It is becoming more and more clear that Aston Villa are missing their talisman and captain Jack Grealish as they could only manage a point against relegation battlers Newcastle United at St James Park.
There have been murmurs of a possible European adventure for Villa next season but if they are to have any outside chance of that achievement, their performances will have to improve significantly to what we have seen over the past 4-6 weeks.
A failure to make Europe wouldn’t represent a failure of a season, in fact, the improvement compared to last season is quite phenomenal. It will represent a missed opportunity based on the quality of football we witness in the first half of the season.
Despite Matty Cash being back available for selection, Dean Smith decided to stick with Ahmed Elmohamady. The only change to the side that drew with Wolverhampton Wanderers was Morgan Sanson dropping to the bench for Jacob Ramsey.
To say the game was boring would be an understatement. It had Steve Bruce written all over it. It was the kind of football Newcastle fans have come accustomed to and something we thought we were well rid of.
Despite Smith’s attacking mentality, his side didn’t show that as they lacked any creativity once again as Grealish watched on from the comfort of his own living room.
Villa were forced into an early charge when Anwar El Ghazi replaced Bertrand Traore after he crashed into the advertising hoardings and appeared to hurt his ribs.
The away side did start the better side but lacked any creativity in the final third, resulting in El Ghazi shooting from distance or going out wide to look for a cross which was usually pretty poor.
The first real chance of note came from Trezeguet. The Egyptian burst in between two defenders and hit a well taken shot but was denied by Martin Dubravka in the Newcastle goal.
Higher tempo and goals
The second half saw Villa try to up the tempo but once again clear cut chances were few and far between. The problem for the neutral was as bad as Villa were, Newcastle wasn’t much better. It wasn’t pleasant viewing.
Smith introduced Ross Barkley and Sanson and the game began to open up a little. Barkley had the chance to release Ollie Watkins twice but his final ball let him down. Newcastle’s biggest threat came through Joelinton who caused Tyrone Mings problems all night but his effort went dangerously across the Villa goal.
Jacob Murphy was introduced by Newcastle and he almost had a goal straight away but he was denied as his effort cannoned off the crossbar.
The final five minutes of the game gave us more entertainment than we witnessed in the previous 85. With four minutes left on the clock, the away side took the lead. Matt Targett crossed the ball and Watkins glanced a header which would have gone well wide but hit former Villa defender Ciaran Clark and the ball deflected in off the bar.
Villa should have doubled there lead as Newcastle pushed forward and they broke on the counter-attack. Barkley broke with the ball before playing Watkins through but once again Dubravka denied the forward.
The miss proved costly when Newcastle went up the other end and Jamaal Lascelles beat Douglas Luiz in the air to score and give the home side a share of the points.
Aston Villa have struggled for a little while now. There has been a real lack of consistency that I refuse to blame purely on Grealish missing. Any team who is without a player of Grealish’s quality would miss him but that doesn’t give the rest of the team an excuse for lacklustre performances.
Villa are in a very good position of not having to worry about relegation this year but equally, they don’t want the season to just fizzle out. They can play with no pressure and see how far they can go. The issue is, too many of the attacking players are letting both the club and themselves down and may help the recruitment team when they highlight their targets this summer.