One of the more crucial questions that Aston Villa were to face over their international break came quickly on Wednesday as the band-aid was ripped off quickly of their red card appeal for Neil Taylor.
The final minute of action against Bolton at the weekend left Steve Bruce fuming at referee Jeremy Simpson after ninety plus minutes of complaints against the official came to a head with Taylor’s dismissal.
The frustration felt by Bruce, Taylor and the Villa Park fans, however, was judged as unjustified and yesterday the Birmingham Mail reported that Taylor’s match ban was upheld.
Aston Villa now find themselves merely a point out of the playoff spots, facing three pivotal matches against sides much more difficult than their September slate and they’ll have to go it alone without the man on the left whose name found the team sheet in pen rather than pencil. Coming on the day that Jordan Amavi was named to France’s national team shows that no matter how exciting Aston Villa’s September matches were, the Cosmic Owl still toys with our hopes and shows us we can’t have nice things.
So it’s just three matches, can’t be that bad right?
The pitch at Villa Park was well-worn in September hosting five matches—four championship and one in the esteemed Carabao Cup. The eight upcoming October and November fixtures see a more equitable split of four home and four away, but of the three that Taylor will be missing, only one match—against Fulham—will be played with Villa as the home team. That said, the two away matches to be played won’t see much travel as Villa will visit Wolves at Molineux and Birmingham City at St Andrew’s.
Even after taking 14 points from 18 in the last month, Aston Villa were followed closely by Wolves and Fulham who took 13 and 11 points, respectively, illustrating their own intention at promotion. Birmingham City, on the other hand, only received 4 points on the month from their efforts and capped it off with a 6-1 drubbing from Hull City.
Taking an analytic view of the month, data from Experimental361 shows that Fulham were a net negative for the month, scoring 8.2 expected goals weighted against giving up 9. That difference is at odds with their +3 actual goal differential, but being that they earned the bulk of their points on the back of two away wins against Forest and QPR coming into the break, their arrow is pointing up, if not statistically.
Wolves, along with that QPR side, were the only team to outperform Villa according to the Experimental361 data set. Their 10.3 goals for, taken with their 6.2 against, eclipses Villa’s 8.5 to 5.0 and missing Taylor will pressure the rest of the defense to keep up the effort.
This was a few long paragraphs way to say that the upcoming three matches are going to be difficult. Both Wolves and Fulham are playing well and Birmingham City, even though down, could be a wildcard and can’t be overlooked.
So what’s the plan?
Steve Bruce overloaded his squad at just about every position save the left side of the pitch. After Andre Green was injured, Albert Adomah has showed he belongs on the left of the attack and for that fortuitous of a situation to be replicated on the defensive line would be a boon, but can’t even be hoped.
In addition to his defensive capabilities, Taylor has also been a pretty central figure in the attack over the last few matches with a number of touches forward on the pitch. Combining his skillset with that of the rest of the team, it’s curious development, and again, one that would be hard to replace.
Steve Bruce has few good options and so far this campaign has attempted to play Birkir Bjarnason, Alan Hutton and Mitch Clark at leftback in Carabao Cup action, but aside from Clark, saw mixed results. One would think it unlikely to give such an important role to Clark—playing out of natural position—or any other of the youth squad in such important fixtures.
One option would be our former captain James Chester, who has seen 10 matches experience at the position and with Bruce’s confidence in Chris Samba’s size and cranium at centre back, Chester out wide and pushing the attack like Taylor has could lead to more opportunities for him to dice foolish foes.
With that said, it would be this writer’s guess that Ritchie de Laet would be given the chance. The Belgian defender has seen time at left back in his career and has the most familiarity there. He’s had encouraging spells with the club on the pitch and I imagine Bruce would prefer a more experienced player on the pitch regardless.
That all said, what do you think Bruce should do? Are we ready to see the return of Alan Hutton? Do we push for more of the youth movement? We have very little to discuss over the next few weeks so join us in the comments below or write to us on Twitter or Facebook, and let’s workshop some ideas for who could make the match day 11.