Something For The Weekend (596)
Villa hit the slippery slope after Christmas meltdown..
When it comes to Mr Cockup the Villa seem to have put the welcome mat out this Christmas. If anyone needed proof that football is a weak-link game, where any given team is only as good as their weakest player, they only need to have watched some Villa games during December. The cost of this rash of recurring individual errors has been substantial and Villa have fallen from a relatively comfortable position in the top-six, into the also-ran territory of the table, after two losses and a draw in their last three games. But the three point gap which now separates Villa from the play-off places is obviously not insurmountable and even the nine points between Villa and second place still looks within reach of a not too unfeasible scenario.
Villa had more than exceeded expectations in the absence of several key players but by the time December arrived the cracks were beginning to appear in the games with Leeds and Millwall which both ended in draws. Against Derby the wheels came off altogether, as Villa's makeshift team failed to make an impression at one end of the pitch and hatched the unforced-error at the other end which gifted the Rams the game. Things were looking fantastic for twelve minutes against Sheffield United and then three horrendous errors gifted the Blades two goals and sixty minutes of stalemate resulted in another draw.
Against Brentford Villa's cock-up rate went off the chart. Hutton failed to control a routine ball to his feet and Johnstone was forced to produce a spectacular save to keep out a superbly hit shot. It was a hit and hope pass from Taylor which gave the ball to Brentford when Villa were trying to break away and then when it looked to have broken down Whelan's terrible touch ensured the attack continued and the ball was fed along the front-line and Sawyers was in plenty of space to fire a daisy-cutter inside the Villa post. Villa produced a bit of quality from a weak clearance from Brentford, and a precise cross from Hogan found the leaping Onomah, who headed home to level the score.
The trend for Villa cock-ups continued in the second-half and Whelan once again failed to intercept a routine ball and Brentford went dangerously close as the shot was deflected and miraculously was cleared past the far-post. Villa launched a counter-attack from their own half through Grealish. Snodgrass produced a good shot which forced a save out of goalkeeper Bentley but Villa put his parry into the stand. Brentford threatened and Villa looked desperate at times. It took some terrible Villa defending from a corner to create the chance which proved the winner for Brentford. Onomah made a bizarre challenge with his backside and the ball rebounded to Vibe who slotted home. Villa quickly added to their cock-up count when Hutton, attempting a ball down the line, saw it rebounded back towards the Villa goal, and it went to the unmarked Canos, who had plenty of time and space to cut in and hit the Villa bar.
Encouraged, Brentford strolled through Villa's static midfield and sent another shot past the Villa post. Villa kept going and produced a couple of near things from wide areas but failed to convert. A smart move down the left put in Davis, who should have scored, but he failed to hit the target.
Villa's fatal-error rate has definitely increased and I don't think Steve Bruce is too wrong when he says that injuries have taken their toll and players who might have benefited from a rest have been forced to play on. Key injured players have returned early and before they were properly fit. Tired players tend to make more mistakes. Bringing in replacements changes the rhythm of the team and some players are required to change roles. In the absence of Hourihane, Glen Whelan, one of the main culprits, has taken on a more creative role, and instead of keeping it simple, playing the industrious spoiling role he does so well, he has to get his head up and look for a pass, which gives him less time to get his feet in order. Jedinak does not look like he is a natural centre-back despite his successful outing in the role last season. Jack Grealish is a silky ball player who carries the ball beautifully but he often fails to play the pass early enough. Villa have problems at both ends of the pitch and the loss of Adomah to injury was yet another serious piece of bad luck.
With so many injuries and such poor form over the Christmas break, it hardly seems like the ideal time for Villa to be making the long trip to 7th placed Middlesbrough, who to the amazement of most Baggies fans appointed Tony Pulis as their manager on Boxing Day. For the rest of us, the departure of Garry Monk was equally surprising as his win percentage of 46% is actually much better than most. With Villa going through a bad patch and having been shown to struggle against their Championship peers, lining up against a team who have just enjoyed back to back wins, hardly inspires optimism. Villa have turned round similar poor runs before and surprised us all. If they keep their glaring mistakes to an absolute minimum, Villa should be able to get something out of the game. Middlesbrough don't tend to draw many games and their record for the past six games reads, won three and lost three. The two teams couldn't be more closely matched, with Middlesbrough having scored the same amount of goals as Villa (32) but have conceded a goal less (23). Home advantage should be enough for Boro but Villa definitely need to get something out of the game if we are to avoid talk of a crisis.
Let it be a quiet day for Villa critics on New Year's Day.
Keep the faith!