The Good, Bad and Ugly of Wolves
It isn’t the end of the road for Aston Villa’s unlikely European dream, but the path is narrowing after a frustrating afternoon at Molineux.
At the beginning of the season, it was a given that Aston Villa would have been happy to be in their current position. However, trying to find positives in their recent run requires a more specific approach.
The good news this week is that it is still alive. Results during the unbeaten run against teams like Palace, Everton, Fulham, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest mean that Aston Villa can frustratingly lose two close games, they are still in with a shout.
The reverse fixture at Villa Park showed that Wolves were always going to be a tough opponent, and it’s never easy when only one side treats the game as a derby. The match itself could have been any team against Wolves at home. Julen Lopetegui, the Wolves manager, has done an excellent job identifying their weaknesses that had them sitting bottom of the league at Christmas, and improving them, similar to what Unai Emery has done at Aston Villa.
The key to beating Wolves was to score first, and unfortunately, Villa went behind due to a combination of chaos in the box and a brilliant header.
It wasn’t a poor performance, and they didn’t bottle the game. Wolves set out their stall and achieved it through hard work, coupled with Aston Villa missing two big chances. If Ollie Watkins’ header in the first half or Tyrone Mings’ chance in the second half goes in, this column would be very different.
So, the good news is that the season is still alive, and they have with three games left to play.
Villan of the Week – Rachel Daly
Bit of a swerve there, but it would be remiss not to highlight the achievements of Rachel Daly for the Aston Villa Women’s Team this week.
Since the first game, the thrilling win against Manchester City, Daly has been ruthless in front of goal and has become the first English player to score 20 goals in the WSL.
To provide context, the WSL has 12 teams, which means 24 matches in total. Daly has scored her 20 in 20 games and also registered five assists.
If Aston Villa can hold on to her next season and continue to build a team around her, there’s no reason why they can’t aim for a top-four finish in the WSL.
Villa Sale Range Extended
Was Stuart Attwell watching the same match when he added only three minutes of injury time at the end of the Aston Villa vs Wolves game? His refereeing performance was just the latest in a series of bafflingly inconsistent displays by referees.
In one match, a referee will decide to add significant time to the second half, such as Michael Oliver in the Nottingham Forest vs Southampton game, which exceeded the indicated seven minutes. And then you have Attwell’s example in the same match week.
A head injury to Jacob Ramsey, multiple substitutions, and the usual gamesmanship from the team in the lead should have led to a healthy amount of added time.
If something as simple as added time can be so far off, what does it say about other decisions?
The timekeeping should be completely taken out of the officials’ hands and placed on a huge clock in the stadium. After all, time is constant.
If the ball is out of play, the clock stops. If it is active, the clock carries on. It’s not rocket science, is it?
Imagine if it were like basketball, where when the time’s up, it’s up. No more Fergie time, no more accusations of blatant cheating, faking injuries, just a clear and concise system.
As a referee, taking the human element out of timekeeping would make my job easier. And that couldn’t be a bad thing.
The defeat to Wolves felt more inevitable than the previous weekend’s loss at Old Trafford. One or both of those two away games were always likely to be sticking points towards the end of the season, as both are tough away trips for different reasons.
After all the effort of the unbeaten run, it’s natural to feel a bit flat after back-to-back single-goal defeats. It happens when you are fighting to achieve something.
When Aston Villa were struggling and fizzling out finishing 11th and 14th under Dean Smith and Steven Gerrard, you had multiple games that felt like this, that got ignored. The exact kind of games this Villa side have won to put themselves in the top half of the table.
Now Aston Villa are close to achieving something, and the disappointment gets magnified. Online, people are suddenly questioning the performance of individual players, including Ollie Watkins’ scoring record, Tyrone Mings’ defending, and anyone else that happened to misplace a pass against anyone this season.
This is the same team that got Villa into fifth position, albeit it briefly, by winning the kind of games, that previously Villa teams allowed to escape from them.
Although it’s disappointing that Villa couldn’t overcome Wolves’ ugly and effective performance, there’s no need to sell half the team in a knee-jerk reaction, especially considering their recent success.
The ugly truth is that if it were so easy to finish in the top six, Villa would surely have done it more recently. Despite having Christian Benteke in his prime for several seasons in between, they haven’t even finished in the top half since Gerard Houllier’s single season in charge. It’s worth noting that Benteke didn’t set scoring records like Ollie Watkins has this season.
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