Aston Villa endured yet another away day to forget last Friday night. They succumb to a 1-0 defeat at Queens Park Rangers on a chilly night in the capital. Villa are now winless in seven on the road. With our only victory coming on the opening day of the season at Hull City.
It’s a problem that is really threatening to plague our season. As it has done in our previous Championship campaigns. Putting together a run of any consistent sort of form together on our travels has massively undermined our generally solid home form. And if a push towards the top six is to materialise, it’s something that will need to be improved upon sooner rather than later.
Dean Smith’s arrival has lifted the dark mood of supporters though. And whilst results haven’t set the world alight so far, there is a general consensus that the style of football is more akin to what is expected. There is optimism that results will come once his philosophy has bedded in a little more.
The problem is that time is not a luxury we can afford. The next three fixtures away from Villa Park are Derby County, Middlesborough and West Bromwich Albion. Three teams that have all made promising starts and are tough to beat in their own backyard.
For me, there is another problem that is gathering pace and one which Smith must look at stamping out as soon as possible. Namely, Villa are losing their fear factor.
Since dropping down to the Championship, Villa has been one of the league’s biggest draws on the fixture list. ‘You’ve only come to see the Villa’ had a certain ring of truth to it. We have been the big fish in this division. We’ve spent the most money and we have the biggest star names.
But on the pitch, the failure to deliver consistently is damaging any psychological edge that we may have had heading into games. Dare I say it, Villa have become somewhat of a soft touch.
Teams know they can get points off us, especially on their own patch. And whilst it should be more of a coup for that to happen, it’s becoming far too common. Villa coming to town doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of the opposition supporters anymore. People aren’t looking at the fixture list and dreading having to play Villa and writing off the three points.
I genuinely think that one of the problems we’ve endured is that teams raise their game when facing us. And may have been a shock for us in our debut campaign. In 2016/17 we lost 13 of our 23 away matches. By contrast, we only lost 3 home matches all season.
It’s a huge opportunity for players to showcase themselves against a team perceived to be the team to beat in the league. As an added incentive, the tv camera’s are often present, giving a further boost to players. We’ve never really looked like getting to grips with it, even to this day.
And it just seems lately to have become more of a common occurrence. An expectant outcome if you like, that Villa won’t be bringing home three points.
Having been in this league for a sustained period of time now we’ve become part of the furniture. We’re not viewed as anything to especially fear anymore. We’ve shown that in our results. We’re a good team, with good players. But the isn’t an aura about us anymore. We’re beatable.
As I alluded to earlier, at home, it’s slightly different and we’re more solid. But whilst we don’t often lose, we still draw too many games at Villa Park.
We’re Aston Villa
I don’t mean this to be a piece that comes across as ‘we’re Aston Villa and we just need to turn up to win’. There are plenty of reasons why we’re in the position we currently find ourselves. But I do feel like, as a club, we’ve allowed that psychological advantage to dissipate without making any use of it. And we certainly didn’t live up to it.
The aforementioned upcoming away fixtures will likely see Villa as underdogs in the betting. And you can bet Derby, Boro and West Brom won’t be fearing a visit from the Villans right now.
Dean Smith has a huge job on his hands as we know. Part of that now includes making Villa a team to be feared again. At the moment, we’re rolling over and having our belly’s tickled too often. Hopefully, Smith can get us roaring like the lions were supposed to be, sooner rather than later.