Three Things – Cardiff City
I’m still reeling from Saturday, to be honest. It’s unbelievable how poor we were once again, considering the opportunity offered by Cardiff’s injury time penalty failures on Friday night – all the motivation we needed was there to get back into the race for automatic promotion.
But in true Villa style, we made a right dog’s dinner of it, and to add further insult, all other results went against us as Derby, Middlesbrough and Millwall closed in on us, while Fulham pulled further away in their attempt to overhaul Cardiff.
Cardiff’s visit to B6 on Tuesday night now feels almost irrelevant. If we had seen off Norwich, victory would have seen us move to within a point of the Bluebirds. But we didn’t, and now a win would still leave us four points adrift with four games to play. But win we must if we are to ensure some post-season action and another bite at the £100m cherry known as promotion to the Premier League.
So, how are we going to do it?
1) Score first
As per the Norwich ‘Three Things’, scoring first is vital. We have shown time and again our inability to recover from going behind, and after the poor results against QPR, Bolton, Hull and Norwich, Cardiff scoring first would lay bare the mental frailties of the team once more and would cause the fans to become very restless.
Villa Park is not a pleasant place to be when we are struggling, and the past few years have shown how quickly the crowd can turn when we start to wobble. As fans, we can be the best when our tails are up and among the worst when they are not. The players have responsibility too, of course, and scoring first – preferably early – would go a long way to setting the required tone.
2) Show some urgency
A feature of the Norwich game (and it was clear from the first minute) was the complete and utter lack of urgency from the players. They were content to stroll about as if it were a pre-season game, zero pressing, second to every ball, no movement off the ball and the eye-gouging backwards-and-sideways passing we all hoped was a thing of the past. This is no time to be sitting in and looking for something on the break or from a set-piece.
We need to be up for this, as Cardiff will be – you can bet your bottom dollar Warnock will have them fired up and they will leave everything out there on the frankly non-League-standard Villa Park pitch. Senior players need to take responsibility for this and the likes of Snoddy, Chester and JT (if fit) need to drag this team up by the scruff of the neck. It’s time to show how much we want this.
3) Stop playing ‘Route One’ rubbish
This is really beginning to p**s me off now. For whatever reason – lack of confidence, sub-standard players in the middle of the park, general shortage of footballing brains – our default tactic from the back is to hoof the ball long to the lone striker (usually Hogan, not a large unit by any means) and expect him to do something with it. He won’t.
This is a particular favourite of Sam Johnstone’s, and guess what? The ball comes straight back, having been easily dealt with by the defence and we’re back under pressure within seconds. The only saving grace is that our midfield is usually so deep, we are already in defensive positions to try and deal with the threat.
Please, please, please play shorter balls into the midfield, move around quicker, create options for the man on the ball and play on the front foot. Look for the runs of Hogan, get the full-backs overlapping and stop punting aimless balls away and gifting possession back to the opposition. We have to stop being so predictable. Surely it’s not rocket science?