It must be said before we start that there were many positives on the day. First off, you began it by breathing. That’s a plus and always a good way to spend a weekend. You know...alive.
It’s also a positive that Aston Villa have an electrifying new winger in Anwar El Ghazi. The Dutch international was responsible for nearly every moment of excitement for Villa during his time on the pitch against Reading. From pushing the attack down his wing, enfeebling his defenders to create space and attacking chances and nearly scoring in his own right, if Villa were to find their way into the net on the day, it always seemed as if his play were to inspire it.
Fine margins.— Aston Villa FC (@AVFCOfficial) August 25, 2018
This is how close @AElGhazi7 came to a debut #AVFC goal...#PartOfThePride pic.twitter.com/az9e31eEeE
And so shortly after halftime with El Ghazi finding some space along the left wing, he was able to put a precision cross into the box and in front of the goal. Ahmed Elmohamady racing in from the wing put a header straight into the back of the net for his second goal of the season and El Ghazi earned the assist for which he’d been working so hard.
Also a positive is that many were able to see and/or hear this contribution through AVTV. On the heels of refunding a number of customers due to technical issues, the most common conversation around the match for those following on Twitter was how to access the stream. It will be another week of consternation around the club and another hash in the “just can’t seem to get anything to go right” column. More than a few international fans were treated to the following view of El Ghazi’s debut:
This is all I get. pic.twitter.com/RBz9o1l3TV— James (@villaminium) August 25, 2018
It must also be positively noted that Ørjen Nyland has provided some impressive saves—saves that shouldn’t have been required from him, yet impressive nonetheless.
His improvement echoes that of Sam Johnstone who started his time with Villa similarly shakily, yet steadied and became arguably the best keeper in the league. Nyland was wonderful today when he needed to be and exceptional when it was most required—well, minus the once. No thanks to Mile Jedinak, but thanks to @KristofferF for this video of Nyland pulling saves out of thin air to keep a hold of Villa’s lead.
Two stunning saves from Ørjan Nyland here!! Keeps Villa ahead #LoveNyland #AVLREA #AVFC pic.twitter.com/0P7GRGhnxa— Kristoffer Freiding (@KristofferF) August 25, 2018
After a halftime substitution of Jack Grealish (who finished ten or so minutes of the first half after stopping play due to an injury so we will hope was taken out for precautionary reasons), Villa also completely owned this match for about a twenty minute stretch after Albert Adomah’s replacement of El Ghazi on the left wing. Reading’s only chance at possession was their keeper literally holding on to the ball as once it entered the field of play the Royals either simply lost it or were dispossessed by a relentless Villa side whose effort showed that they believed they needed another on the board to put the match away.
Steve Bruce’s side never found the second goal, only disappointment and frustration.
Bruce has taken criticism for players not in their usual spots on the pitch through the beginning of the season, and there were related errors today. Poor passing on the backline led to a Reading breakaway that Birkir Bjarnason had to rush back to clean up in the first half with a challenging tackle near the penalty area. Axel Tuanzebe looked very uncomfortable playing along the wing up and down the pitch and check out the video above for Mile Jedinak’s contribution. Frustratingly, when he was higher up the pitch he contributed by winning his share of headers during Villa’s dominant second half stretch.
Those errors aside, the result was that Villa was still holding the thinnest of leads. None of those were the issues that came back to bite the team. Today’s issue was, once again, bad luck from the referees whistle.
Just a match removed from conceding to Brentford’s Neal Maupey after he should have been sent off for his assault on John McGinn’s LCL, James Chester put on what seemed like a rather clinical tackle in the penalty area. Paul Clement’s side seemed to have no issue and showed little appeal, yet referee Darren England pointed to the spot and gave Reading a chance to equalize.
And they did. The kick conceded to Sam Baldock, this writer is left to wonder if the first positive starting this recap was very true to begin with. As feature writer Alex Carsons noted on Twitter, this seems to be happening a lot...
Imagine not wanting VAR.#AVFC have been on the wrong side of a clear and obvious error in three of their last six league matches (including the play-off final).@EFL needs to sort out the standard of officiating. It’s truly awful, especially given the £500m+ teams play for.— alex carson (@_alexcarson) August 25, 2018
Is the cruel, capricious whim that has driven Villa to stupefyingly and decisively lose four points off the last two league matches actually evidence that we’re not truly living—not in the sense we thought—but that we’re in some punitive exercise designed only to increase our torment?
Is anyone there?