Before Aston Villa came to the DW Stadium, Wigan were in trouble. One win in their previous 14 games and they had lost their last three home league games without scoring a single goal.
In recent years though, if ever a team is stuck in a rut when it comes to form, playing Villa always has the potential to get things back on track.
Villa’s 3-0 loss against Wigan was woeful though. While it was Wigan’s first win since November, it was up there with Villa’s worst performances in recent years.
Villa failed to register a single shot on target. Dean Smith may find his obsession with promotion fading fast, if such performances are repeated.
“I told the players after the game this is the bottom of where I’ve been so far in my managerial career” – dEAN SMITH
The reaction of some Villa supporters to what has gone wrong in recent weeks has been a little too grandstanding. One theory is it’s because Smith hasn’t got his own players and he’ll need at least a couple of transfer windows to fix it (the same thing that’s trotted out, every time a new manger loses a game).
Just exactly who are Dean Smith’s own players? This is the best squad of players Dean Smith has ever had to manage. It’s also one of the best in the Championship (opposition managers keep harping on about it) and it’s the reason why under Smith, Villa could take apart both Derby and Middlesborough 3-0 on their own patches.
If Smith can dismantle two of the legitimate promotion contenders with two of the best Villa displays in recent seasons, then it’s evidence that the players are good enough to win promotion.
Certainly as an attacking force, Villa have impressed on several occasions under Smith, with only a dodgy keeper and defence costing us against Leeds, Forest and WBA.
Until recent weeks, most had seen enough evidence of Smith being more than capable of at least landing the play-offs with Villa. Still, only the foolish would blindly believe Villa are guaranteed success under Smith, even if it takes a season or two.
Smith’s Questions Marks
It’s very early days in Smith’s time at Villa to make any distinct judgements – good or bad.
There are of course some question marks over his gung-ho approach, which at times has seen the team punished on the counter (particularly against QPR and Forest).
We also don’t know yet if he can keep a team motivated and focused for the duration of a whole season.
These two things may explain why Smith, despite entertaining fans, has never finished higher than ninth in any of his five previous managerial seasons.
Every team though has up’s and downs over the course of a season, and Smith hasn’t been left with much wiggle room, after Villa’s poor start under Bruce.
We at least know Smith has demonstrated that this current team has the needed gears to go through to reach the levels required to be competitive and reach the play-offs.
The goalkeeper and defensive weaknesses have at least started to be addressed and Tammy Abraham is staying on. They were massive factors in terms of the potential left in this season. There is also half a transfer window left.
Villa supporters shouldn’t be waving the white flag just yet and having to wait until next season. Getting into the play-offs still isn’t out of reach.
Super Jack Excuse
Another problem for the team in recent weeks has been the loss of Jack Grealish to injury.
While certainly you wanted him recently to line-up against the likes of Leeds and the Baggies, Villa can’t sulk around about missing one player.
Remember, every team that has ever been promoted from the Championship has done so without Grealish playing a single minute for them!
This team should be good enough without Grealish to do a job against Wigan, as it should against most Championship teams. The combined wages of just Villa’s loan players on show today were probably more than the entire Wigan squad’s.
So what’s Dean Smith think about all of this?
“I told the players after the game this is the bottom of where I’ve been so far in my managerial career,” said Smith, after the Wigan defeat.
“And it should be the bottom of where Aston Villa is (we’ve seen worst in recent seasons, mate, but it is pretty dire – Ed).
“I’m an Aston Villa fan and to lose 3-0 two weeks on the spin is very, very disappointing.
“That performance was rubbish – it was very poor.”
We are not dealing with a deluded manager here, covering up the issues. He knows the Wigan performance was poor, as was the Swansea City one before it, in the FA Cup.
Some fans have quite rightly pointed out the conservative like-for-like substitutions on the hour mark in the Wigan game, when Villa were 1-0 down. Most notably, bringing on Whelan for Bjarnason and Hause for Elphick.
It was surprising considering Smith’s normal “we’re going to score more than you” attitude.
Why not at least throw another striker into the mix?
Smith explained that Hause came on to give the team more balance, and the others to help press higher up.
Obviously, Jonathan Kodjia’s injury didn’t help matters, as he more than likely would have been the first man on.
Normally, there are few complaints about Smith’s subs, so perhaps he should be cut some slack (everyone has an off day etc), even though they seemed a bit odd considering how the game was shaping up.
Smith went onto try to rationalise the poor performance, which hinted it’s not the player’s ability being the issue, but their application and effort.
“I just thought that in the second half we got a little bit frustrated and started playing a little bit too much as individuals rather than as a team,” said Smith.
“Overall I thought they ran harder than we did and that’s the disappointing thing.”
Earning His Wage
“I’ve got to earn my money now and make sure it never happens again,” said Smith, regarding the “rubbish” that Villa’s travelling faithful were forced to watch.
Not only that, but he needs desperately to put a winning-run together ASAP to relight his team’s promotion hopes.
What better time to start, than with the Championship’s in-form team, Hull City, visiting Villa Park next.