Club Focus – Aston Villa – Questions surround Villa’s mentality

The Villans failed to leapfrog the teams above them in the Premier League after they were beaten by a last-minute goal at Upton Park. Martin O’Neill will be frustrated at his side’s inability to convert their great spell of dominance into a goal. With the match against West Ham on Wednesday being Villa’s third Premier League defeat, they remain in seventh place, but with the possibility of being easily overtaken by the likes of Sunderland and Stoke City. Questions will definitely be asked of Villa’s desire in the game as after they got the equaliser, they never seemed to threaten West Ham and go for the winning goal.

In the first half the Villans were dominant as they probed for the first goal. O’Neill had obviously asked his team to be much more productive in front of goal and they put plenty of pressure on the home side, winning many corners in the process. However, Robert Green was on hand to prevent Villa from taking the lead in the first half, saving shots from Gabriel Agbonlahor and Stiliyan Petrov. Villa’s wastefulness in front of goal proved to be costly – just as it did last week against Everton – once the Hammers were a goal up just before half-time. Habib Beye was penalised for upending Zavon Hines before Mark Noble smashed the ball past Brad Friedel from the penalty spot. Despite having the majority of the possession in the first half, luck was against the Villans and they finished the half frustrated.

Three minutes into the second half, Manuel Da Costa’s heels clipped James Collins and the referee, Steve Bennett, awarded a penalty and a lifeline for Villa to get back into the game. However, Green continued his impressive performance by saving Ashley Young’s penalty, but he could nothing about Young’s cross which fortunately ended up in the top left-hand corner of Green’s net. From the equaliser, it was expected that the Villans would try to win the game. However, this was not the case as O’Neill’s side began to lower the tempo and they looked as though they were playing for the draw. Summer signing Beye was sent off for a second bookable offence and the Hammers began to look menacing upfront. Villa’s blow eventually came three minutes into stoppage time when Hines managed to hold off the three Villa defenders and strike the ball past Friedel.

O’Neill expressed his disappointment at his side’s loss: “I thought when we equalised we might take the game, so I’m particularly disappointed to lose all three points in the fashion that we did.” The Villa manager showed much distress as he watched his side fail to search for the winning goal and once again the view that Villa do not perform when they need to was emphasised by the performance on Wednesday night. Despite not explicitly expressing his concern over his team’s mentality in the game, he will no doubt be aggravated by his players’ almost reluctance to take the game to the home side in search of the winner.

This weekend the Villans host Bolton in their first game at home since Chelsea on the October 17, and a win will be definitely needed after their loss on Wednesday night. Perhaps the influence of the Villa faithful has been greatly missed in their four successive away games, but if the Villans are going to improve on their position from last season, they will need to win tough away games and prove that they are capable of putting pressure on the sides in the top five. Fatigue caught up with the players in the final 15 minutes of the West Ham game and with their next game being on Saturday, surely O’Neill cannot carrying on playing the same side every week. It will be interesting to see O’Neill showcase the depth in his squad and by switching his squad around every now and again, each individual player may be able to provide something different in terms of the squad’s mentality. It is always hard to lose in the final minutes of a match, but the Villa manager will want his players to act accordingly in order to show that Wednesday was merely a mishap in the campaign.

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