It’s been a hectic couple of weeks since the Championship season finally got under way. Four games in and still extremely early in our campaign, there are perhaps a few murmurs from certain sections of the fan base, who were expecting a few more points that our current tally of five which sees us occupy twelfth place. Whilst it may be considered a slightly slow start, I would much prefer to focus on the positives, of which I think there are plenty.
Just two goals conceded
Both can be attributed to bad luck. Some may say mistakes instead, and perhaps Pierluigi Gollini does need to take some responsibility for his involvement for the goals against Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town, but we are not talking Brad Guzan style calamities here. The goals came from a sliced clearance which still required plenty of work to be converted into a goal and a powerful clearance against a player, which on another day would have bounced out for a throw-in instead of a direct goal. Gollini has largely been a safe pair of hands so far and has been one of the reasons why we have the joint best defence so far.
We finally have a decent centre back pairing
I’ve addressed the merits of our captain Tommy Elphick in the last couple of weeks but James Chester has also been superb since coming in from West Bromwich Albion. Both players are defending in a manner unseen at Villa Park for many a season, with organisation, communication and desire. Chester and Elphick seem to have already formed an understanding on the pitch which is remarkable considering they were literally plonked together at short notice before the Rotherham game.
The loss to Luton Town was a blessing in disguise
Let’s not beat around the bush – the defeat at Kenilworth Road was embarrassing. However, more than that, it highlighted that certain players are either not committed to the cause or just not good enough.
It was already blatantly obvious yet if more confirmation was needed that Micah Richards is not a centre back, Roberto Di Matteo got it in this game.
It also seems to have been the game that saw Alan Hutton finally lose his starting position at right back. To me, it’s no coincidence that results improved as soon as one or both of these guys moved out of the team. It happened last season in those rare victories against Crystal Palace and Norwich and we are unbeaten in the three games since this defeat.
The chairman, Dr. Tony Xia, alluded to the Luton Town game being used as a squad experimentation exercise. Whilst I’m not particularly happy at being knocked out of the first round of the League Cup, if it means that certain issues are addressed and will not be repeated for the remainder of the season then the greater good is much more important.
The game against the Hatters also showed the importance of Elphick’s organisation, which was evident in the opener at Sheffield Wednesday and completely absent without him in the team. It became clear that we needed another option to cover any injuries and suspensions to the captain, and Chester promptly arrived a couple of days later.
Some of last season’s flops are at least trying to turn it around
I’m thinking of Aly Cissokho and, in particular, Leandro Bacuna. I’m not the biggest fan of either in terms of their ability, although both players have shown a much improved attitude and standard from last season. Cissokho is a player who still just never looks comfortable on the ball but he has begun the season well, especially in the game against Rotherham United, which may say more about the Millers than anything else.
Bacuna has slotted in at right back and done well; he seems to be seeking redemption. Yesterday he was quoted as saying, “We want to show the fans that we are not playing for ourselves as people have said before and want to do the best for Aston Villa and make sure the fans have a good time and we can win games.” We’ll see if it continues but, for now, he is beginning to earn his second chance.
The good thing is that those who are showing an application in their attitude are being given chances. The likes of Joleon Lescott and Gabby Agbonlahor are noticeable by their absence and we can only assume they haven’t demonstrated enough to warrant an opportunity.
We have been unlucky in games so far
Lady Luck’s absence has been evident in the goals we have conceded but also going forward. The game against Derby County on Saturday is a particular case in point, with the woodwork being hit twice and a goal-line clearance preventing us from taking the three points. Although we still have a Jekyll and Hyde nature to us in the way we can dominate one half of a match and then be outplayed for much of the remainder, there are certainly positive signs about our play which I can’t help but feel will become more regular with the team gelling over the next few weeks. The Rotherham United game was the one where it seemed to come together and I feel it is only a matter of time before we dish out some even heavier defeats. To help us achieve such performances, Xia may have something special lined up…
Dr. Tony is promising us a ‘world class’ striker
I am slightly wary of the Dr. Tony’s promise on this one. The rumour mill has gone into meltdown thanks to the owner’s continued teasing. Abel Hernández is the big favourite. However, the promise of the player being ‘world class’ has led fans to talk of Islam Slimani, Robin Van Persie or even Wilfried Bony joining Aston Villa Football Club. Other persistent rumours of the likes of Patrick Bamford, Nahki Wells or even Hal-Robson Kanu fall way short of world class status so who knows what to expect? The only other potential clue was a pledge that he is ‘To be a Real good “No.9”!’ with the capital ‘r’ being pounced upon by many. Whoever it is, more strike power is welcome and it certainly creates an excitement and anticipation amongst the supporters. The owner may be setting himself up for some backlash from some supporters on this one, although he has delivered on everything he’s said he would so far.
We still have Jedinak to come in
Visa issues denied the Australian his debut against Derby but the excitement around Jedinak is almost tangible. Some real steel and, most crucially, experience in our midfield has been lacking for years. He may be thirty-two but Jedinak’s game isn’t reliant on pace. Crystal Palace fans were distraught to see him leave, which tells us everything we need to know about the man. Their displeasure also indicates that they felt he was still up to the job in the Premier League, which is great news for us. I would love to see him paired in centre midfield with the promising Aaron Tshibola. Regardless of who lines up alongside him, it means that we now have an experienced spine running throughout the team, made up of players who were captains at their previous clubs. We definitely won’t be lacking the leadership and discipline that was so unforgivably missing last season.
All in all, I believe we are definitely heading in the right direction. It may be little steps right now but the fumigation of Villa Park was never going to be instant. We have seen glimpses of the promise in this team and I’m sure that, over the next few weeks, results will start to become more consistent. Above all, there is an excitement for the fans at last – and that is possibly the most positive thing of all.