Something For The Weekend (564)
Shock and awfulness...or the incident of the sob in the night-time.
There have been some terrible weeks for Villa over the last few years but I can't say I remember feeling much worse than I did on Tuesday night after Villa lost badly to Barnsley. Having come to terms with the narrow loss to Ipswich on Saturday, there were enough positive signs to suggest that Villa would raise their game against Barnsley and many of the faithful were expecting a slightly better outcome. It all started off reasonably well again, with Villa making themselves a few opportunities which, needless to say, they squandered, and then found themselves one-nil down after a not entirely outrageous penalty. Then Barnsley worked a bit of pass and move down Villa's left, and with not a single Villa defender within yards of the crosser, Hourihane was forced to make a desperate challenge and the ball ended up in the Villa net. Then just to reignite the killing hope, J Kodjia esquire pulled one back within a minute and Villa went in for the half-time break, leaving the fans hopeful that their team might pull their finger out in the second-half and maybe salvage something from the game.
It wasn't to be. Thirteen minutes into the second period, Villa had packed their penalty-area in an exercise in safety first, Kodjia sliced a bread and butter clearance to a Barnsley man, Bradshaw got a tap in and Villa hopes collapsed. Bruce persisted for another twenty minutes with his original mix to no effect and then to the dismay of the Villa fans took off Lansbury who had been the one midfield player who had been decent. The substitutes made their contribution but to no avail. The fans walked off into the night in despair, many wearing the thousand-yard stare of the shell-shocked, as they contemplated the fact that it very much looks like there is something systemically wrong with Villa, which unaccountably persists despite huge investment and a root and branch change of the club's personnel.
Predictably there were some of the disillusioned demanding that Villa fire their seventh manager since O'Neill left and hire the eighth, but I think that most fans realise that that would be both knee-jerk and ultimately futile. Bruce has still got a win percentage which is better than anyone on the long list of Villa managers. Obviously, if things carry on as they are then his average will plummet but he's still well ahead of everyone except the committee. Everything seems to bear out what Bruce says about pressure and confidence. Villa have taken on the look of Remi Garde's team with that mixture of nervous, stifling, caution in defence and desperation in attack. Villa having majority of possession and twenty-two shots, while getting only seven of them on target against Barnsley, suggests they are not getting close enough to the opposition's goal to make scoring likely. When they did score it was from inside the six-yard box. Barnsley only had seven shots but got six of them on target and their goals all came from close range. Villa need to get nearer to the goal and Kodjia and Hogan need to learn to pass to each other, if they want to be a partnership rather than separate competing enterprises.
One of the biggest mysteries is how it is possible that Villa could sign so many captains of other clubs and yet seem to lack any kind of leadership on the pitch. It has always been a theory of mine that gobby players who love to gee up their team-mates, do it as much to liven themselves up as to achieve the same for their colleagues. And it seems possible that their game suffers if they are deprived of the right to do the cajoling. So perhaps Bruce should either rotate the captaincy or just give the players the right to be as verbal as they like. Fans are always looking for signs and indicators that the players care, and they see players geeing each other up as evidence of that. Whenever I think of Stan Staunton, I always remember him encouraging team-mates when the team had taken a setback, telling them to get their (expletives deleted) heads up. It means a lot to the fans.
But whatever hopes Bruce might have to turn things around for Villa, he has to take his faltering charges on the long trip to his native Newcastle to face the Championship leaders on Monday, who have a mere thirty points more than Villa, and have scored the most goals (60) and conceded the least (25) in the division. Even if Villa weren't the bottom of the form table it would be daunting and it seems probable that the reason for those thousand-yard stares, which appeared on Villa faces on Tuesday night, was that the shell-shocked were thinking ahead to this game, and the prospect of a possible humiliation from a heavy loss to a club which doesn't have much love for Villa. A loss will be a ticket to the relegation scrap down in the real nitty-gritty. Newcastle have not had everything their own way and have already notched up seven losses but it would seem like a miracle if Villa were to make it an eighth and a draw would be very welcome. Lose badly after another poor performance and we'll all know about pressure.
Keep the faith!