Club Focus – Aston Villa – O’Neill rues missed opportunities

With Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur all dropping points this weekend, it was the perfect opportunity for the Villans to take advantage of their good fortune by beating West Ham United at home. The three points would have put the Birmingham side level on points with City and Spurs, but they failed to capitalise on their vast amounts of possession to break down a resolute West Ham side.

In comparison to Thursday night’s semi-final against Blackburn Rovers, a match where Sam Allardyce’s men were torn about apart by Villa’s insightful, penetrative football, there was an absence in Villa’s flair and overall quality on the pitch. Perhaps two games in four days was too much for the Villa players with fatigue getting the best of the unchanged squad. Surely Martin O’Neill will have to make use of the depth of his squad sooner rather than later if the Villans are to fight on all fronts in the Premier League as well as the FA and Carling Cup.

When looking at the statistics of the game, it highlights just how frustrated O’Neill and his players will be that they did not win all three points. Enjoying 56% of the total possession, they had 17 attempts on goal, 10 on target, 16 corners, and yet they failed to open the scoring at Villa Park. However, whilst West Ham’s defence can be praised for keeping the Villa attack at bay, the result uncovers the lack of potency upfront, particularly the strikers.

One reason for Villa’s failure to put the ball in the back of the Villa net was down to the wingers whose crossed balls were generally unsuccessful and another reason was down to the strikers who seemed goal shy throughout the game. With Stewart Downing and Ashley Young dictating Villa’s wing play, it would not be expected that the deliveries in the box would be as poor as they were on Sunday. Out of 35 crosses in total, only four of them reached their intended target, showing just how wasteful the Villans were in the final third of the pitch.

On the other hand, perhaps the strikers are the reason why Villa have not scored a Premier League goal for almost a month now. The last time Villa managed to hit the back of the net in the league was on the 19th of December, when, ironically, John Carew converted an Ashley Young delivery into the box. If there was one striker to take the blame on Sunday, it was Gabbi Agbonlahor. The number 11 could have easily scored three goals in the match; however his lack of effectiveness in the box frustrated manager and fans alike. Agbonlahor had the final chance in the match to secure a precious three points for the Villans after breaking free from his marker inside the box but Robert Green was quick to take advantage of his failure to strike the ball first time to block the attempt.

Martin O’Neill vented his frustration on the touchline, before being a part of a heated discussion with a fan behind him, no doubt about Villa’s lacklustre performance. In some ways the irritation of the Villa fans can be understood as the Birmingham side have shown the potential to improve on last season’s performance by challenging for the top four and the fans expect nothing less. After the game he rued Villa’s missed chances, “It didn’t materialise. We didn’t take our chances”, and surely the Northern Irishman will address this in training and hope they do not carry on their lack of goal scoring form.

Putting the league draw behind them, the Villans take on Blackburn in the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final and with the away goal advantage, O’Neill will expect his players to perform and progress to the final.

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