”We have to make sure that Villa Park is a big place for us and a tough place for teams to come” was Dean Smith’s rallying cry prior to our home opener versus Bournemouth.The mosaics displayed by the sell out crowd ensured Villa Park was rocking on a sunny afternoon. Optimism levels were high given how valiantly we battled versus superior opposition in Spurs a week ago. But now that the dust has settled, we must reflect on a 2-1 loss in a type of game which provided a great opportunity to pick up our first points. A bitter pill to swallow.
Aston Villa’s start to the game couldn’t have been worse. A mere 50 seconds into the encounter and Tom Heaton amateurishly swipes a leg out at approaching striker Callum Wilson to take him down and present the visitors with a gift. I’m not even sure VAR needed to check this one. Josh King obliges from the spot and we’re 1-0 down before the game has really started. The cauldron of atmosphere created in the build-up to this game had been spoilt by a moment of lunacy, frankly. I’ve never played goalkeeper at any level so maybe I’m not best equipped to hand out advice but surely you slide in with your body to collect the ball, making your body larger meaning contact with the ball is more likely, rather than flail out a limb giving you less chance to touch the ball? Heaton is clearly a top goalkeeper so I’ll put that down to a rare lapse in concentration.
Ten minutes later and a poor start becomes a nightmare. Douglas Luiz inexplicably dummies a pass through his legs straight into the path of Harry Wilson who fires in from long range, via a deflection and the post. We were all over the shop. He clearly thought there was another Villa man behind him and we’d set off on a counter attack but he really shot us in the foot there. It was reminiscent of Grealish’s mistake against Tottenham, trying to be too clever around our own box when a simple clearance is all that’s required. I appreciate that teams and fans alike want to play out from the back, and I’m no exception, but there’s a time and a place to do this. Evidently, communication is key when taking these risks so perhaps this was because he’d not played with these players before, meaning they’re not quite on the same page yet?
Some positives: Douglas Luiz improved tenfold in the second half. He’s obviously a composed midfielder with a broad range of passing. He possesses an ability to shrug off opponents with ease. A fan next to me suggested he plays like Fabian Delph - I’m not sure I agree with this comparison as we’re yet to see him drive forward from deep. A brief glimpse into his attacking prowess was worth the wait though as he produced a stunner of a goal which may well be a contender for our goal of the season competition.
Considering we’ve conceded five goals in two games, it may be surprising to hear that our centre-halves have been exceptional. The Mings and Engels partnership looks strong, with an aerial prowess which will frustrate many a target man this season. Mistakes from midfield, primarily, have cost us thus far and put unnecessary pressure on the back four, who’ve shown signs of promise. Further wide, Neil Taylor and Ahmed El Mohamady yet again proved to be steady and capable. Will they offer us enough quality going forward though? Targett and Guilbert are eagerly awaiting their opportunity to showcase their talents.
Bournemouth aren’t one of the elite teams in this division, so this result worries me a little. When the fixtures came out, Dean Smith surely looked at this one, particularly with it being our first game at Villa Park this campaign, and thought “this is one we can get something from”. If we want to give ourselves a chance of competing then we’ve got to cut out the stupid errors on show so far and play with some intelligence and sensibility. No doubt that we performed well in the second half yesterday but we can’t start games being a goal or two behind in this league.
A few seasons ago the boo-boys would have been out in full force after our dour start to the game. Negativity would have coursed its way through the stands and eventually the players may have crumbled as a result. Yesterday, however, the supporters encouraged and roared on the lads, even after Bournemouth’s goals, which supplied Villa with a platform to mount a comeback, ultimately in vain. At full time, applause for their fight was roundly welcomed. Though the results haven’t been great, maybe, as Dean Smith stated: “this team has caught the imagination of our supporters”.
A Friday night under the lights is next in store against a tricky Everton side. We simply can’t afford to start that tie in the same sluggish manner we did against Bournemouth. If we cut out the silly mistakes and play with the same intensity that we did for 75 minutes of Saturday’s game, hopefully it’ll be a sweeter outcome against the Toffees.