Thoughts and issues regarding the past and present of a great football club by "The Chronicler".

Monday, 19 March 2018

Time Is A Killer

One of the reasons why we needed a win on Saturday was to restore some confidence ahead of the international break. Instead, we again lost and have to face 2 weeks before the next challenge, at Hull. And what a sad defeat at Bolton it was, with the Icelander not appearing to be too happy with the Icelandic playing conditions. Albert seemed to get iced up as the game wore on in somewhat different playing conditions to those in Africa, I'm sure!

For me, it was not so much that we played badly but that Bolton seemed to adapt to the conditions rather better, with their defence settling down to give our favourites few opportunities. However, the opportunities we did have, if converted, would have been sufficient to have handsomely carried the match. There were two very good opportunities in the first half (Albert put wide a header from Grabban's excellent centre, and then Grabban getting a save out of their keeper (when he would have been expected to bulge the back of the net). On top of that, Jack tried a wonderful speculative half-volley which required the keeper to tip over. The second half saw substitute Hogan forcing a fortunate clearance when, again, it really should perhaps have been in the back of the net. And then, at the death, James Bree with a fine diving header that their keeper somehow kept out. RHM might have done better with the one opportunity he did have, but c'est la vie.

Apart from their goal (handed to them by a frozen Villa defence) Bolton only had (I believe) one other real chance, a second-half opportunity which went wide.

So, after two successive defeats, and the top two looking somewhat adrift from us now, what chance do we have for automatic promotion?

What I will say is that if Bruce gets his best motivational theories into operation, the Villa will be out there and striving hard in these last eight matches. But to turn effort into triumphs our midfield has to be more dominant than they've shown of late.

To try to raise my own spirits (not only yours!), here's my forecast for our remaining matches:

30-03-2018 Away Hull City Forecast: 3 points
03-04-2018 Home Reading: Forecast: 3 points
07-04-2018 Away Norwich City: Forecast: 1 point
10-04-2018 Home Cardiff City: Forecast: 3 points (or maybe 1 point)
13-04-2018 Home Leeds United: Forecast: 3 points
21-04-2018 Away Ipswich Town: Forecast: 3 points
28-04-2018 Home Derby County: Forecast: 3 points
06-05-2018 Away Millwall: Forecast: 3 points (or maybe 1 point)

It would be nice to finish with eight straight wins as we did in 1974-75, but I feel that would be hoping for too much.

So, the prediction shows a final points tally prediction (worst scenario): 69 + 18 = 87. That might gain an auto-promotion slot but is probably likely to fall shy, hence our probable fate is likely to be determined in the playoffs, where, frankly, Fulham will be a hard act to crack. If we do beat Cardiff, though, the final league placings could be very close.


Friday, 16 March 2018

The Bounce-back Starts ... Now!

Whoops! Well, this is the Villa isn't it? We were lured into a sense of us becoming ready for automatic promotion but, clearly, the Wolves triumph must have launched the Villa players into such a state of well-being that they could not come down to reality by Tuesday. And Bruce has admitted that he was at fault for not making changes in the starting selection, to give some a rest.

How long has it been since we had a positive feeling that success was really in our grasp? Now we're off to play the Trotters away from home in an attempt to re-coup lost morale and to give most of the VP attendees a rest from the see-saw feeling.

We know that one team change has to be made - an enforced one at left-back, meaning that James Bree will be playing his first league match for some 6 months. But will Birkir get his chance in place of the Jedi? Will Conor have to give way to Lansbury? Will Jack score a hat-trick? It would be nice if anyone could score a hat-trick! Er, a Villa player of course!

The Trotters have made some recovery of late and must not be treated as a team to be rolled-over. As Tuesday proved, every match can be a 'banana skin' and only maximum concentration (as achieved in the Wolves match) will do.

A win is vital before we enter the international break, and we should be able to do it. Perhaps we needed that Tuesday shock to take away all sense of complacency. It truly is 9 cup finals to be played, and with Cardiff still to face Wolves and ourselves, auto-promotion can still be achieved for Villa. But we have to do our part and get back on the winning trail. Anything can still happen ... except we're safe from relegation!

Many of us have been "through it" before such as the day Sheff Utd came to VP in that promotion year of 1959-60 and stuffed us 3-1 (thanks to old Villan Doc Pace), so I'm hoping that Tuesday's result was a blip as that was.

I want to see nothing less than 100% commitment against Bolton combined with a high shooting accuracy; I suggest nothing else will be acceptable.


Monday, 12 March 2018

Onwards We Go ... And Upwards?

Well, what a week-end, and what a match that was. I've already put it up on my website as one of the best matches seen at Villa Park, and I believe it was, as a spectacle and not just for the outcome of it. When I last posted an article a couple of weeks ago, I said: "it would be good to replicate those thrilling promotion seasons of 1938 (though I wasn't around then!), 1960, 1972 and 1975 and finish in some style." Well, since then we've had that win at Sunderland, which was followed by the victory over Wolves. And over the last three games 11 goals have been scored by Villa, 7 away from home and 4 at home against the league leaders. I do believe the 2018 half of the season has indeed evolved into being another promotion thriller.

But while Saturday's result keeps us firmly in contention (and must cause a worry or two at Cardiff), the season is still far from finished. From now on in it's going to be a series of pitched battles, and battles in which we cannot afford to have any wounded, walking or otherwise. It is difficult to imagine what might happen if any of Grealish, Adomah or Snodgrass were to be out for any of those matches, but particularly those versus Cardiff and Derby.

We have ten games to go and, only three days since the last, yet another match is upon us at Villa Park. Will Bruce play the successful Saturday team against QPR, or will he rest one or two as we have another game coming up on Saturday? The Mail thinks that Birkir will come in for the Jedi, and I would agree with that option against QPR. To me it makes sense, and Birkir made it skilfully clear on Saturday that he wants to be part of the action. But what other changes might be a good idea? Perhaps Snodgrass is due a rest? Putting Hourihane into Snoddy's position might make sense perhaps, as he has some of Snoddy's left-foot skills, and that would give a chance for Lansbury to start. Though that's probably not part of Bruce's vision, in my view some care has to be taken: the old 'uns should not play too much.

While waiting for the QPR match to start, we can still derive nectar from the Wolves' match. For me that match put us firmly back to the old state of pride that we had nearly ten years ago. Then we were hoping for Champions League football but instead had to settle for the Championship! Similar titles, but a world apart in status. But what is crucial now is that we can see a Villa side that is not short of determination to succeed. It may have some fallibilities, but they look like a team and a team to contend with. With the results we have picked up, our forthcoming opponents may well be a little nervous. However, so long as we don't get over-confident then the future does - at last - look bright! Who knows, though it is a bit unlikely, the top two promotion teams could be Villa and Cardiff - the same pair as in season 1959-60. 

As for Steve Bruce himself, then his record at Villa Park should speak volumes. Do you remember that before he came we were usually losing our matches at home? Well, I am told that since he has been at Villa, the record reads: Played 36, won 22, drawn 10, lost 4.