Club Focus – Aston Villa – Mixed feelings after derby draw

The Villans were only able to muster a 1-1 draw with Wolves on Saturday which was an anti-climactic follow-up to their victory over Chelsea the previous weekend. Lacking their usual attacking flair as well as their confident possession on the ball, Martin O’Neill’s men were unable to break down a resolute Wolves squad.

In the end a draw was a fair result, but whereas it showed the Wanderers’ spirit to earn a respectable result against a top side, it also showed the contradictory nature of the Villa team. It is strange how a Villa side that have previously defeated Chelsea and Liverpool and earned a draw against Manchester City were unable to break down a team one point from the relegation zone.

On 79 minutes it seemed as though the Villans were going to do what all good teams do best and grind out a victory despite a poor performance. However, due to Steve Sidwell’s unnecessary challenge, Wolves were granted a deserved lifeline when Sylvan Ebanks-Blake scored from the penalty spot. Gabriel Agbonlahor’s goal was the only true sign of what Villa were capable of in the game. A dangerous attack through the middle of the Wolves defence ended up with substitute Emile Heskey finding his attacking teammate with a perfect pass. Agbonlahor then expertly turned Wolves’ defender Jody Craddock, and fired in what appeared to be the winning goal. Whilst Agbonlahor made it six goals to his tally this season, at the same time flaws were highlighted in the Villa attack. Not only have Villa scored less goals compared to any other team in the top eight of the Premier League table, the likes of James Milner, Ashley Young and Stiliyan Petrov have all failed to score in open play. It is this reliance on set-pieces that has jeopardised Villa’s performances in certain games and sees Villa miles behind the attacking quality of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and even Manchester City.

Authority was lacking in the midfield and unlike in previous games where the Villans have been able to take control of possession, they were wasteful and lacklustre in the centre of the park. The two wingmen lacked their usual creativity on either flank as they both failed to provide the strikers with quality service in the box. Whereas Ashley Young has yet to prove that he can perform just like he did last season, James Milner continues to impress fans and neutrals alike with his progression as a footballer. There was nothing particular outstanding about the defence either. The back four looked to have put in a solid performance until Steve Sidwell’s reckless challenge led to that equaliser.

The game has caused many to question the squad’s mentality against weaker sides and Richard Dunne has supported claims that Villa seem to lower their game: “Just look at the performances against Man City and Chelsea and Liverpool and compare them to Saturday and Blackburn and there is a massive difference. Maybe we are not putting in the same amount of effort.” However, this little bit more effort will be crucially needed if the Villans are to sustain their challenge to break into the Premier League top four. Mixed feelings surround the draw with O’Neill and Richard Dunne both identifying the positive of remaining unbeaten and taking what could be a valuable point in weeks to come.

The substitution to bring Heskey on proved to be useful as he was involved in the goal, providing the assist. This may prompt O’Neill to start with Heskey against Sunderland in the Carling Cup tie as well as a few other Villa players who are waiting in the wings. Despite the Carling Cup being the Villans’ only true chance of silverware this season, certain changes are expected prior to the game on Tuesday. O’Neill must experiment with his squad in order to gain a thorough understanding of the team he has, and in doing so, he may find a starting XI which will prove to be much more deadly in front of goal. With Sunderland exceeding all expectations under Steve Bruce this season, Villa will no doubt have a difficult job of progressing into the next round of the Carling Cup, especially away from home.

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