Aston Villa squandered a slender 1-0 lead to draw 1-1 with hosts Preston North End Saturday. Which was a shame, as there was ground to be gained on the day given other results.

Having missed the previous two matches while traveling over the holidays, I feel somewhat disadvantaged picking the plot back up now. But I’ve at least seen the highlights and though they’re a poor substitute, you can generally tell something. What I saw was a nice opening against Leeds and then largely one-way traffic the other way. Swansea…scrappy and just enough.

The Good
Great reaction save from Nyland to deny PNE an opener. Encouraging cameo from Bjarnason. Another goal from Abraham, who could’ve gone over, but kept his feet while being pulled back and still got enough on the ball to guide it home.

The Bad
A spill from Nyland that almost gifted PNE an opener. His catching is simply subpar. He also got caught in two minds coming out for a ball that dropped short. Luckily, the resulting effort went off the post. He was lucky again when the shot slid under him at the near post and came back out off the woodwork. The defense was once again dodgy and that’s no surprise. PNE’s goal looked poor, from our view, but the move was well worked and I can’t say they didn’t deserve it. Whether it was Elmo or them, it seemed sort of inevitable. A number of quality long balls from Preston put Bree and Chester under a lot of pressure. Bjarnason’s miss was almost impossible, and he probably didn’t know too much about Abraham behind him. He then forced a save, but should’ve passed the ball to Tammy, who was all alone in the middle (and perhaps offside…I’ve not watched that one back). For his part, El Ghazi went for glory earlier and ignored a wide-open and very upset Abraham—who likely would’ve slotted home easily had he gotten any kind of decent ball to work with.

The Ugly
Villa’s passing and ball control. Oh, and Giroud getting crocked, increasing the very distinct possibility Abraham will not be seeing out the season in claret and blue.

Final Verdict
At the risk of oversimplification, Jack is out and Smith has had little to work with in trying to paper over his absence. Jack’s the glue. He’s the guy who can carry it and play out of tight spots. He draws attention and fouls. His performances this season may not have produced a lot of highlight-reel moments, but his presence is huge. Without him, the midfield looks empty, and the ball isn’t sticking in the opponent’s half. The number of quickly stalled attacks leave a very makeshift back four exposed, and Villa are too often back to ball-watching. It’s a defense scared to commit and there’s been little cover in front.

McGinn has yet to take over in midfield, and Hourihane was never that kind of player. It’s the combination of the three that brings out the best in McGinn and Hourihane. Likewise, Jack doesn’t have to try to do everything with a ball-winning terrier beside him.

Give Preston credit: They played the game the way they had to. Lots of energy and pressing. They couldn’t stand off and give us room, and they didn’t. They got back and packed it in, and then played well on the counter. Deano acknowledged the difficulty quality long balls were causing us. Daniel Johnson grew in influence as the game wore on and was bossing things down the stretch. Birkir’s introduction helped turn the tide in the middle, but it was probably left a bit late. PNE will probably feel disappointed not to have come away with all three points and I wouldn’t blame them.

For Villa’s part, poor all the way round. Yannick Bolasie had no touch whatsoever. Anwar El Ghazi was better on the ball, but seemed intent on trying to do too much himself. Abraham didn’t get found often enough. John McGinn was customarily tenacious, but the game passed him by for long stretches. He and Conor Hourihane can’t make up for Jack’s absence and Glenn Whelan’s lack of wheels, and couldn’t impose themselves. Passing was wayward throughout the side and just wasn’t quick enough.

Axel Tuanzebe also is a big loss for perhaps much more obvious reasons. Chester’s been playing hurt for a while and is not at his best. James Bree has done as well as can be expected, but all of the understanding Tuanzebe and Chester were developing has gone, as well as the height Tuanzebe brings, and Nyland must inspire little to no confidence. I would assume that Kalinic has not been signed to look on. Elphick coming back can only help.

This isn’t to say the side haven’t gotten results. They’ve continued to fight and have scored enough to win, even if they’ve had to settle for draws. But draws are what get you killed in this league.

So, the window’s coming up, and we can only hope Jack’s coming back sooner rather than later. We’ve got a big keeper who probably will be introduced as soon as possible, especially since Nyland has apparently gotten injured in training.

Very mixed bag and I know we’re all more than curious to see who arrives. But the search will be complicated if Jack is going to be out for an extended period and even more so if Abraham leaves. I was worried when Grealish was initially sidelined, but thought the side might cope. We have, just, but this is obviously not the team with so much momentum going up into the Albion robbery. Given Grealish, Abraham, and the other shortcomings, this window will almost certainly determine whether Villa stay in the hunt or start looking to next season.

And I also should say: I wish you all a happy new year, and hope that 2019 is a year of prosperity and joy for all.

Over to you.

Comments 89

  1. JC,

    Though Jack plays a sticky game (the “glue” – get it?!) and we could do with him back, for me the basic issue of why it’s gone a bit pear-shaped in terms of quality of performance is the defence.

    As the great new manager of United (Ollie) says, despite scoring so many in his first 3 games, the basis of a good team is its defence, but Villa’s has been all 6’s and 7’s these last few games. Even Chester carrying an injury but making himself available.

    Tomorrow we’ll even have a different keeper playing, but perhaps Elphick will be back and determined to show how it’s done. And I hope not by more errors!

    Hopefully we’ll have Albert back too.

  2. An excellent leader once again JC,

    Unfortunately, Villa’s injuries all seem to fall into long term of late, which is probably why Steer is being recalled, as there is no-one for the bench, with Bunn having to play tomorrow, and Nyland and Moreira are now both injured, I believe.

    I do hope that we recruit some real contenders for the team, as Dean has said he only wants players that can improve the team.

  3. PP,

    I do think the buys will be good enough to improve the side because I think Smith knows exactly what he’s looking for. Not just “a” left back, but one who has x, y, and z in his locker. It will be interesting to see what Pitarch brings to the table in terms of expanding the number of viable options.

    My big concern, obviously, is the number of holes that need filling. Bringing Elphick back is good, we’ll need another CB at least, maybe two, now that Axel’s out. They’ll be figuring out what to do without Abraham. And with Jack…? That’s really the wild card.

  4. I Wish You A Very Happy and Successful New Year In Every Way

    I’m now off to fix a bed that has suddenly collapsed on us just in time for the New Year, so will not hang around any further today except to wish you all well and to say “may auld acquaintance be forgot”!

  5. Said a few weeks ago the honeymoon period over. Feel smith has got a few things wrong and want to see an improvement in the style (no jack no party?) and freshen the team up more. Big game today. Need our zip and spark back.

  6. subs: definitely attacking subs

    Keinan Davis 31 Mark Bunn 11 Yannick Bolasie 22 Anwar El Ghazi 9 Scott Hogan 27 Ahmed Eissa El Mohamady Abdel Fattah 6 Glenn Whelan

  7. RichardS,

    I agree – it would upset the apple cart if he left at this juncture.

    But we have Kodjia, Hogan and Davis if it’s they who left with the main scoring task, and I would have thought one of them would rise to the occasion. I would hope!

  8. Andrew: “For me it’s our midfield”

    My reference to “defence” is a loose one that covers the entire defensive setup and includes your definition Andrew.

    We need a Jedi as d-m i.m.o.

    And QPR have now scored 2 with 2 shots on goal.

  9. 60+% possession, 21 goal attempts, 5 on target.


    Well, two saving graces…

    1. The leading pack are dropping points as well.
    2. Two defensive players had to be recalled for today’s match – need to settle in.

  10. Happy New Year Guys. I hope you kept the drinking reined in last night and if you didn’t I hope your head doesn’t hurt too much this morning.

    I’m happy to see elphick and steer back. How did they do? You’re right tie games aren’t going to do it. Still, plenty of time to pull it together. How long does Grealish go before he’s fit ?

  11. That was rubbish. Can’t pass. Our defence is a disgrace. For us to concede as many goals as we do is appalling. Where’s the high pressing and smothering teams. Players not getting in the box and tammy isolated. Need to strengthen key positions asap but draws are killing us and I don’t see the teams above us falling away.

  12. Andrew,

    1. The board have said that they’re not expecting promotion this year. The set up has to be right I think they’ve decided.
    2. I’m beginning to think Villa need 2 managers – Bruce for the defence and Smith for the attack!!!!!

  13. Too true PW. Today’s defensive line up is the best we’ve got at the moment with Tuanzebe out. The QPR leveller was a screamer. Just our luck to be on the end of it.

    Thought we had enough chances to win easily but if Tammy legs it, we’ll struggle to get the goals. As Andrew says, the pressing up front has lessened. Due to Jack’s absence I’m sure.

  14. I also prefer the Viking as defensive midfielder with Hourihane playing further forward. DS had them the other way round today for most of the match.

  15. For their 2nd goal, Hutton is leaving a huge gap because he is ball watching and central. The fact that he may score the occasional goal or provide an assist does not compensate for the fact that he cannot defend. I thought I’d point this out for those on here who are puzzled by the criticism he receives. He regularly makes mistakes that cost goals. I’m not saying he’s the only one but he should never, ever have been signed by the club.

  16. Well, at least Elphick has made a difference according to reports I’ve read.

    As far as Hutton is concerned, while we’ve had no choice about him playing I’ve been happy with the effort he puts in and – I have to say – the positives do outweigh the negatives i.m.o., though I don’t deny there are negatives.

    If we are to make true progress then we do need better quality at l-b – but I don’t feel that Taylor answers that requirement either. Let’s hope that during January we can find someone who’s that extra bit better – maybe as a temporary fill-in until the summer.

  17. Paul W – I commented on this site before Hutton played for us that I had seen him play for Scotland and he was guilty of ball-watching and hence being caught out of position.
    However, as JL comments, there are many positives to his performances and it is either keep playing him and plan for someone to cover when he goes walkabout or not play him and find a defender that stays put.
    Villa is keeping up with those around though mainly because of the turbulent state of the league; no club seems to be able to pull away and right down to 15th position the cup half- full brigade are still feeling they are in with a shout for the play-offs.
    Secure the defence and midfield and either keep Tammy or get one of your strikers to strike and we may stand a chance. We would need seriously strengthening if we went up though,

    Happy 2019 to all

  18. Clive,

    Totally agreed with your comment and as for the need for seriously strengthening the team, the experience of Fulham (and Cardiff) seems to back that argument up very well.

    Wolves haven’t done badly and their final flourish at Spurs on the w/e was great, but it’s a big challenge for them too.

  19. A reasonable stat of the nation report …?

    Aston Villa’s perennial under-study/loan ranger Jed Steer is one of football’s good guys – and you have to feel sorry for him right now.

    A likeable lad, hard-working, and a decent goalkeeper, too. But how often is he going to play during the rest of this season?

    Recalled from his successful loan spell at Charlton Athletic due to an injury to Orjan Nyland, Steer started in the 2-2 draw against Queens Park Rangers.

    He made a great save late on to help Villa to a share of the spoils and also looked confident and assured.

    Lovre Kalinic is available next week, though. And with that, means a drop down back to the bench for Steer.

    You have to feel for him because he was performing well on loan in League One and enjoying the run of games after a frustrating spell at Villa on the sidelines. Now, given the January developments, he finds himself back in limbo.

    Fresh legs: Five changes to the starting XI certainly made for a refreshed, revitalised feel. The problem was, it lasted for only 25 minutes.

    Why can’t Villa kill teams off any more?

    They get into the lead, take control of the game, but then end up conceding after failing to find that killer second (or third) goal.

    The changes against QPR were needed.

    It was surprising to see Dean Smith stick with the same team at Preston North End last time out, but he wasn’t going to make the same mistake again here.

    Villa had lost their attacking spark in recent games but the return of Albert Adomah and Jonathan Kodjia gave Villa a different option.

    Adomah started well early on then faded out. Kodjia, meanwhile, always looks a threat but is better suited down the middle.

    That said, having Yannick Bolasie and Anwar El Ghazi to bring on will always be a big help in times ahead.

    A surprise force: Villa have stuttered and stumbled their way through the recent weeks while QPR have gone from strength to strength.

    And there was no clear cut superior outfit on this occasion.

    With just two wins in the previous eight games, Villa needed to start winning games to put the pressure on the top six.

    QPR have won three and drawn two of their previous five and are bang in form.

    Steve McClaren’s side remain a point and place above Villa in the table and could well be surprise play-off contenders.

    Villa are going to have to outgun a whole host of teams this year to make it into the top six.

    BB in the Grealish role: Replacing Jack Grealish is an impossible task.

    And it was Birkir Bjarnason who had the responsbility on this occasion.

    What didn’t help for Villa was the performances of Conor Hourihane and John McGinn, who according to Smith, were below-par.

    I actually think Hourihane looks more comfortable in a deeper-lying role.

    As for Bjarnason, well maybe he’s still recovering from that miss at Preston.

    He wasn’t brilliant, but he wasn’t bad either.

    Can he step up this month to make a difference in Grealish’s absence, though?

  20. Well, another frustrating day at Villa Park, where a freshened up team started well, and took a deserved lead, and for the first 25 minutes looked the business, until a careless ball in mid field again gave the advantage to QPR, and a certain Luke Freeman (who loves scoring against Villa) hit an amazing shot that thundered into the net, giving Steer no chance.
    Unlike QPR, Villa do not give away professional fouls to kill these sort of chances, but is a regular occurrence in the Championship, and other leagues.
    Villa then struggled, having had the wind knocked out of their sails, and unfortunately, Dean was late with his substitutions again, and Villa conceded another simple goal, again due to the loss of the ball in their half, and a quick counter which should have been cut out, but no and Eze scores another great goal that Steer has no chance with. El Ghazi and Bolassie come on and Villa look different again, and Tammy gets the equaliser from El Ghazi’s low centre.
    Villa had the chances to put this to bed, but just like the PNE game, we are not clinical enough, players do not see each other, so many times this season, a smart ball to the next player becomes an easy tap in, and Villa are away with a great win and the points. Players also do not seem to call for the ball anymore, then there would not be players getting in each others way.

    It is not just in attack that this happens, but it is the same in defence, no clear shout to each other.

    We now have the opportunity to regroup and freshen up with the cup tie coming up, and no league game for ten days, plus we will have players back from injury, and Smith can look to playing his own team. I am sure he will go for the win against Swansea, but it will be an opportunity to try some fresh faces, alongside some of his bench warmers. I expect to see Hogan on the team sheet, Lansbury, maybe Revan will get his debut, and Kalinic also.

    Kalinic, Revan, Hause, Elphick, Bree, Lansbury, Whelan, Bjarnasson, Adomah, Hogan, Davis

    Subs: Steer, El Mohamady, Sulliman, Bolassie, El Ghazi, Abraham,Kodjia.

  21. Tammy was Villa’s MOM again, and Bree certainly had a good game, with Bjarnason doing ok, but his dead ball kicks were poor, probably through lack of game time, but he will improve again. Poorest yesterday were Hourihane and Hutton, whilst Chester struggled, and Elphick grew into the game. Some vary scary passing across the back again yesterday from the defence, and too many times pushing out to the wings, especially on the left, forcing Hutton further up the field to take return balls, instead of playing it down the middle, but with no Jack, players are afraid to go for the middle, which then leaves Hutton stranded. The mid field do not cover enough, or chase into the box, which is why we are failing to make Smith’s high press work, too much delay going out to the wing.

  22. well we are bang in trouble with no tammy. replace with Maupay would be nice?

    Hourihan is a fraud. I don’t rate him at all.

    Slow, weak, cant tackle and mis places passes. will be surprised to see him starting next season.

    Re build with youth, pace and energy.

  23. Andrew,

    I’ve seen no *actual* confirmation that any Abraham bid has been accepted by Chelsea except in a misleading headline.

    I’d say Abraham is still playing for Villa and will do so for the rest of the season.

  24. The Abraham story seems to have originated in the Sun, & the rest either regurgitated the Sun story, or mostly ignored it.
    I even saw a London paper quoting afterwards quoting Sarri as saying that he was not recalling Abraham as they had enough forwards to cope.

    Are you in the doldrums already after the New Year Andrew?
    Have you any confirmation?

  25. No confirmation mate. Just a lot of strong rumours. Lots reporting it in Twitter world. Even someone lip reading him saying he is off too a qpr player!!! Apparently the latest is about him playing for Chelsea u23s. Not allowed to Join a 3rd club but it’s up to fifas discretion?!

  26. But yes in the doldrums. First day back at work today!

    The wolves lad apparently has his medical tonight.

    A 100% chap on Twitter has deleted his account. Shame as he was always right. Think he worked in the medical dept

  27. Happy New Year all

    Looks like its going to be an interesting January with the Tammy situation, new goalkeeper and possible other new faces coming in. I would like Hogan playing in Kodija’s place, I suspect he would create more chances than Kodija. As others have pointed out, the simpler pass is spurned for the glory strike, its been frustrating seeing some of the decision making in front of goal.

    Bring on the Cup game, I think it will allow everyone to reboot before the next round starts.

  28. Abraham

    If the following article is to be believed then Tammy will stay at VP for the rest of this season:

    It does sound to me as though some sensationalist writer(s) started this whole rumour (as IanG suggests) and now it looks as though it will go away as the article seems to indicate that Abraham staying at Villa depends on he being happy to stay at Vp. I’ve heard nothing to suggest that in reality he’s not happy.

  29. PP’s proposed team for the Cup tie:

    Kalinic, Revan, Hause, Elphick, Bree, Lansbury, Whelan, Bjarnasson, Adomah, Hogan, Davis
    Subs: Steer, El Mohamady, Sulliman, Bolassie, El Ghazi, Abraham,Kodjia.

    Sounds reasonable to me, except that I’d see Smith choose Bree at r-b and Taylor (if fit) at l-b and Hutton and Hourihane on the bench in place of two of those named subs.

  30. Sulliman has been recalled, so I feel he should at least get to sit on the bench, Hutton and Hourihane also need resting. There has been no mention of Taylor being fit, and Bree is better able to fit anywhere across the back, as far as I know, and Revan is more used to the right back role.

  31. The only possibility with the Tammy situation, appears to be if he gets an offer on loan for a Premiership side that he would want to be part of, but to date, he is only interested in playing for Chelsea’s first team. On that basis I think he will be more than happy at Villa until the end of the season, unless we fall apart before the end of the January window.

  32. Well, the Abraham saga is quite the distillation of silly season. At first I was convinced by breathless reporting that he was already packing his bags, and then the panic subsided somewhat.

    Doesn’t mean something won’t materialize, but at least it’s gone from ‘certain’ to ‘possible’.

    If I’m Chelsea, I’m quite happy he’s a nailed-on starter banging in goals. Whether they want to cash in on him is another story.

  33. JC,

    The article link I posted seems to make it clear that Chelsea don’t want to sell him in this window and whether he stays at VP is up to him. There doesn’t seem to be any mystery about the matter other than the confabulation created by sensationalists!

    Yes, it’s a “possible” but actually only a “slight possible”.

  34. PP: “There has been no mention of Taylor being fit”

    Not quite true, Paul, as Smith said that Taylor and Lansbury were likely to be available for the upcoming Swansea match.

  35. JL,

    What I said. Possible = possible in transfers. Do I think it will happen? No. Overall, though, I don’t take anything for granted one way or another until a deal is signed or the window’s closed.

  36. Well, it seems that after all the hype and rumours that we are not really going to spend any real money, and not recruit many new players. It is almost reminiscent of the summer, where we signed two goalkeepers, and not much else, apart from El Ghazi and Abrahams and Bolassie on loan.

    If we are unwilling to pay £4million for Hause, which is not an unreasonable price in today’s markets, then it makes you wonder what we are willing to pay for new players, when it was initially said that there was £20million available to spend, unless we are keeping £18million to buy Tammy ourselves.

    It appears to be a typical Villa window, where we will be linked to everybody, and end up buying no-one. Hey, but let’s wait and see.

  37. I don’t mind doing things on the cheap. Theres bargains out there and smith has proved at Brentford he can find them and improve players.

    BUT we need his own players in to play his way.

    Full backs and a cdm crucial

  38. We have to jump on board the building process, it won’t be done in a transfer window, we have to aim for play-offs this year with no pressure to get promoted as Smith has said we need to invest in Villa players not loanees.

    I’m quite happy that we now have the proper patient approach to promotion and awaiting the fruits of that in one or two years, the premier league may have imploded by then or if not even greater riches will await us, we certainly won’t be perennial underachievers and suffer like Leeds in terms of length of time away from the big league.

    It absolutely would be nice to have better options at full back but if it doesn’t happen, so be it.

  39. Happy New Year All, l have looked in sometimes to see whats being said ,
    Brasil if your reading get in touch with Ged mate saw him at QPR game ,
    l sat in the gods at the QPR game and l could have took a dog for a walk in the center circle during that game , No holding player and l said to my mate “he will bring whelan on ” the game itself was cr*p to watch and l was glad to get back in the pub , the ref !! well what can be said about that ejit , qpr knew exactly how to play him ,
    l was told the owners are not bothered about us going up this year , but my main worry with that statement at such an early stage in the season is will the fans think “f**k it then if thats the plan”l dont think we will go up , and this was only my 3rd home game , but l have been to most away games , as l have always said its the laff and crack at the away games and seat ticket numbers dont count so we can all stand together , did anyone else notice the qpr fans singing ” are we at a library ” it was quiet ,
    well All the best Folks ,

  40. PP,

    Well, that makes sense of the statement from the board of not expecting promotion this year if no big investment is taking place this month. It seems to ne that what they’re essentially looking for is the right time to plunder and implement a plan that is most likely to work – I would think based on an integrated structure. I’d hope so anyway.


    Hello! It’s been a long time to see your words being uttered again! I wish you well in 2019.

  41. Greetings lifers wishing you all health , happiness and peace for 2019 and beyond
    I have been reading the comments on here too but prefer not to add anything I will say that i am very happy that Dean Smith is our manager and i am more optimistic about the future of the club than i have been for many years ..
    I went to the Leeds game which of course we lost and could see both the progress under smith and the deficiencies of the team he currently has , the one thing that stood out for me was the fact we are so uncomfortable at playing the ball out from the back as i know smith teams play and hope he manages to get the right players in that area as we surrender possession to easily against be better teams
    Big props to the people that were on here from the very beginning JC big up fella you are doing a fantastic and even handed job for us all it is much appreciated by me and always read
    Props to ST75 Mark , brazil , Ian , Jen ,Frem PP DOR and all the long standing crew still miss out steamer could never be replaced and we could do with some of his humor and straight talking

    bless up Villa massive

  42. Sky Gambling reporting that Wolves have been told by Chelsea that Tammy is not for sale in this window. If he doesn’t play tomorrow, I can only assume DS is resting him.

    Runts, ST75. Good to hear from you both.

  43. Plug: “If he doesn’t play tomorrow, I can only assume DS is resting him.”

    yes, that was reported a couple of days ago that Chelsea most likely wouldn’t sell in this window.

    But the article link I’ve posted reads that Tammy’s “head has been turned”. In other words if Wolves or some other PL club want to take him on loan this month he might be interested in the PL opportunity.

    What Smith is saying in response to that is he’s decided to take Tammy out of the team to allow him to quieten down and think about the matter in consultation with his family. Bur the matter has to be resolved by the middle of January. If nothing changes then (says Smith) Abraham stays.

  44. So great to see some old friends on here!!!

    Tammy’s loan deal does not allow him to play in any cup competitions, so Smith has no choice, and he cannot play him,

  45. Villa’s Agreement With Chelsea

    PP, the Mail article states: “Abraham will be left out of the FA Cup tie against his former loan club Swansea City this weekend due to an agreement with Chelsea.”

    That “agreement” is a *new* agreement and not part of the loan agreement in any way.

    Later in the article it says:

    “Asked whether a decision would be made soon, Smith said: “There will be a limit on the agreement with Chelsea.

    “It will be mid-January and then there won’t be any recall and he won’t be going back.”

    This clearly indicates that this agreement is not part of the original loan agreement but a codicil in the light of developments in the past week.

    I hope that helps.

  46. Nice one ‘Arry. small heath have just released their latest set of financial accounts. Huge losses. Now about 59 million over the last 3 seasons against 39 million permitted under FFP. Stand by for points deductions. Their case goes before the EFL next month. Nice one ‘Arry.

  47. Nice Smith Quote

    “All my family keep telling me that 1957 was the last time Villa won the FA Cup.

    “I’m well aware of it because my son was born on Christmas Day, 21 years ago, at 19:57.

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