Going into this game, I was sure that we would put the cup performance to bed and ease past a struggling Wigan side who had lost 3 games in a row without scoring. Why I am still optimistic before games I do not know. Losing 3-0 to Wigan is simply unacceptable, the performance put in was even worse. We started the game brightly but entirely lost our way around 30 minutes and never regained the ability to keep the ball or attack. Before I go into depth on our shortcomings and particular individuals who have warranted a mention for their shocking performances, it is worth noting that McGinn was fantastic again.
For me, Taylor and Bree are where a lot of our problems lied today. They gave away a ridiculous number of free kicks, were very sloppy on the ball and offered nothing further forward at all. They simply do not overlap our wingers and when the wingers managed to make space and play the ball back to them, their delivery was woeful. Wigan played long balls to get in behind Neil Taylor and to the surprise of literally nobody ever, Taylor was horrifically exposed by Pilkington for Wigan’s first goal of the game just before half time. Wigan’s second goal was also an interesting one; their corner was cleared out and the ball was reclaimed and played wide by Wigan. This is a very routine move in a football game and happens regularly, so naturally, you would expect Villa’s defence to be prepared for a cross. This was not the case. I have no idea if Neil Taylor was even on the right planet as the ball was crossed in, but inevitably one of Wigan’s 3 free players on the back stick was Jacobs who headed the ball home.
It is hard to place too much of the blame on the full backs however, because we were pretty dreadful across the pitch and struggled to string more than 3 (or even 3) passes together for the majority fo the match. Despite this, I am amazed that any player could stand out for being poor as much as Taylor did considering the average performances of our players. I have watched a lot of bad displays in the last decade of being a Villa fan and as a result, the fact that I’m genuinely debating if Taylor’s today was one of the worst ever is damning.
I was delighted to see Whelan not starting the game as Bjarnason, Hourihane and McGinn made up our midfield three, yet something still looked wrong. I believe we are missing a creative attacking midfielder (Obviously Jack would play this role if he was fit). This can be evidenced by the sheer lack of chances that we created today; WE HAD NO SHOTS ON TARGET. This is an embarrassing stat to pick up in any fixture but against a team who have conceded 40 goals in 27 games this season, this is startling. Our wingers did not get enough of the ball in attacking positions and I don’t think Tammy did once. This is not their fault and it’s up to the rest of the team to get the ball up the pitch. We need more passing ability in the middle of the park, that much is certain.
Hourihane is an odd player for me. I’ve held this opinion of him for a while but his goals and assists had stopped me from being confident in my analysis, however, today changed this. Apart from dead balls, Hourihane offers very little. He was simply a passenger for most of today’s game and this is the case far too regularly. This is the championship and your midfielders cannot go missing away at Wigan if you are ever going to get out of the league. Bjarnason is the same but without the goals or assists.
During Smith’s first few games in charge, we were achieving a lot of success by pressing teams high up the field. Today, the high press lasted 25 minutes, and then we sat back. I am not sure if this is due to fitness levels or something else, but the change in the game was notable. Once we let Wigan have possession, they came forwards and soon found out that our full backs are, in reality, projections and that there was nothing to stop them from getting in down the channels. Even towards the end of the game, when we were 2 or 3 goals down, Wigan dominated the game and that is once again unacceptable.
Last week, Whelan was a heavy part of my article but, despite my criticism, I had the good grace to clarify that I am sure he is a good person off the pitch. I no longer have this good grace. I do not understand how a professional footballer could be substituted on for Villa in that game and make a negative impact. It is baffling. Whereas Bjarnason had gone missing, Whelan made his mark in the 81st minute; Joe Garner then converted from the spot. As soon as our substitutes came on, we looked confused and hopeless. We could not string more than three passes together before the subs, after them I would have cheered two. This links to my article from last week as Whelan does not look for the ball or create the option for the ball to be played into the midfield and thus we do not regain possession. The defence simply seemed to have no options when they had the ball and thus struggled to get it up the pitch. This was particularly evident when Hause was on the ball. I have to admit, I have no idea why he was brought on for Elphick in the first place but it was not a good debut. I have not seen touches that heavy since Yacouba Sylla played for us… at least he can only get better.
Adomah came on and cannot really be faulted, he created the best chance of the game with a sublime left footed cross that whizzed painfully across the goalmouth and was just out of the reach of Abraham or McGinn. When the subs came on I was confident we could not possibly get worse, I was very very wrong.
Tammy and Kalinic
These are two rather unlikely players to be paired together in a match review but I feel sorry for both of them. Kalinic did look shaky on the ball at time but, given the awful quality of passes that he received, the fact that he managed to even clear the ball out to touch was miraculous. He also made some fantastic stops; the first of which was after only 3 minutes and gave us a chance to start the game well and not fall behind early again. For the penalty, he guessed the right way and his dive impressed me; he got a glove to the ball despite it being tucked right into the bottom left corner. Kalinic has now conceded 6 goals in his first two games and this is hugely unfair on him. Playing in goal for Villa at the minute must feel like being a farmer in the sahara; there is nothing he can do.
Tammy is probably on the phone to Wolves as I speak this. He got less service than my phone does in the Holte end and this was not for a lack of trying. There was absolutely nothing that he could have done to change this, he dropped deep to pick the ball up out of desperation to be involved and was even in our own half at one point towards the end of the match. I hope he stays and does not change his mind, if we carry on playing like that though, he might live to regret it.
Kalinic: 6 – He could not have stopped their goals but was shaky on the ball.
Bree: 2 – I don’t understand what he offers. Neither defended or attacked.
Chester: 4 – I have no idea where the old Chezzy has gone but we need him back urgently.
Elphick: 4 – I’m not sure why be got subbed off but he certainly did not stand out from the rest of the poor performances.
Taylor: 0: I never want to see him play again.
El Ghazi: 5: Looked bright early on but gave the ball away too often.
Bjarnason: 3: Went missing for large patches and complicit in our dire passing.
Hourihane: 3 Missing would be an understatement and his dead balls were poor.
McGinn: 8 – Looked energetic throughout with some great prerssing, tackles and interceptions. He also made a few fantastic runs with the ball. An outlier today.
Bolasie: 5 – Made some good runs but typcially no end product. Did not see enough of the ball.
Abraham: N/A – It is impossible to grade someone who did not see the ball. This was not his fault at all and he’ll go home very frustrated.
Whelan: 0 – He came on in the 62nd minute and I should have stopped watching. A dismal display that somehow made Bjarnasons look good. As bad as Taylor.
Hause: 2 – Another player who came on and impressively, made us worse. Shy of match fitness so potentiall harsh to judge him too soon.
Adomah: 5 – Hardly touched the ball but put in a great cross. Still looks levels off of the player he was this time last year.
I hate to be negative but I have picked a terrible time to take hold of the mantle and start writing reular articles about Villa again. There is simply no better word to describe the horror show that I just endured than embarrassing and the less said about this performance the better.
That said, I still believe Smith is the right man for the job, he needs time and patience to get things right. This was what I stated last week and, I will not change my mind on this until he has had a fair amount of time with the squad. It is depressing that we have fallen so far (performances and results wise) from the heights that he set early on, but it is important to realise that we have had some key injuries to deal with. I do believe that Grealish makes a massive difference, but surely, he is not the only difference between today’s game and the wins at Derby and Middlesborough? We have gone from destroying teams in the playoffs to being destroyed by teams in a relegation battle and Smith needs to identify why very quickly else this season will be a write off.
One things, however, remains constant and that is the incredible nature of our away fans. They travelled in fantastic numbers again today and deserved so much more than what they witnessed. At the very least, they serve as a much needed reminder that we are a massive and proud club with a sensational fanbase.
Up The Villa and can I have them 90 minutes back please.
By Callum Richardson