Welcome to Expected Villa (xV), a column ostensibly looking at the stats behind Villa’s results. Aston Villa drew 5-5 (!!!) with Nottingham Forest on Wednesday night and we’re... encouraged? Disappointed? All of the above?
There’s genuinely a lot to like from Wednesday’s performance
Let’s start with the positives here.
- Villa were down 2-0 inside six minutes. They rallied back quickly to level the match at 2-2. They trailed again, at 3-2, but notched another equalizer before half-time to make it 3-3. Again, Villa trailed in the second half at 4-3, but again, Villa rallied to score an equalizer. A lot of teams pack it in for the night when they’re down two goals, but Villa didn’t, and full credit to the guys for doing so. There are going to be points again during the season where Villa are down a goal or two in an important match, and hopefully the team will show the same spirit they did tonight.
- Damn, this team has a lot of attacking talent. Tammy Abraham is really, really, really good. He scored four times and missed what was probably his best chance from open play. Yannick Bolasie is really starting to look like the player we thought we’d signed, and Jonathan Kodjia looks better than ever. Anwar El Ghazi, who’s been frozen out the last few weeks, came on and scored a rocket. Add those four to Albert Adomah, who missed out through injury, and Scott Hogan, who has a good record under Dean Smith, and you’ve got a bunch of talent for this front three.
- Villa genuinely played well. They out-shot Forest 26-8, and it’s not like Villa were forced to shoot from distance all night — 17 of those 26 shots were taken from inside the penalty area and 11 were put on target. They threatened from open play (15 shots) and set pieces (10 shots) alike. Some of that shot advantage is undoubtedly due to game states — when you spend half the match trailing and only a handful of minutes leading, you should out-shoot your opponent — but for the most part, Villa put in a performance that is genuinely enough to win the match.
There are also serious, currently unsolvable problems at Villa
And now we’ll shift to the negatives.
In some sense, this was reminiscent of that absurd 2-2 draw with Forest under Roberto Di Matteo two seasons ago, where Villa outshot Forest 26-3, yet drew 2-2. That match, though, was more of a byproduct of some bad luck — Villa genuinely had a few “how did they not score there moments?” — where Wednesday night was as much Villa letting themselves down. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a bit of a luck factor, given the late winner was ruled out for what seems to be at best a ticky-tack offside decision, but Villa ultimately shot themselves in the foot one time too many.
Ørjan Nyland is just not very good. I hate to type that because I like the bloke and thought he was starting to turn it around, but goalkeeping errors have lost Villa several points this season, and his poor second half probably cost the Claret and Blues two key ones Wednesday. That said, the back four hasn’t helped his cause this season, particularly not against Forest.
I hate transfer windows. Like, the very concept of them. Perhaps this is my American nature shining through, but I think it’s dumb that Villa have to wait until January to get a new goalkeeper despite the fact that everyone knew by October that Villa needed a new one. It’s even dumber when you consider the likely replacement (Tom Heaton) is just sitting there twiddling his thumbs, also waiting until January so he can play football again. It’s stupid.
Yet this is the world we live in, so Villa will have to move forward with an awful defensive setup for another month. This is bad, particularly because of who Villa have to play in December — you’ve got Middlesbrough (3rd), West Bromwich Albion (4th), Stoke City (12th), Leeds United (2nd) and Swansea City (11th).
You want must-see TV, though? Try Villa’s meetings with WBA and Leeds.
The Baggies have scored 41 goals in 19 matches this season, while Villa have scored 36 and Leeds 32. Couple that with some poor defending, at least by two of the teams — Villa have conceded 30 and WBA 27 — and we might see a few more high-scoring affairs before the new year hits. Bet the over (or at least both teams to score), friends.
Above all, though, Wednesday was a missed opportunity
It’s weird sitting here after drawing a match you trailed 2-0 inside 10 minutes and thinking you’ve dropped points, but it’s entirely true. Throw out everything else and boil it down to this: Villa held a lead in the 80th minute, at home and a man up against a direct promotion rival. You have to see that result out. For as absurd as this match was, if Villa fall one or two points of a target come May, we’ll look back on Wednesday and regret the result.
We’re nearing the point where we should care more about results than performances. Obviously, good attacking play bodes well for the future, but not winning three points doesn’t.