We still await our first win in 2017. Any lingering promotion hopes that might still have persisted in the most optimistic of Villa fans minds (my own included) were extinguished along with our unbeaten home record yesterday.
This was a game that we had hoped to win albeit not with any great confidence but it was one we had not expected to lose. It was the first of four home games in our next five matches that could have begun a run of home wins. Ipswich were in as miserable a run as we were when they arrived at Villa Park but as Forest found last weekend Villa are currently the team to play when you are a football club on the crest of a slump and looking for a rare win.
We started the game brightly but had nothing to show for that at half-time and if you fail to find the net when you are on top as we were in the first half then the thought persists that you may well have missed the boat. The second half was a different story. We were not so dominant as we had been in the first half and did not create chances or half chances in the same way as we had during the first 45 minutes. One stumble gave Ipswich an opportunity to win a game and it was a chance that they took to win a game that up until then neither team had really looked like winning.
The visitors scored with their only on target shot during the whole game. We seem to have rediscovered the habit of losing games in the last few minutes having done so against Forest and now Ipswich. We are also crying out for goals because you need them to win matches. We have an average of under a goal a game from our 30 league games to date and have lost 2 more games than we have won.
We are now 16 points off sixth spot but only 7 points clear of the bottom 3 so it is now sadly clear where a focus needs to be. We were unfortunate that one mistake cost us so dearly yesterday but you don’t always get the rub of the green when you are losing games as often as we are at present. This team may well look better when they have had chance to dwell but as I recall we were saying the same thing at the start of this season!
For me this three at the back system is not working for us and it was not the way to go yesterday given the team we were facing had very limited ambitions outside of their own half. Four at the back would surely have been enough. Hutton is no attacking wing back and Taylor looks more of a defensive back than a wing back that will run at people. By bringing Elphick back we are also disrupting a central defensive pairing that had been working well. The onus was on us to bring the game to them, to make chances (which we did) and to put one or more of them away (which we did not). We already have a changed team that are short of confidence so are we asking a bit too much of them to also ask them to adapt to a different way of playing?
My player ratings from a game which we resigned ourselves to another season in the Championship are:
Sam Johnstone – 6 – Held onto a near post shot from Ward on the 48th minute, had no real chance with their winner and that was about it for him on an otherwise untroubled afternoon.
Alan Hutton – 5 – A surprisingly rapid return to the starting line-up. Performed in the manner we have come to expect from him. He did hit one of his best crosses in a Villa shirt on 36 minutes that was just above Hogan and that Kodjia was not quite able to get on target despite an acrobatic attempt to do so.
James Chester - 6 – Solid, assured and seldom put under pressure by the visitors. Ran alongside McGoldrick and did not get a challenge in on him before he squared the ball through Baker’s legs and past Hourihane for Huws to steal the game for the Tractor Boys from close range on 83 minutes.
Tommy Elphick – 5 – Slipped, lost his footing and was left floundering on the ground like a fish out of water as McGoldrick collected the loose ball in the build up to their late winner.
Nathan Baker – 6 – Nathan has been playing so very well alongside Chester but is less comfortable on the left of three central defenders although he gets on with it and did even make the odd foray down the flank yesterday. Failed to get a header on target from a nice 79th minute Hourihane free-kick and had a header blocked a minute later.
Neil Taylor – 6 – Looked quietly competent on his debut but I could not help thinking that if we are looking to play wing backs we had one who looks ideally suited to that role left sitting on the bench.
Conor Hourihane – 6 – Conor has not settled into the team quite as quickly and as seamlessly as we had hoped but there are some positive signs of what could grow into a good long term productive partnership with Lansbury taking shape. Hit a solid low shot from the edge of the box which produced a good one handed save at the post from Bialkowski on the 9th minute. Hits a nice dead ball and let us hope he finds the back of the net against his old club on Tuesday which could prove the making of him as a Villa player.
Henri Lansbury - 7 – MOTM – Our most effective player by some distance yesterday. He makes us tick on those occasions that we do so. Hit an 8th minute shot that Bialkowski pushed past the post for a corner.
Birkir Bjarnason – 6 – Hit a rasping shot that thudded against the crossbar on 21 minutes after Hourihane had found him unmarked just inside the box in a central position with a free-kick from the left edge of the area. Worked hard and this was his best performance for me to date in our shirt.
Jonathan Kodjia – 6 – Was the go to guy who was fed the ball and expected to run at defenders yesterday and he did that well enough on occasions. Worked himself into a shooting position inside the box on the 42nd minute but Bialkowski got down well to save his attempt. Found by Adomah just inside the box in the last minute of stoppage time but his shot was gathered at his near post by Bialkowski. Needs to look up for others who may be in a better position more often and play alongside his new strike partner rather than behind him.
Scott Hogan – 6 – Placed a shot just wide of the post on 32 minutes. Did not get a lot of service and I had expected to see him look more of a threat than this but it is very early days for him.
Albert Adomah – 5 – Replaced Hutton on 67 minutes. Failed to make the impact we had hoped for yesterday in a game that I would have started him in to give him more time to do so.
Andre Green – Replaced Taylor on 77 minutes. Not on quite long enough to gather a rating.
Leandro Bacuna – Replaced Elphick on the 89th minute and was also not on long enough to get any sort of rating.
Up the Villa!