Following the arrival of new head coach Steven Gerrard, Aston Villa are working hard on trying to get their swagger back as players adjust to his wants and desires. With back to back victories secured from his opening two matches against Brighton and Hove Albion and Crystal Palace – whilst there is clearly work to be done – we have started to see slow but steady improvement again.
How far that took us this evening as we welcomed Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City to Villa Park (potentially with Jack Grealish in tow) remained massively open for debate, even if you wanted to be polite and hopeful.
Given the optimism from the last two games, the start was utterly pathetic and there’s no other way to describe it and we were pretty lucky not to be at least a goal down in the opening ten minutes. Quite how often we wanted to play tippy tappy in our own box instead of just clearing the thing, is a question better left unanswered. At least as the minutes ticked by Ollie Watkins and Emi Buendia looked awake.
As we hit the 20 minute mark, we had more settled but defensively it was just so slow, sluggish and lacking in ideas, so we largely kept playing ourselves into trouble. Our better attacking play kept breaking down as Leon Bailey was hogging the ball, instead of keeping it simple.
But we weren’t out of it yet and I bet few thought that would be the case as we headed to the half hour mark based on the opening couple of minutes. But then, inevitably, the deserved sucker punch came and the visitors had the advantage.
And with Bailey’s non-block and excuse for closing down Ruben Dias, he left the pitch somehow crocked again.
A minute and a bit before the break, City hit it long (see they don’t mess around in the six yard box) and our defence were caught in the dressing room…2-0. Great goal mind you.
Good, bad or embarrassingly woeful half? The frustrating thing being if 50% of the squad had turned up and done the basics so far, we had shown some good signs of actually making a game of it, even if the result itself had an air of inevitability about it given City’s quality, added to the wonderful Mike Dean making the decisions.
So second half, well there was some good passion and Ollie Watkins struck a sweet hit from a corner to quickly make a game of it. 2-1. Could it get better or would we cost ourselves as we’ve seen so many times before?
As we headed towards the hour mark, we were again better organised and we were getting stuck in. It was obvious we had some belief back, but the gulf in quality was understandably obvious.
We maybe should’ve got a reasonable penalty call as well, but Dean doesn’t give us those and Kevin Friend on VAR wouldn’t get involved but even with second half improvement, I’m loathed to say it but a leveller would’ve been on the harsh (but beautiful) side of life.
We were playing well now though and Gerrard made a bold substitution choice – it was Chucky time for the injured Matt Targett. Sadly that really hit our momentum and Gabriel Jesus gave us a get out of jail free card with his miss and we almost made it count as some great play sent Chucky through, but his effort was very well saved. A leveller there wouldn’t have been that unfair given our second half showing. If only we’d started that way.
Chalk and cheese on the halves, so much better, so many more positives and some genuine disappointment we can only take a 45 minute massive confidence boost from the game.
Jack got his return, in fairness even Mike Dean wasn’t that bad. We might be in for a surprising season again if we can get consistent with that second half showing. I can’t be the only one quite buoyed despite the defeat.
1/12/2021 8:15 pm
Referee: Mike Dean
|Aston Villa||Manchester City|
|Watkins (47)||Ruben Dias (27), Bernardo Silva (43)|
|Douglas Luiz||Bernardo Silva|