This was admittedly only a friendly but this game gave little cause for optimism for the season that is ahead of us. This performance was uncomfortably similar to many of the displays that we gave last season and those around me were openly questioning what differences there actually has been on the pitch itself rather than off it.
We had the best of the game until they hit their equalizer on the hour mark. But our defence suddenly looked shaky as it had done more often than not last season. The visitors hit a second on 74 minutes and added another two minutes later to run out comfortable winners.
We looked weak at the back, lacked creativity in the middle and lacked a cutting edge up front. It only took a goal to see the frailties and insecurities of last season re-emerge. These are not new problems and there is a lot of work to be done to turn things around. Players need to be signed and we need to start those signings with a striker to play alongside Ayew.
Can we progress with much the same squad that got us relegated last season? I doubt it very much. We need a team that will not think the worst when we go behind and will not have the memory of last season hanging over most of their heads when they start each match. The league we face will not have teams of the standard that we faced last season but it will have teams that will relish the prospect of beating us by giving it everything. This new season has to be better than last and we cannot linger in this division. We need to start well and to expect to win games rather than to lose them. We also need to do what is needed both off and on the pitch to make that happen. This game demonstrated that we may still be at best a work in progress.
My player ratings from a game that did little to lift our pre-season hopes are:
Pierluigi Gollini – 6 – MOTM – Looked confident, commanded his area well and distributed the ball effectively. Parried a shot from Fischer on 60 minutes but Negredo was left in space to hit home the rebound for their equalizer. Left exposed for the other two he conceded.
Alan Hutton – 5 – Worked hard and put a foot in as he can be relied upon to do. Made his usual forward runs but they continue to lack an end product.
Tommy Elphick - 5 – Will now be aware of the job he faces in trying to steady the troubled and anxious defence he finds himself now in.
Nathan Baker – 6 – Looked commanding in the first half but somewhat less so in the second. Climbed highest at the far post to head home a 15th minute cross from Bacuna.
Aly Cissokho – 5 – Hit some decent crosses but lost possession in the build up to their first.
Leandro Bacuna – 4 – Maintaining his fitness pending his impending move to a Champions League outfit. I have to question what he has shown to be still starting games for us.
Gary Gardner – 5 – A steady first half performance.
Ashley Westwood – 5 – Needs to stand out more in this sort of midfield line-up than he did yesterday.
Jack Grealish – 6 – Looked more confident and committed than he did last season but he needs to try to take games like this by the scruff of the neck and make things happen.
Jordan Ayew – 5 – Jordan started well enough but he failed to sustain that level of performance as the game wore on and looked to be lacking in motivation at times which is a concern. Forced a save from Valdes on 14 minutes and touched the ball inches wide of the post from close range on 38 minutes.
Rudy Gestede – 4 – Lacked pace as well as movement and I did not see anything yesterday that suggested he will terrorise defences this season or provide us with the goals that we need to mount a promotion challenge.
Aaron Tshibola – 6 - Replaced Gardner at half time and looked solid enough.
Andre Green – 6 – Replaced Bacuna on 75 minutes and showed some nice touches. For me he should be starting games in front of the player that he replaced yesterday.
Ciaran Clark – Replaced Baker on 89 minutes so did not have enough time to earn any rating.
Jordan Amavi - Made a welcome if brief return from his long-term injury when replacing Cissokho on 89 minutes. He also had insufficient time to get a rating.
Up the Villa!