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.

The Good
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.

The Bad
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.

The Ugly
Switching off to let Burnley back in so quickly after regaining the lead.

Final Verdict
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.

Comments 12

  1. From Canadian Villan on the previous thread…

    Have seen all the games so far on DZN, well worth the 20 a month. I have to say we have not looked as bad as results would show, I really hope they don’t pull the trigger to early, it’s a learning curve and at least the footie ain’t boring. Anyway it’s alright for guys you haven’t got hide your faces for weeks as your Rugby team doesn’t suck the big one like ours. We put up a fantastic result again in the world cup, we held the All Blacks to a mere 63 points, wow, that’s only a hundred or so put past us in two games. Anyway it’s the Canary Yellows the weekend and Dean at least has played them before and might have a better clue how to set up against them.

  2. Thanks JC- I think your right gradual progress is occurring.

    The Tweak of moving Jack into the front 3 might have accounted for wesleys game. He commanded the ball a lot up there as Mcginn did in the mid so no need for his hold up play as much.

    That then left him trying to find space against a well organised defence. Also our own players seem focused on scoring rather than supplying him as they did with Tammy last season. All in all he looked a passenger.

    Davis has better skill with the ball at his feet and is definitely worth a punt, less likely to score but more likely to cause big CB’s problems. I think Dean will stick with Wes for Norwich though which is likely to be an open game with both teams fancying there chances.

    Nakamba for me is up there with Jack, McGinn, and mings for 1st name on the team sheet, he’s a fantastic signing, improving by the game and has way more in his locker than a tackle, we will do well to keep him.

  3. Good summary JC,

    and totally agree, there is no need to panic, but the defensive setup on recovery is not good enough if we lose the ball, too often players are not moving to close down the man with the ball, hence players like Lowton getting in a telling cross.

    Most of the best work is cpming from the mid field, but as you say, Wesley is getting very little service, but he often fails to be in a really good position to receive the ball, and we do not follow up enough when the ball goes into the box, which is where the Man City and the Liverpool’s get their goals from.

    Dean still has a lot of work to do, but as you say, we are moving in the right direction. Our ability to deal with Norwich will help to show how far we have come.

  4. MK,

    Good point. Now that you mention it, there was a lot less trying of us trying to get the ball to Wes as a hold-up man. Interesting element of the personnel/tactics adjustment. And I was happy to see Grealish taking shots. Didn’t go in, unfortunately, but we need for him to take those when they’re open. They’ll start going in if he keeps finding the kinds of opportunities he had against Burnley.

    I really do like Nakamba, as well. I remember Gueye sort of ‘failing to impress’ a number of Villans for a while. Just a quietly efficient, and obviously ended up being a very good player. I’m thinking the same of Nakamba.

  5. PP,

    Yeah, when we get bodies forward, we can be a bit messy tracking back. I’d much rather see a shot go out for a goal kick than someone trying to get too cute when everyone’s pushing up.

  6. Cheers JC, very accurate as usual.

    If Targett is injured and folks don’t feel comfortable with House at LB, how about putting Hourihane there. Didn’t Mad Mick play him LB recently for Ireland? He would then be available for free kicks around the box. Dunno, but I guess Deano has a good idea how we’ll approach Naarwich.

  7. Think if Chester is 100% fit, that Dean is more likely to bring him in and move Mings across to LB, as Mings is very good on the left, and not afraid to go forward, as he did against Burnley.

  8. PP,

    Interesting. I’ve sort of been assuming that Chester might move up to third, but wasn’t likely to find himself in the first-choice pairing absent injury.

    I think Mings could play out there in a real pinch, but not sure I see that being anything other than a forced move. Would be a bold decision by Smith to leave Taylor out and replace him with a CB if he’s healthy and Targett’s not.

Leave a Reply