Time is almost up on Aston Villa’s return to top-flight football. Another defeat on Thursday, coupled with favourable results for our ‘rivals’ has left Villa on the precipice. As another game ticked by, we have now only four further opportunities to save ourselves. Squeaky bum time has passed, we’re now left needing snookers.
Infuriated as we may be by another bad refereeing decision, backed up by the even more appalling VAR confirmation, the truth is we would have struggled to overcome a Manchester United playing well within themselves.
We don’t look like scoring (no goals from strikers or midfielders in 10 games tells a story), which brings into sharp focus the short-sighted transfer activity of last summer in bringing in an unproven Wesley to join Jonathan Kodjia and Keinan Davis as our only recognised strikers in a league where the currency of survival is the ability to score goals.
This was compounded in the January window when Wesley’s season was wiped out by a Ben Mee horror tackle on New Year’s Day and Kodjia was allowed to leave for Qatar. To remedy this, in came Ally Samatta, another unknown from the Belgian league, and the disastrous loan signing of Borja Baston, who made two appearances and has now been released.
"It's a disgraceful decision… They have a screen over there where they can look but they don't seem to bother now" 📺
Dean Smith NOT happy with Manchester United's penalty at Villa Park
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) July 9, 2020
The failure to secure enough firepower has meant the writing has been on the wall for most of the season, and it is only by the poor form of the teams around us that we are not already down. Bournemouth and Watford have been engaged in desperate attempt to prove themselves worse than Villa (and Bournemouth have all but succeeded), while Norwich have curiously struggled to get going at any stage.
Our senior players have all failed to turn up for much of the season, and particularly since the return from lockdown. Jack Grealish has been anonymous since the restart, while John McGinn is struggling for form and fitness following his return from a long-term injury.
Elsewhere, Tyrone Mings form and influence have evaporated and he’s showing now why Bournemouth were happy to accept north of £20million last summer. If Mings were to leave once relegation is confirmed, we would not recoup anywhere near that outlay.
Since the return of football, only Douglas Luiz can claim to have come out all guns blazing and his post-lockdown performances have been very impressive. Others could learn from him, but he can’t fight the fires and carry the team on his own.
The biggest issue for me is the lack of fight the players have shown. We started well against United, until the ridiculous drinks break brought an inevitable change of emphasis and United got a foothold in the game.
Then came the abysmal penalty decision, but far from getting fired up by the injustice, the Villa players meekly and passively seemed to bow to the inevitable. Once the hammer blow of a second United goal moments before half-time crashed down, the game was up.
For the rest of the game, we were lifeless and dispirited, as hope ebbed away. It was a surprise United didn’t go to town on the dishevelled and rudderless mess which passed for the Villa side.
Where is the leadership? Jack Grealish, I am sorry to say, is simply not captaincy material. He is not, nor ever will be, a leader. Neither is Tyrone Mings and this was no better demonstrated than by his half-hearted non-attempt to block Mason Greenwood’s goal on the stroke of half-time.
And you have to wonder about the head coach as well. His penchant for standing halfway up the Trinity Road stand, chatting away (about what?) to John Terry and Richard O’Kelly is jaw-dropping. I couldn’t see Sir Alex, Wenger, Klopp or Guardiola standing so idly by as their team drifts aimlessly towards a relegation they can ill-afford.
I get that Smith may not be a touchline ranter, but he is just so passive during games and struggles to adapt and make proactive changes to systems or personnel. The substitutions are all too predictable, in terms of when they are made and who they will be.
It is all a far cry from the pre-season promises of going toe-to-toe with all of our opponents, of taking on teams to win, of not merely making up the numbers. Christian Purslow asked to be judged on results. It is almost time for the verdict to be handed down. I think we all know what it will be, but the bigger question remains: will Purslow, Suso and Smith be there at the start of next season?
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