Here's a question for you, if you play bad, but less bad than before, is that progress?
I'm honestly struggling to answer that question, and it sums up Aston Villa right now, because I honestly don't know what to make of everything that's going on at the club. If you want deep insight or intelligent discussion on the situation, check out the amazing work that James in particular has written.
Away from the behind the scenes stuff, Aston Villa do sometimes try to play football, we just didn't really see it against Liverpool two weeks ago. That 6-0 loss was dismal, there's no two ways about it. There was no belief, desire, or most importantly, confidence in Remi Garde's side, and once the first goal went in, the floodgates opened.
So to the windy, miserable place known as Stoke, and Remi Garde promised change. Only, it's tough to bring about change when there's no depth or reserves to dig into. Promote the youth was a popular call, but too much too soon, and our Andre Green's could easily Machida their way into the history books.
And so, the biggest change was bringing Alan Hutton in for Micah Richards, hardly wholesale changes, but for the first 45 minutes, it seemed to work. Villa didn't look likely to score, but more importantly at this point, the defence held firm.
Into the second half, and things started to unravel somewhat. Was it frustration, or ill discipline that led to Ashley Westwood bringing Phil Bardsley down in the penalty area? The correct answer was that Westwood's mistake was costly, as Marko Arnautovic sent Mark Bunn the wrong way, giving Stoke the lead.
*Side note: That's the second time this season that Westwood's made a stupid/clumsy tackle and given away a penalty, the first coming against Wycombe in the first leg of the cup tie. Of course, Villa have bigger problems than that, but that's slightly concerning none the less.*
A goal down, heads went down, apart from Marko Arnautovic's, as the Austrian headed the ball into the air, before chesting it over the line, doubling Stoke's lead just five minutes later. The first, an individual error, a mistake; but the second showed everything that is wrong with the team. Arnautovic won the first ball ahead of both Jores Okore and Joleon Lescott, and Mark Bunn fell into the goal, and got tangled up in the net. With the ball in the sky for an eternity, Okore and Lescott had the chance to out muscle Arnautovic, or at least try to. But no, the Stoke man had no resistance and calmly chested the ball over the line, and Villa's chances of fighting back went with it.
Eager to ensure that things didn't turn out the way of the Liverpool game, Remi Garde made two changes, bringing on Scott Sinclair and a returning Rudy Gestede for Carles Gil and Jordan Veretout. Scott Sinclair, for the second game running, looked good coming off the bench, and probably did more than Carles Gil. Gestede, still lumbering and clumsy, used this to his advantage when an errant touch of his found it's way to Leandro Bacuna, and just like that, Villa had an unlikely lifeline.
Sadly, Stoke were the most likely to add a third after that, so the goal did nothing for Villa, except hopefully build Leandro Bacuna's confidence up a bit. Hey Leandro, if you're reading, good finish!
So what does that result do for Villa? Not a lot, I don't think, sadly. It wasn't enough of a performance to forget about Liverpool, so that result feels a lot like treading water until the inevitable happens in a few weeks. Once that happens, everything off the pitch will be more important, but for now, we must savour these Premier League days. That of course, is hard when your team isn't playing well, as is the case here.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet, we've got Everton up next, and all hope is not lost, just yet, right?