Monday’s midlands derby was a classic encounter in which we saw Lambert’s men claw their way back from a two goal deficit, conceded within the first quarter of an hour, to achieve the same result, and score, as the reverse fixture last season.
Lambert will have learnt some lessons after this match, which saw the same starting eleven that beat Cardiff at Villa Park over three weeks ago fall two goals behind in unsatisfactory circumstances.
I was surprised to see that Agbonlahor, Weimann and Delph all began on the bench when the team was announced, despite the fact that all three had recovered from injuries. In particular, the two front men, Agbonlahor and Weimann, need to start games away from Villa Park where the counter-attack suits them and means they pose a genuine threat.
Despite being unconvinced by Lambert’s starting line-up, it was predictable that the Scot was going to enforce it because he believes that a team that has won the previous game has every right to continue into the next, which is perfectly acceptable.
However, the Villa players did not seem to show any threat, with Kozak and Benteke, who led the line, only having the odd glimpse of the Albion goal throughout the whole of the first half. The poor first half showing must have sparked a realisation that the team needed fresh faces and I was convinced that Lambert and Culverhouse would have brought on the trio mentioned above at half-time. Nevertheless, this did not happen.
In my opinion, Libor Kozak is best suited to playing at home in a formation that provides two wide men, as shown against Cardiff City when width was provided and the Czech had a decent run out, scoring his first goal at Villa Park in front of the Holte End. I was delighted for him. On many occasions, starting with Agbonlahor, Benteke and Weimann up front at Villa Park does not always seem to be the answer.
After approximately ten minutes of the second half, Lambert substituted Kozak, Tonev and Sylla for Agbonlahor, Weimann and Delph and there was a real change throughout the team.
The Villans seemed to have awoken and gradually began to improve. Gabby Agbonlahor added that extra pace that was lacking in the first half, with Weimann linking well with interchanges and Delph looking comfortable.
The Villans’ persistence finally paid dividends when Karim El Ahmadi looped a shot over Boaz Myhill after Andi Weimann accurately directed the ball towards the Moroccan. Let’s not forget the first Villa goal for Westwood, which could not have come under better circumstances. Westwood hit a superb driving effort into the bottom corner from outside the box to draw level and the boys in claret and blue suddenly looked like the team that was more likely to grab the three points.
There was a clear sign that the trio substituted on had made a real difference. I believe Villa must start with Agbonlahor, Weimann and Benteke up front away from home: most people have argued that Villa has one of the best counter-attacking teams away in the league and the three players, on their day, are key elements to this style of play. I believe that Lambert should now realise that.
In the first half Kozak and Benteke did not create enough chances, which is a dangerous game when playing away, even more so in a local derby, and Lambert has surely seen enough to believe his was not the correct formation.
Lambert must ensure that the correct formation is picked away from home so that we have the best chance of gaining points. I am not saying that Lambert is an idiot but perhaps he should change things more often than he does, not only for added impetus but to gain a better idea of which formations are best suited to his best players.
Lambert is a young manager and, as he has stressed many times, the whole experience is a learning curve. He can only get better by making mistakes, adapting to these and learning on the whole. Lambert has my trust but lessons must have been learnt. I think it is a matter of time before we see our home for turn for the better: as soon as the right formation and tactics are provided, we will continue to improve and move forward as a football club.