It does not take a football mastermind to know that the FA cup is not a priority for the Villa at the moment, that being said, today was awful. As a fan, I was looking forward to seeing some of the fringe players (mainly youngsters) show bucket loads of energy, enthusiasm and raw talent in a bid to show why they should get more game time under the new gaffer. When the starting lineup was announced, I was delighted to see O’hare make the team and I was even looking forward to watching a regalvanised Hogan. This hope was abjectly misplaced. That said, the way that some fans are turning on Dean Smith is comical; he had us playing some fantastic football at first and since then we have been hit by big injuries. It also is not his squad and he has not been at the club long enough to know his players inside-out or fully implement a style of play. In the long-term, I have faith in this manager and we need to back him to the hilt.
With that in mind, here are the main points I took from today’s game.
A (back) fourmula for disatser
At first glance, our defence looked about as good as it could have given injuries and the fact that Chester was in desperate need of a rest. However, within two minutes of kick off it was clear that Alan Hutton was playing in the centre of our defence… oh, and we had concedede a horribly sloppy goal. I am afraid that those two things are like bread and butter; it has become apparent in recent weeks that Hutton simply cannot position himself and this has led to us conceding needlessly on more than one occasion. This makes Smith’s decision to place him at the heart of our defence all the more bemusing. Meanwhile, Bree was in right back and although this was his position when we signed in, he looked out of place and uncomfortable throughout. On the attack, his delivery was woeful at best, and in defence he frequently drifted too central and Swansea had barrels full of joy when attacking his flank. Hutton, as crazy as this may seem, does offer an attacking threat at this level and I would argue that he is far better going forward then defending. It is beyond me, why Hutton and Bree started in these positions, or why they did not simply swap during the game. The third goal was the cherry on the defences inept cake; quite how Fer was allowed to slowly turn in our box, play such a slow and obvious pass into Fulton’s feet, who then had all the time and space in the world to place the ball past Kalinić is beyond me. Hutton had made a slide tackle on Fer, and after it he simply froze. He did not try to intercept Fer’s pass, mark Fulton, or even block a shot; the mass exodus that resulted was almost justifiable.
From the stand, Kalinić looked at fault for the first goal, and he should have got to the second as well. However, it would be unfair to place the blame on a new keeper, playing infront of a defence that was makeshift at best. Tommy Elphick did not put in a great display but was not particularly bad either given that he had the task of playing alongside Hutton. Neil Taylor never really looked up for the match in all honesty. I cannot rememebr a single occasion when he made an overlapping run past El Ghazi or Adomah and this should be a staple move for any good side playing at home.
All in all, I am glad Elphick is back but our defence needs major adjustments. Even if Tuanzebe and Chester were fit, our full backs are haphazardous off the ball and average on it. It is going to be an interesting month…
I’m sure Glenn Whelan is a great person and all but so is Michelle Obama; it does not mean that either of them are capable of dictating the play in a possession based side. At Brentford, Dean Smith had Ryan Woods sitting deep in midfield and he was fantastic at buzzing about, finding space and tapping off quick short passes. This was the basis of his attractive style of play. We had a similar style of play during that start of his tenure too, with Hourihane playing this role and Grealish aiding him immensely. Since Grealish’s injury, Hourihane has pushed up into his position and Whelan is in the pivot and as a result, our style of play (and results) have suffered. Whelan has always thrived in defensive teams, like Stoke, and it is not his fault that Bruce has been replaced by a different manager but he simply has no place in a Dean Smith team. This was clear as day against Swansea. Whelan is not mobile enough to regularly find the pockets of space that allow him to be an option when we are in possession, he then takes too many touches on the ball (thus allowing the opposition to reset and block any chance of a forward pass) and, he makes too many mistakes in dangerous positions. One of these led to Swansea’s third goal.
Defensively, our midfield was all over the place. The word unit could not be less applicable. I am aware that is was a new combination of players but there was simply no pressure on the ball at all. Swansea would routinely pick the ball up in defence, play a pass into an unmarked midfielder, who would turn and then find another unmarked midfielder, who would also take a few touches before playing the ball further forward, and it went on… The lack of structure or pressure in the midfield was startling and Swansea seemed to be able to walk through us with ease. It would be unfair to place all of the blame for this upon Whelans shoulders but if our defence has no cover than I fail to see what he offers.
Henri Lansbury showed far more during his brief cameo and should be starting games ahead of his Irish counterpart. He looked very comfortable in possession and appeared all over the pitch, spraying a few brilliant passes about in the process. Although we did concede the last goal after he came on, I thought he was excellent and his comically cynical foul to stop a counter attack justified the admission fee. As a side note, John McGinn is an incredible footballer and was once again brilliant.
The lightening fast, clinical and hungry striker we bought from Brentford seems to have gone missing permanently. I was optimistic that under Smith his fortunes in Villa colours could change but after today I would not hedge my bets on it. He did well early on to connect with a fantastic Adomah cross and I am not quite sure how the keeper saved it. He followed this up with another good run in behind but failed to shoot and that was it. After the 10th minute he stopped making the runs in behind that had led to chances and ceased to do anything really. I am not sure if injuries have taken their toll and he has lost the yard of pace he used to rely on, but I do not see him becoming a reliable option for us sadly. If Tammy Abraham departs, I think that we desperately need to get somebody else in, or the playoffs will be a longshot. O’hare and Hogan struggled to link up effectively, perhaps these two players as a combination are simply too lightweight but I was hoping for much more before the game. O’hare started fantastically and did show glimpses of real quality, but he also looked slightly out of his depth physically at this level. It is clear that he could grow into a good player and hopefully this is the case but I believe he needs a decent loan spell before he can be a regular for us. Sadly, Hogan failed to take his chance and I would not expect to see him in the first team soon.
Overall, today’s game was one to forget. The crowd was very subdued, even for a third round FA cup game and this was notable even before their goal. That was the first time I have been to Villa Park and not heard the usual Yippee aye eh, yippee aye oh chant even once. Granted it is a different set of fans, often more families, that turn up to these discounted cup matches, but I can’t help but think the crowd’s lack of energy transfers at least partially onto the pitch.
The positive is that this was a cup match and as the saying goes, we can now focus on the league. The championship will provide more than enough playing time for our squad this season and more games could have left us strethed, it is just unfortunate that ewe had to wimper out of the cup so shamefully.
Dean Smith is the right man for the job and needs time. A style of play an philosophy will not come overnight and he needs time to bring in some of his own players, as well as coaching the ones he already has into his style. I’ve seen so many fan pages and twitter accounts in general comparing Smith to Bruce, with some even suggesting he is not fit to manage us already. This is ludicrous and anybody this painfully shortsighted deserves all of the dismal football they get. Admittedly, this article could and might be branded as negative, but that is only out of sheer disappointment that my pre-game optimism was so painfully misplaced. It is okay for a manager to get some decisions wrong and for players to have a bad game and it is also possible to criticise these things without calling for such drastic and ridiculous action. In additon, as bad as our performance was, today’s team was lacking most of our key players; Chester, Hourihane, Grealish, Bolasie and Tammy if he stays. I do not believe the same events could have occured if they were playing.
I’m sure that come Wigan away, we will see a very different team, performance and hoepfully result. And as for Grealish, when he comes back to fitness I will personally buy him bigger shinpads or even wrap my body around the huge areas of his shins that the previous ones exposed in order to avoid him getting injured again. Christ, he can even have my shins if he stays in the summer. All in all, it is now clear just how quintessential he is to our side and I cannot wait for him to come back.
Up the Villa,
By Callum Richardson