As the dust settles on Aston Villa’s first match back in the Premier League, a familiar theme emerges as fans react to the defeat. For the most part there has been a feeling of positivity and some hope, as the performance for the first hour was encouraging, given the quality of the opposition.
However, it does not take much scratching of the social media surface to uncover the usual scapegoating and knee-jerk reactions which has been commonplace for several seasons.
In fact the negativity seemed to start an hour before kick-off when the team was announced! The presence of Ahmed Elmohamady and Neil Taylor as full backs came a something of a surprise, with the impressive Freddie Guilbert and Matt Targett overlooked, which led to Villa fans jumping onto Twitter to vent their annoyance.
Was this really so unexpected though? After all these are two solid professionals and mainstays of the promotion team, both of whom produced their best Villa performances towards the end of last season. Would it be fair to leave these players out given how important they have been to the team and most particularly a defence, which underwent multiple facelifts last season before finally settling and solidifying with them in it?
The usual way of things is that players who perform well keep their shirt, even across seasons, unless a player arrives who is one-hundred-percent a better option. Guilbert and Targett may prove to be that and for the good of the team, I hope they do, but they have not done so as yet. It would appear that Dean Smith subscribes to this philosophy and I for one, trust his judgment.
Then we come to everyone’s favourite scapegoat, top assist maker, top midfield goalscorer, the man who has turned his hand successfully to the midfield pivot position, having joined the club practically as a number 10, Conor Hourihane.
I am at a loss as to what Hourihane has to do to earn the affections of the Villa fans. Admittedly there are many fans who fully appreciate Conor’s abilities, but there cant be many players who have had such an impact on their team, yet continue to divide opinion so starkly. Of course this may be partly due to fans being in a hurry to see new signings, Marvelous Nakamba and Douglas-Luiz. I feel that too, I want to see what the new players have to offer, but I also want them to earn their place in the side, not just replace a player who has been such a vital part of a successful team.
I have always found the idea of scapegoating certain players strange. I think back to the Brian Little’s team in the 90s, when Gary Charles was blamed for anything that went wrong until he got a serious injury. Then Fernando Nelson came in and we realised how good Charles actually was. For some reason certain players seem to curry more favour with fans than others. I wonder what the reaction would have been had Hourihane been robbed on the edge of his own penalty area, leading to Spurs’ winning goal. I doubt many fans will be calling for Grealish to be dropped this weekend and of course, neither should they.
There will always be discussion about team selections and we all have our favourites. These debates are one of the great aspects of being a football fan and why so much media and fan content is devoted to it. We are not always going to agree.
The fact is that our entire squad, except for Tom Heaton, are mostly new to the Premier League and will be finding their feet. Surely it is our job to help them thrive and round up our wagons around them. We have already seen this week, Adrian Durham and his ilk having potshots at our team, looking for reactions and to unsettle us. Having been largely out of the football conversation for three years, we will now be a target for this, kind of ‘fresh meat’ if you will.
We are going to need a siege mentality throughout the club, so singling out individuals will only weaken the club and make it easier for anti-Villa media jibes to cause maximum damage.
By all accounts the away fans led the way with this at Spurs, sticking with the team throughout. Now we need to translate this to Villa Park over the next two weeks and make sure ALL the men wearing claret and blue, feel boosted by us, win, lose or draw. Lets show the Premier League what the new Aston Villa is all about.