A point gained or two points lost?
That was the main topic of conversation following the nil all draw with West Ham on Monday Night Football. Many fans on social media appeared to see it as an opportunity missed as Villa contrived to lose their composure and game plan once they were handed a man advantage by Mike Dean midway through the 2nd half.
From my perspective in the Holte End it felt like the stalemate would be broken and Villa would go on to take the spoils, as a relatively even game would now swing in favour of the home team. This however failed to materialise, as Villa seemed taken aback by their numerical advantage and lacked a plan of how to capitalise on that advantage.
At The Villa View fan cams after the game the most commonly used adjective was ‘frustration’ and synonyms thereof. How on Earth did Villa not power through a 10 man team with a decent chunk of the game still to play, having been seemingly growing into the match before the red card?
To pick that question apart too much would possibly be missing the point somewhat. Whilst us fans will naturally be frustrated after a game like that, there is a far bigger picture to be realised in terms of the position the club find itself in. The fact is we probably shouldn’t be playing West Ham, Bournemouth or Crystal Palace until at least next season. The club, in terms of the ownership, Christian Purslow and Dean Smith et al, would have been strongly targeting this season as the big promotion push, with a new team, but with the time to continue to get the philosophy embedded.
It is only due to the heroic efforts of Dean Smith and his coaching team, as well as last season’s first team squad that we are in a position to gain a point at home to West Ham on Sky Sports MNF. In February this year Aston Villa sat 13th in the Championship and were effectively out of playoff contention, barring a record breaking miracle.
Whilst we all saw how delighted the ownership, board and staff were at Wembley in May, I wonder if there was a moment of realisation that the ante had been significantly upped and ‘Plan B’, as I am sure it was known in February, would have to commence in earnest. As we know, the squad was decimated as loan players returned to their clubs and out of contract players were released, whilst twelve new players were signed to fill the void and hopefully raise the quality.
Of course all this was necessary and can only be used as excuses for so long, however surely given the turn of events we as fans can continue to provide the space and time for the squad to grow and develop? The veterans of last season deserve nothing less than that. They are heroes and will be written into the Villa history books and remembered fondly for their success and how they achieved it.
As for the new signings, there is little to suggest that any of them will fall well short and I certainly have no reason to mistrust Villa's scouting credentials nor the coaches ability to improve players as a collective within the team strategy.
In terms of the fans, particularly those who attend home matches, so far the atmospheres and support for the players has been excellent, notwithstanding the mix of results. The truth is that we have now become used to winning at home over the past two seasons and we turn up to Villa Park expecting the same dominant displays that we became accustomed to. We aren’t stupid, we know the Premier league teams are head and shoulders above our Championship opponents and can be realistic enough to understand why our team might struggle. But we now associate Villa Park with big atmospheres, attacking football, goals and wins. This is a great thing, when we consider how it felt during the years previous.
The changes that have occurred at the club have succeeded in bringing a winning atmosphere and culture back to Aston Villa. There is still a momentum there and the expectation is high but not over inflated. So when we fail to see off a team with ten men, we cant quite understand how that could happen, hence frustration. This is not negativity, it is born out of the incredible positivity which has engulfed the club, particularly since Jack Grealish returned to the side for the 4-0 demolition of Derby in March.
Of course there will always be moaners. They are probably the same ones who complained at only finishing 6th, three seasons in a row under Martin O’Neill. Whilst their number will grow if the dodgy results continue, there are reasons to be hopeful that the hard work at Bodymoor Heath will begin to bear fruit and that winning mentality amongst the squad and the fans can be built upon in a tangible way.
This squad does not lack quality and every game that passes, every training session with our excellent coaches will be learning moments which lead to improvement on the pitch. We are all finding our level back in the big league, figuring out where we stand, but hopefully relishing the experience of seeing our great club back where it belongs. We are only five games in and there is a lot of football to be played before too many realistic judgements can be made. Hang in there!