of the whole of Bruce’s tenure.

  26. I hope that terry is fully healed from his foot injury when he steps back on the field. Villa haven’t got a good history of bringing players back who have had foot/ankle injuries.

    Have a merry Christmas and a happy new year guys.

  27. How wise was the sale of Baker to Bristol City???

    He would have stepped straight back in for Terry, and picked up what was a very good pairing with Chester. Certainly it has been good for Nathan, and I wish him all the best with Bristol City….I wonder if SWV has become a convert…????

    Still we still have Elphick…??? doesn’t even get a look in..??

  28. PP
    it is a sad situation when after 60 games,15 players signed only good thing you can say about bruce time in charge was signing of 36/7 john terry, and you know what i agree
    the sooner the doc acts the better

  29. JG,

    We are often accused of calling for the easy option without providing a solution. Well at least I am. So I’m expecting the groundswell against SB to gather momentum before too long. Do you think JT would be worth a shout as player/manager?

  30. plug
    to be honest never wanted jt didnt like what i read or seen on the man but i take it back he has shown professionalism not seeen at villa park for a long time,and think it would be great shout as player manager ,green bree davies and grealish could learn so much

  31. Reckon JT would actually love to take over and get Villa back to the premiership, would be his dream start to management, and he would have the players onside.

    He is the sort of go ahead player with the right ideas and tactics to put into practice, after years of being a loyal club man working with the best coaches and players.

  32. Leading the way

    Agnew, 52, will become Villa’s ‘head of coaching’, according to Bruce. The pair worked alongside one another successfully at Hull City and Bruce is hoping the former Middlesbrough head coach can bring fresh ideas and impetus to the training ground.

    Agnew has led sessions this week and again took centre stage today.

    Bruce told us: “There’s nothing quite like freshening it up. He’s incorporated Stephen, Colin and myself on the training ground.

    “To get somebody like him and with the beauty of having worked with him before, I’ll know what he’ll bring.

    “It’s vitally important that all your preparation work is geared to what you do on a Saturday so the more help you can get on the training ground, the better. He’s a wonderfully gifted coach.”

  33. you can only think Bruce feel the sessions have been lacking? lets hope Agnew can do it for us

    Now that the deal is done, Bruce has revealed the efforts which he went to in order to bring the 52-year-old in to Villa Park, which included keeping talks a secret before Friday’s reveal.

    He told the Birmingham Mail: “It’s something I’ve been working quietly on over the last couple of months.

    “He’s an excellent coach. Colin (Calderwood) is still my assistant but I’ve put Steve as the head of coaching.

    “I had a great relationship with him at Hull so let’s hope he can work a bit of magic on the training pitch.”

    Bruce will be hoping that Agnew’s arrival on the training ground can help boost the team’s performances on the pitch, having witnessed his side slip to a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Derby County in their last outing.

    They play host to Sheffield United on Wednesday, who are sat level on points and just a single place behind the Villans in the last of the Championship play off spots.

  34. It’s Christmas time, its time to be afraid
    At Christmastime, not enough points from the games they’ve played!

    And in our midlands of plenty we can spread a smile of joy, throw your arms around a blue nose at Christmas time

    But say a prayer, pray for the Small Heath ones, at Christmas time it’s hard, seeing the Wolves have won.

    There’s a world outside your window and it’s a world of dread and fear,
    Where the only water flowing is the bitter blue nose tears,
    And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom,

    Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you

    And there won’t be 3 points in Small Heath this Christmas time,

    The greatest gift they’ll get this years a draw.

    Where nothing ever flows, plenty of own goals.

    Do they know what 3 points are at all?

    Here’s to you raise a glass to the pride of Birmingham (AVFC)

    Here to them playing next season at Accrington.

    Do they know what 3 points are at all?

  35. You all know the song , new words here
    Merry Christmas everyone and Happy New Year ,
    I have had that virus and its floored me
    All the best,
    Jenny ❤❤❤❤❤❤

  36. All the best mate, half the people I know have got it , have good one.
    while I’m at it Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all especially Steve Bruce.

  37. Well done ST75,

    What an excellent song for Xmas, must spread it around!!
    Merry Xmas to everyone and our many absent friends, but a special Xmas thought to all our Holte Enders in the sky.
    Will be there tomorrow night to roar the team on, and let’s hope Agnew has influenced enough to get us 3 points for Xmas.


    You need to be back here. I know that you may have found it a little hard in recent times, but we all love you, and it is not the same without you, and also many others. At the end of the day we are all Vila fans, and one of the purposes of the site is to let of steam after a match….particularly a bad one, rather than take it out on the team on match days..

  38. James Gill – I enjoyed the match but I have to comment that football is also about defending. I was not surprised by Mignolet’s gaffes but Cech???? Both defences were prised open, Ozil came to life in the second half and had a telling contribution.

  39. clive- Both teams are very adept at prising open defences but surprisingly Arsenal have 10 clean sheets in the league Liverpool 8, we have 9 and we are defensive to the max, Burnley have 8. Liverpool put four for no reply past arsenal earlier in the season but lost 5-0 to Man city, I think last nights match was great to watch a great example of going out to win. Lots of ways to win games but in the prem and ours you have to score goals IMO to take no risks is a hard way to win.

  40. clive
    love good defending, and its why neither pool or aresnal will win the league ,but its all about scoring ,with firepower available to bruce we should be scoring nearly 2 goals a match instead miserly 1.3 more goals equals more points bruce

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