Given the wonderful, insightful and often world class opinions we get from some modern day pundits, football fans of all colours (and not just Aston Villa fans) can often be forgiven for wondering if some of them even watch the game they are talking about and simply don’t allow themselves to be deluded by highlights shows.
Unfortunately, the BBC’s Garth Crooks has again fallen into that bracket after last weekend’s round of fixtures.
I’ll make no comments about the other selections in his usual Team of the Week feature, and I won’t even necessarily disagree with his choice of Danny Ings who put in a far better performance, in a very scrappy match against Brighton and Hove Albion. But his justifications and explanations won’t really wash with anyone who has actually watched us for the last couple of years.
Speaking to the BBC he said.
“This was an impressive performance by Aston Villa away at Brighton. With minutes left to play they defended like a Serie A team with 10 players behind the ball, such was their determination to win this match. In fact I saw Villa in this mood for a short period under Dean Smith and again under Steven Gerrard. Playing like this and with this energy, will and determination, Villa are a hard team to beat. Smith and Gerrard couldn’t maintain this form and it will be interesting to see if Unai Emery can. Bring a fit Ollie Watkins back into the fold alongside the in-form Danny Ings and it might all get very interesting at Villa Park again.”
Yes, there was late pressure as you’d expect from a home side, but it wasn’t park the bus and we still fashioned chances of our own. It was managed defence to again hit them on the break. He is right on the determination, but he’s missed the game management.
As for this ‘mood’ we saw it for a bit more than a short period under Dean Smith as we pushed up the table and he nailed game plans against the top six, even to Steven Gerrard’s credit he occasionally got it right as well, but you could definitely describe that as a short period.
But I suppose the media aren’t yet allowed to fully criticise Stevie properly for his failings, so Smith gets dragged in as a partial defence, despite bringing us to the Premier League with that incredible run, finally getting it right and earning survival in the first year back and then lifting us into eleventh place before things went wrong.
Two/three odd years and a 139 games (inc Championship) really is a short period and, of course, Gerrard didn’t have to try and work through a Plan B without Jack (outside of injury), new players who bizarrely didn’t really fit his system, a Covid hit pre season and Gerrard got his big name signings that he still couldn’t get to perform – whilst he oversaw a decline in everyone else’s performances maybe outside of Jacob Ramsey to begin with.
If Crooks thinks Smith needed to go, wouldn’t it be more truthful to say Gerrard should never have been appointed? But again, I’m assuming he didn’t actually watch any of that.
And then we get to the stupidest comment he makes by far. Danny Ings might have six goals and one assist in 16 appearances, but four of those goals came in two games in his last five games (ironically after Gerrard left) and whilst his performance was improved and Unai Emery attempted to play to his strengths and we had signs it could really work – in form is a stretch, especially then allied with the Ollie Watkins mention.
Emery may well work out how to use both in the same line up, and yes, the Brentford performance gave hope under Aaron Danks, and Emery stabbed at it in the EFL Cup tie with Manchester United and although the final scoreline did not really show how well we managed and played against them, their partnership was again not a great success and we have seen it time and time again.
Crooks has again fallen for the headlines whilst ignoring the real substance. You lose Ollie’s best strengths by consigning him to the wing, you lose Ings’ best strengths by not letting him mop up in the middle – but play them both in the team or the middle and they have no real understanding of how to play off each other as they largely try and do the same thing.
Had he said Emery’s next battle is in getting Ings and Watkins to really strike up a partnership, I doubt there’s a single Villan who would’ve disagreed with that portion of his text, but he could only say that if he’d really watched us – couldn’t he.
Let’s hope Crooks has one thing right though…things might get interesting at Villa Park again, as we have been in a bit of a lull for way too long again now.