Callum O’ Hare and a burning Villa scarf – A loan watch report, from a strange away day watching the youngster.
Saturday was slightly strange for me personally. As Aston Villa smashed Norwich in a 5-1 win, I was watching Coventry City and Callum O’Hare fall to defeat at the hands of Rotherham in a rather odd League One game.
To excuse that I went to a Coventry City game instead of that massive away win at Norwich, it was a questionable decision I’ll admit, but an entertaining one. At the pestering of my friends from my home town near the city, I somewhat reluctantly agreed to an away trip to Rotherham’s New York Stadium - with the hopeful side mission of watching a potential O’Hare masterclass.
Villa are Villains
After being corralled into a pub by a pair of policemen I was amongst a couple of hundred away fans.
The away fans in fairness to them were in good voice with a selection of obsessive songs, sung with great conviction and like most football chants making no real sense at all. The very original and clever **** on the Villa of course was sung, as a Coventry staple. But another particularly nonsensical chant was as follows:
‘**** the Wasps
**** the Council
And the Villa too’
I must admit it was quite funny to be lumped in with SISU - the hated owners of the Sky Blues, as well as the Wasps who now play in the team’s former ground of the Ricoh Arena and the council who the fans blame partially for letting this happen. For a team that we last played in 2001 there is a lot of hostility, which can maybe be understood when that 3-2 result relegated the Sky Blues and sent them into a downwards spiral which took them all the way to the League Two.
This dislike for Villa was nailed home when I saw a portly man waving a claret and blue scarf as he headed towards a gloomy beer garden. See, the pub we were in - a short distance from the stadium - was draped in the memorabilia of visiting fans, Manchester City, Stoke and a selection of other English clubs. The Villa scarf that I had seen on the way in, had by the irked discussion of the staff been partially burned with cigarettes after being taken from a beam above the seat
This mad offering to the footballing gods didn’t seem to have much effect later on but it was certainly strange to watch, a Birmingham scarf was also snatched from the ceiling, with the pub staff having to take it back and stow it behind the crowded bar.
Now, O’Hare is in a slightly odd position – in that he has become quite useful to a club whose fans inexplicably hate the club he is on loan from. Callum O’Hare who has played for Villa since the age of seven, must have been bewildered by the amount of stick his parent club got as he broke into the first team. To add to this weirdness, O’Hare is a player who due to Coventry’s exceptional failure to secure of a ground of their own to play in, has to play his ‘home’ games at Birmingham City’s St. Andrews. Poor lad!
However, the fans who couldn’t even stand to see a piece of Villa merchandise in a public area – seem to really believe in an Aston Villa player, and this is for good reason.
Point winner in previous weeks
The midfielder had earned his place in the starting line-up in previous weeks through two super sub appearances where he scored late against Oxford and Blackpool to put Coventry ahead in both matches. In the week before the match against Rotherham he had won man of the match in a 1-1 draw against Doncaster, which came the week after his first start against AFC Wimbledon.
Previously Mark Robins, Coventry City’s manager had described O’Hare as being ‘on his way to being a really good player’. With the manager implying O’Hare could make it at a higher level, I was hoping to catch a player that was ready to impress.
So how did he play?
I’ll be honest this was seemingly the least impactful performance he has put in, but there were still signs of clear quality as his side collapsed in Yorkshire. The loanee, though the youngest to take to the pitch for Coventry City, was noticeably the most dangerous player for the away side.
Throughout what was on the whole a poor performance by his team, O’Hare showed attacking intent through some jinking runs, drawing multiple fouls in dangerous areas which were squandered and making real inroads into the opposition half when space could be exploited.
In terms of passing, the 21-year-old did have a few misplaced passes, but this was mostly as a result of trying some nice touches and backheels that would have worked well if his teammates were on the same wavelength as him.
When he was successful, he on a couple of occasions played some good through balls that opened up Rotherham’s backline including a slick reverse pass between the home side’s centre back and fullback that lead to a great chance that wasn’t converted.
From the centre of midfield, he had the opportunity to roam when in possession, driving forward past opposition players and spearheading moves in the opposition’s half. Some close control and a well worked one-two with his striker fashioned a chance for Coventry’s frontman who couldn’t convert.
Even after the side had gone 4-0 down to the second penalty of the afternoon and had a man sent off in the progress, O’Hare still continued to push on after a ten minute or so flare filled delay to the match.
Although at this point doomed to lose, O’Hare attempted to win a penalty through another run and dragged a shot wide that nearly set up an onrushing Coventry city player, the ball just being out of reach. The youngster even when on a team badly losing at this point, was demanding the ball and seemed to command a lot of respect, even taking a free kick that he won in the later stages of the game (although said free kick, floated aimlessly over the bar).
This is one of those deceptive performances – it would be assumed in a 4-0 loss that every player including Coventry’s attackers had a poor game, after all they scored no goals against an out of form Rotherham. But O’Hare was the best player and by some way for the Sky Blues, playing just about as well as could be expected without actually contributing to any goals.
Not only was O’Hare the most technically proficient player, being the only clear forward force in terms of incisive passing and progressive dribbling but he also worked exceptionally hard for his team. The midfielder nipped at the heels of attackers, applied pressure regularly and earned throw ins and set pieces when he shouldn’t have been able to as a reward. In fact, his willingness and application showed up the work rate and commitment of his teammates permanently at the club.
After the match Coventry fans quite rightly slated their team, but one player that avoided any real criticism was Callum O’Hare. The supporters have a high opinion of the Solihull born player and a few supporters highlighted his performance and development as a positive after a truly awful away day. I even saw a Coventry fan on twitter after the match suggest that Callum was twice the player already than our beloved captain Jack Grealish - but I think that can be taken with a tonne of salt.
Looking to the future
We all know the impact a young (or younger should I say) Jack Grealish had after a successful loan period at Notts county in League One, finding himself a part of the first team in the following 2014/15 premier league season. Another academy graduate finding success and in future seasons making the first team, would be welcomed by supporters hoping to see the youth system return to being consistently productive.
As long as his current performances continue, O’Hare will be able to build on a fruitful start to his second season on loan in the country’s lower leagues. After making 16 appearances for Carlisle last season in the third division of English football, his consolidation of a starting role for Coventry in the league above will be just another step in reaching his undoubted potential.