One point gained or two points too little?

Going into Wednesday nights fixture away to Steve ‘potato’ Bruce’s Newcastle side, Villa Twitter was pretty unanimous in the necessity of a win. Accompanying this, was an outcry for a better performance, after the two games since restart had been as dull as they were disappointing. We got the latter of these, without securing the far more important former objective and the 3 points that would have carried us out of the dreaded drop zone.

Despite this, I refuse to succumb to the doom and gloom merchants who are currently strutting their lack of faith around Twitter like they have found a new toy. No, we are not relegated yet. We have 7 games left, are even with two dreadful teams who are currently showing less than us, and we only need about a point a game. When you stir the final day crunch match against West Ham into this, it really is all to play for.

With that said, I will analyse the match before giving my perspective on our situation and injecting what seems to be some much needed hope.

The Match

We started well, how irritatingly predictable. From the off, we looked much change from the previous two fixtures and pressed Newcastle high up the pitch; being a Steve Bruce side, they really were not able to deal with this. We therefore gained the upper hand in the opening exchanges and were using our advanced possession to cross the ball in as much as possible. This technique almost brought about results twice; with a lovely deep cross finding Trezeguet lurking at the back stick. Unfortunately, the Egyptian enigma skied his volley; I wonder if he will soon be following the ball into the sky and back to the Turkish league… The other chance was less clear cut, and Samatta did not get enough on his glancing header to make the vital difference.

Newcastle came back into the game before long, and it must be said that all of their play came through the undeniably brilliant Saint-Maximin. He has everything an attacker could want and left any Villa fan cowering in-front of their TV whenever he received the ball and launched himself into a trick-filled dribble. After 30 minutes, the Magpies had managed 0 attempts on our goal, but this soon changed. ASM glided past both Targett and Trez in the 37th minute before whipping a terrifying ball across the face of the goal; our saving grace was the fact their striker is Joelington.

A Kortney Hause mistake (drink) was picked up on by Voldemort’s ugly brother, who played through Joelington, Wesley’s Geordie twin looked set to score, but then came Tyrone Mings with a typically heroic challenge. As we neared half-time, we were living very dangerously indeed. This danger was only increased, when Nyland dropped a Matt Ritchie strike straight at Joelington; once again, a massive thanks must go to Newcastle’s recruitment team for his lack of clinicality.

The Half-time whistle marked a welcome break for Villa, who I hoped would come back out the tunnel roaring, as they had in the first 20 minutes. Amidst all of this, our old friend VAR booked Douglas Luiz for his ‘aggressive attitude’; bizarre, ridiculous, but not at all surprising. Whilst Luiz is the topic of discussion, it is worth mentioning how much of a mammoth he has been in our midfield since the restart. He was undoubtedly our star man in the first 45, and possibly the best Brazilian to ever play the beautiful game.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND – JUNE 24: Douglas Luiz of Aston Villa is challenged by Miguel Almiron of Newcastle United during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Aston Villa at St. James Park on June 24, 2020 in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. (Photo by Lee Smith/Pool via Getty Images)

That said, we did not start the second half well. Newcastle continued to be in the ascendancy and the longer the half went on for, the more clear three things were:

  1. McGinn is not fit – I hate to say it but he was running in treacle all game, his legs look heavy and he’s not himself again yet. He should certainly have been subbed sooner.
  2. El Ghazi and Trezeguet are not Premier League players. The former may grow into one with time, the latter never will. Toothless, way too slow and weaker than a milky tea. I wouldn’t start either, let alone both.
  3. The shape had stopped working – we stopped passing the ball as we had early on and the press faded into nothing. It was time for Davis if we were going to play long.

Sadly, Deano failed to act on these early enough, even with the 5 subs in his armoury. Instead, it was Bruce whose brain worked fastest (utterly staggering I know). Brucey subbed on Carroll and Gayle around the 66th minute; 94 seconds later out defence self destructed in the most agonizingly infuriating fashion and Gayle poked in.

Just look at how pathetic this is:

There has been some debate on Twitter over who takes the blame here; is it Konsa for not covering Hause and tracking the run of Gayle, or is it Mings and Hause for being magnetized to the non-threat of Andy Carroll on the right wing. For me, this is where the blame lies:

Targett should never be beaten by Carroll, how he finds himself on the wrong side of that oaf I will never know, but that’s embarrassingly poor. Mings covers this, but he has gone too far, leaving a huge gap for ASM to run into. Mings should be able to assess the threat of Carroll on the RIGHT wing as null, and does not need to charge so far over in cover of Targett. Hause then sees ASM making the run and comes across to cover, I don’t think he has done much wrong at all. ASM is their best player and is making a very dangerous run towards goal, it’s not Hause’s fault that Mings went way too far over and exposed him and Konsa to this.

This then leaves Luiz and Konsa. Douglas Luiz is not to blame, he is tracking ASM as he should be, it’s not his fault that the Frenchman is stupidly quick and he has managed to keep close enough to offer some protection, to his credit. Konsa, on the other hand is as guilty as sin. The other Newcastle player is not in an immediately threatening position so I am not buying into the ‘he had two players’ argument. Anyone should be able to identify Gayle as the threat in that situation, and he therefore needs to be busting a gut to cut off his run and protect Nyland. He fails to do this completely and this comedy of errors makes us concede a pathetically sloppy goal in the 68th minute.

Finally, Smith has to take a lot of blame here. Look back at that photo and find John McGinn… He is not there, and as the extra player, would have been covering the Newcastle player on the far side, giving Konsa no decision to make as to Gayle’s run. If he was fit, John would never not be in this position and would be offering defensive help. BUT, he is not and he did not look fit all game. We left him on too long and paid the price… again.

This goal seemed to wake Deano up and he threw on Keinan and Hourihane for the useless Trez and El Ghazi. These subs did make a big difference, as you would expect. That said, Hourihane for me is a championship player, he does not offer enough defensively and his passing is just too poor for this league when combined with his lack of mobility. Keinan has showed some great signs and I like him, but given his goal scoring record he cannot be classed as a Premier League level striker yet. There was a reason that I highlighted the credentials of these two subs, as they did make a vast improvement on El Ghazi and Trezeguet; which shows just how poor they are for us.

Villa then took up the mantle and Grealish, for the first time since project restart, started actually playing like himself. He was at the heart of an attack that conjured up corner after corner. We only improved when Konsa made way for Elmo, and McGinn was finally removed in favour of Nakamba. Elmohamady immediately offered more threat than El Ghazi or Trez had combined, and whipped in a few delicious crosses that our strikers really should have been looking to feed off of.

Eventually, the pressure told and Elmohamady, the Egypitan king and my hero, glanced the unlikeliest of headers in from a good Hourihane corner. We were level in the 83rd minute, and that essential win looked plausible.

However, despite some late pressure and more corners it was not to be. Hourihane put in a lame delivery from a brilliantly positioned free kick in the 95th minute and that was that. A point more than we had in the 80th minute but two points less than we needed. This Newcastle side were there for the taking and although we improved on previous outings, we simply failed to do enough.

Man of the match – Douglas Luiz (by a mile).

Where does that leave us?

Following the match, I took to HeartofTheHolte’s twitter account to tweet out my analysis on the match, and the importance of a point. I did not expect to see what I saw. I suggested that we were not relegated yet, quite a safe claim to make I would argue, given that we are level with two other sides who are both dreadful. Apparently not so much,

A large section of our fan-base has thrown the towel in so early that even Lescott and Richards would be proud of them. Saying hello to the Championship may get you a few likes on Twitter, but in all honesty it’s embarrassingly stupid. I have little faith in our squad, yet still find myself full of hope. Please read on in the hope that i can inject some of my belief into you, and Twitter’s glass may become a little more half full…

The Table

If we ignore Watford, this is how things stand. We have actually gained points on West Ham and Bournemouth since lockdown, and they have both been horrific since the restart. If we do stay up, this would not even be a great escape, as we are literally level. Here is some context:

West Ham 2006/07.

10 points behind 17th place in March, won 6 of 8 games in April and had to beat United at Old Trafford to have a hope of staying up on the final day; they managed this and stayed up.

Wigan 2011/12.

Roberto Martinez’s side had been dire all year and were in big trouble. They won 6 of their final 8 games, including wins at Arsenal and United and finished 7 points above the drop zone.

Leicester, 2014/15.

Bottom of the league with 10 games left, 7 points from safety and no wins in over 2 months. Won 7 of their last 9 and achieved safety against all the odds.

Villa, 2019/20.

There are 7 games to go and we are level with West Ham and Bournemouth. Norwich are down and out of this one, and Watford could still be drawn into the mix. We probably need around 7 points to survive, meaning we could stay up with 4 from our next six and then a win in London on the Final day. So, let’s look at fixtures.

Fixtures

Whilst home games would have been crucial before this virus decided to ruin all our lives and take away the pubs, they now mean relatively little, so I won’t factor them into my analysis here.

Wolves (H) – A tough ask, but we have beat better dingles sides than us before, and it is certainly possible. A draw is more likely than a win. 1 point.

Liverpool (A) – A write off unless they have won the league by this game, in which case Elmo can bully their kids again. Let’s be safe and say 0 points.

Man United (H) – United were rubbish against us at Old Trafford where we got a point against them but they’ve looked great since restart. For the purpose of satisfying pessimists, I will say 0 points.

Palace (H) – VAR robbed us of a point away to these. In fairness we played horribly all game, but then again, they were only one goal up before VARgate. They are going to be playing for pride by this point, with no fans in stadiums and a pandemic to distract. I’d want at least a point here, so will say 1 point.

Everton (A) – we beat them at the start of the season. They are obviously much improved with a new manager, but won’t have anything to play for. Given we beat them when they did, I think we will beat them again – 3 points.

Arsenal (H) – Possibly a tough match if they are still competing for the top four spot, but the gunners have been pathetic thus far. We should have beaten them earlier in the season without a VAR assisted collapse. I’m gonna call this as a loss, but its by no means a given. 0 points.

West Ham. (A) – We will beat these on the last day, I wont hear any different. They don’t seem to have any fight, and we have some. I have faith and will say 3 points.

So that’s 5 points before the final game, and then a win to take us to 35 points. I can’t see Bournemouth or West Ham getting above this, even with their slightly easier run-ins. When you add into this the possibilities against Palace, Arsenal and Wolves for more, this really is not over by any stretch of the imagination.

Our team

We have been picking up points with an unrecognizably unfit John McGinn. Smith continues to play him and there is a reason for this; if we can get him up to speed, we will improve immensely. McGinn is a massive player for us and could be the difference between draws and wins in a lot of these games. Deano has gambled by starting him, but the payoff will be down the road.

Davis and Samatta – these two aerial threats looked great together against Newcastle late on. I’d be in favour of 3 centre-half’s and wing backs, as this suits Elmohamady and Targett more than a standard 4, and their crossing ability is on a different planet to our substandard wingers. To be honest, not playing Trez or El Ghazi justifies this alone.

Grealish. Jack will be the key. This club means more to him than the other clubs do to their sides. Whilst we have lacked quality, I think its been clear that our squad is putting the effort in. Can the same be said for West Ham and Bournemouth… probably not. This is what will save us in my opinion.

So, I hope this has provided other fans with a ray of hope. We do not need a great escape, all we are asking for his a point per game and a win against a terrible West Ham side on the final day.

UTV and cheer up,

By Callum Richardson

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