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Thoughts From Villa Park
Written by timjwoodall on Wednesday, 30th Jan 2019 10:14

Villa Park on Saturday was my first game of the season, having spent the last seven months out of the country. As such, I thought it would be an opportune moment to share some thoughts on the team.

I was happy enough with the line-up. Having seen the mistakes from Callum Elder the previous week, it would have been mystifying if Myles Kenlock hadn't played given he is our player. I was surprised but pleased to see Bart back in goal, if only because I couldn't think of anything that Dean Gerken had particularly done wrong.

Paul Lambert's transfer business (and implied backing from Marcus Evans) clearly shows no signs of giving up. The signings all seem to be very short-term with the option to review at the end of the season.

Given that, I was intrigued to see how the new signings performed. James Collins, with the notable exception of the first goal, was a rock all game. He was also the only member of the back four that had any ability to distribute and play a pass more than 20 yards.

Will Keane was very isolated all the way through the first half but was not helped by a poor first touch (unless he was chesting the ball) that took the ball five yards away from him. Watching him toil through the first half, it was clear his second touch was much better than first (rather like his goal against Rotherham) if he got the opportunity.

Alan Judge is by far and away the standout player of the team. He was almost always playing on the front foot and looking to make something happen.

The opening Villa goal was a typically poor goal for us to concede. It seemed like many of the goals we have conceded this season - a combination of errors that in isolation aren't a problem but combined give us a serious issue. In this case, a poor challenge from Trevoh Chalobah to give away the freekick, allowing Tammy Abraham to get goalside of Luke Chambers and Collins and Bart staying rooted to his line all meant an easy tap-in.

After that, I thought we would struggle particularly given the way John McGinn was starting to run the midfield and Abraham looking dangerous every time Villa came forward.

Our performance after that was notable that we struggled, badly, to get up the pitch. We seem totally reliant on a moment of magic or inspiration to create anything threatening. We don't have the players to play out from the back, particularly if the goalkick goes to Chambers, which meant we either kicked long and conceded possession or passed around at the back until closed down and put the ball out of play.

The other theme from the first half was the poor performance of Keith Stroud, a name that makes your heart sink when you see him as the assigned referee. Dubious decisions were there right from the start, every time a player went down (from both sides) resulted in a freekick and two or three advantages missed meant he was surrounded by Town players at half time.

With the rain coming down at the start of the second half, it seemed pretty inevitable that we would go down 2-0/3-0 at best. The penalty was a ludicrous decision. From our angle in the away end, you could see Judge turn as the ball went over his head and there was widespread disbelief when he gave the penalty. How he can be that close and give that penalty is unbelievable, no wonder he got kicked off the Premier League list after a season.

The turning point from a town perspective was the introduction of Collin Quaner. I was immediately impressed. A much better first touch than Keane and more mobile than you would think given his physique.

I have to admit I didn't see our penalty shout as a stonewall, though others around me were convinced. The linesman was right up with play so he must have seen it and decided it was not deliberate.

When Freddie Sears hit the shot I almost turned around in frustration, given the option of sliding Quaner or Judge in but it was a great hit and suddenly the dynamic changed. Villa fans were edgy, particularly when Chalobah hit the post but we never really threatened again after that.

And in truth, we never really created any clear-cut changes - Sears's goal was out of nothing and Chalobah's header from a freekick. Villa saw out injury time comfortably and professionally and in reality had the best chances and shouldn't have needed a dodgy penalty to win it.

So in summary, a result that wasn't a big surprise. I haven't changed my view going into the game that we are going down and what Lambert has done is great but too late.

We have to stop giving away stupid goals and we need to be far more creative. If Quaner can play like that from the start then he is a better option than Keane and I would like to see Judge play in his favoured role. I think he has the ability to dictate a game, in the way that McGinn did for Villa.

We have to quickly find a middle ground between trying to build out from the back and hitting it long to an isolated frontman. We are still too reliant on individual moments of brilliance to score (like Sears goal) and don't create enough chances to score.

The players are clearly committed and playing for Lambert and carrying out his instructions but time is short and I think come the end of February, we have to prepare the team for League One. That means Ellis Harrison and Kayden Jackson up front, Teddy Bishop or Andre Dozzell alongside Cole Skuse and Flynn Downes in central midfield and Josh Emmanuel at right-back.

If we could recall Luke Woolfenden, which we can't after tomorrow, I would bring him back and play him too. Nothing against Chalobah, Quaner or Matthew Pennington who have done little wrong but the likelihood of these players being in League One next season with us is close to zero.

It was great to back watching again, something I have missed. But the performance was the same as the games I had seen on ifollow, plenty of passion, commitment but some way short of the quality required to beat most Championship teams. League One beckons.

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Facefacts added 11:34 - Jan 30
Excellent summary, thanks. I watched back Alex Griffin's vlog video of our penalty appeal and the referee was min 20, max 25 yards away from the handball, ie. not up with play. He was also maybe unsighted by other players in the penalty area. I wish I could make a case for Keith Stroud not being biased against Ipswich Town, but I just can't (bearing in mind his other Ipswich games too). The feeling of anger and injustice spurred the team on to perform better, and was further increased by Freddie's goal. The thing is, how can we perform that well for the whole 90, or 95 minutes, without that feeling of anger and injustice to spur us on. That would be the key to survival in the Championship.

DifferentGravy added 12:51 - Jan 30
Good blog, thanks. Totally agree with description of Collins, need another one of him really.. Also the defence and the soft opening goal. Judge needs to play where he wants to and effect the game as much as possible ( like Dos Santos did, although with more devastating effect, in his short time here)

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