Whilst no game after just 12 matches should be deemed as a ‘must-win’, there was certainly an added pressure on Aston Villa’s shoulders on Monday night to ensure they took all three points against Newcastle United.
A tough set of fixtures before the international break saw the Villans record three straight losses. Competitive showings against the best two teams in the land in Liverpool and Manchester City gave way to a lacklustre performance against an improving Wolverhampton Wanderers side as injuries began to suddenly mount up; in truth, the break came at a good time for Villa.
Much needed points
The game against the Magpies was certainly one earmarked by supporters where we needed to pick up points. It fell in the middle of what, on paper at least, looked like a fiendish run of fixtures. As well as those tough games before the international break, Villa will now proceed to take on Manchester United, Chelsea and Leicester.
The 2-0 victory saw Villa live up to the reasonable expectations of getting a win. And in truth, we are becoming very reliable in getting the business done in the games that are likely to shape our season.
Much has been made of Villa’s ability to inexplicably implode this season. A league-high of losing 11 points from winning positions is not an enviable record to own. And a total of 7 losses so far is the third-highest total in the league.
Dean Smith’s revolution
But despite this, after so many years of mismanagement and drudgery throughout the club, Dean Smith’s revolution has ushered in a renewed patience amongst supporters.
The majority of losses we’ve suffered have come against some of the better teams in the league. And we’ve been unlucky in several of those.
Supporters can see that poor refereeing against Crystal Palace cost us a point. And that VAR has been our enemy on several occasions. Similarly, we’ve managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool despite playing out of our skins.
But we’re a newly promoted side with a team full of new signings; there were always going to be ups and downs, especially in the early part of the campaign.
By and large, though, supporters patience and realistic expectations are being satisfied by the fact that we’re taking three points in the games that really matter. We’re beating, or certainly not losing, to the teams around us.
Everton, Brighton and now Newcastle have all succumbed at Villa Park. All of those teams are currently within one point of us in the league. And Norwich was well and truly put to the sword on their own patch which importantly put some kind of distance between us.
Villa may have work to do on the mental side of their game against the teams we’re not expected to win against, there is certainly a belief that we are at least as good, if not better than the teams around us.
At Villa Park especially, there are signs that the first bricks in the fortress that needs to be built have already been laid. An error-strewn loss to Bournemouth early on the season has only been matched by Liverpool’s late victory in B6.
We know that those heartbreaking losses to Liverpool and Arsenal especially were tough to take. But we also know they won’t define our season. Villa are making a habit of winning the games that really matter.
First and foremost, whether we like it or not, survival is the primary aim. The table is so tight at the moment and Villa are making a big contribution to keeping things that way by not letting the teams around us take any sort of advantage when we meet them.
Our downfall has been taking enough points off the other teams further up the league. In many ways, Villa are those horrible children in the playground – picking on the smaller kids only to be taught a lesson themselves by the even bigger boys.
For me, there is definitely a mentality issue. But it is important we find the same confidence and belief as to when we meet teams who we feel we have a more realistic chance of bearing.
Next up is a trip to Old Trafford. Historically, the place is barren for us. But I think right now it’s an important test for us. United are an average team. They’ve won the exact same number of games as we have, and this game is winnable. If we could nab the victory, we’d be level on points with them.
The problem is, even writing this, I’m convincing myself that a draw would be a good result. And it would. But that’s the difficulty in shifting mentality. We think of Manchester United and Old Trafford and we automatically associate it with a loss.
In reality, it’s a perfect opportunity to shift up a level. Yes, we have the confidence that we can beat the Norwich’s and Newcastle’s of this league. But a win this weekend would go a long way to breaking the ceiling of belief we struggle with against those bigger teams.
Whatever happens though, we’re at least winning the bread and butter games that we need to. Maybe now we can start fighting back a little against those bigger kids in the playground also.