Another two points slipped away on Saturday as Villa twice took the lead against visiting Burnley, but got pegged back to take just the one point in a 2-2 draw. And while it felt like a loss, there actually were plenty of good bits.
Two nice goals from open play. Long periods of possession. Good movement. A tweak in formation that yielded some nice passages and balance. A promising start for Matt Targett.
Conceding two goals, obviously, that we could’ve done better with. A poor start to the second half. The injury to Targett. An ineffective performance from Wesley, and some squandered chances to really take hold of the match.
Switching off to let Burnley back in so quickly after regaining the lead.
Not a complicated game, this one. We played well for large chunks of the match if not for the full 90, and the stats back it up. But 2-2 is 2-2.
There are a number of ways to look at it. On the positive side, we played well, took the lead twice, certainly looked like we belong, and created a number of good chances. On the negative side, we didn’t take all our chances and conceded two preventable goals.
We’ve once again heard Smith lament that we haven’t been more clinical, or shown more composure on the ball. Both fair. We’re hearing it said another way in that we need to be more ruthless. Also fair. It’s all down to belief. And I think I see belief growing, rather than shrinking.
As far as adjustments, I liked that Smith changed things round a bit to get Conor in without sacrificing Nakamba. Jack spent more time further upfield and roaming, and El Ghazi isn’t a bad bet to be playing a bit more narrow. I thought Targett put in a decent showing, and the attacking contributions from both fullbacks was a definite plus in the first half. Trezeguet has a lot to offer off the bench, and I wonder in what situations we’ll be seeing Jota given that we did move things around pretty well.
The big question revolves around Wesley. He’s having trouble. And some of it’s not his fault. I look at calls against Mings and other CBs, and I wonder where they are when Wes is getting clattered with a CB coming through him. Regardless, it’s been a tough introduction for him. I could easily see Dean keeping the side and set-up he put out against Burnley, but giving Davis the start. We’ll have to see how Smith balances Wesley’s state of mind with the team’s need for more from the position.
When it comes to Smith, he seems his usual self, and I’ve no doubt that he’ll be stressing the positives every bit as much as the things that let us down. He talks sense, and in detail, and I don’t see panic or pressure in his demeanor. Which is crucial. He seems calm and in control. He knows we could have more on the board, but I don’t think he’s surprised it’s not the rampaging start some were hoping for. Me, I certainly don’t see a need to even begin thinking about a change. My guess is that he’s here no matter what happens, and I’ve seen enough to think he and the team can pull it off. Not saying it won’t be nervy, but I think it’s entirely possible to finish higher than three of the teams currently above and below us.
In short, and some will disagree, I’m seeing progress and promise. Nothing earth-shattering as far as the rate of said progress, but we are finding ways to score and create. We’re competitive. We can point to more than one game we should’ve won, and a lot of points left on the pitch. Sheffield United sit 12th, and the only thing separating us is that they’ve lost one less/won one more. I like the attitude I see out there. The effort. No one likes the mistakes. But I don’t see any defeat in the players.
So despite the underwhelm and growing sense of frustration and perhaps mild panic, we’re still well within touching distance. A couple wins and things start to look different. Getting the wins is obviously the trick, and it’s a trick that’s proving a bit elusive. But there was always going to be a learning curve, both in terms of the team coming together and the PL itself, and looking at the table, especially Norwich and Sheffield, we’re not that far behind the curve. Which, honestly, is pretty encouraging. We’ve been under the cosh a couple-three times, but we’ve not been hammered. We’ve played explosive teams one way, to relatively good effect, and come out to play Smith’s way against the sides more on our level. Sensible and necessary. From what I’m seeing, the results will come.
As I’ve said, I never expected us to storm the league. Just want us to stay up, and then I think we’ll be okay.
So…Norwich is big. Burnley was big. We didn’t necessarily bottle it, but, again, we’ve got to be that little bit better. I don’t think we’re far away from putting together some pretty decent games that earn all three points. And I think the side will be looking to Norwich as a real chance to put down a marker of sorts.
Over to you.