It was simultaneously desperately disappointing and crushingly inevitable when Okore fouled Lukas Jutkiewicz with four minutes to go at Turf Moor. Villa should have killed the game off but in truth Burnley were knocking on the door for a while before they found their ticket to an equaliser, and every Villa fan could see it coming. The only positive is that Danny Ings’ injury-time shot hit the post rather than completing the turnaround.
Despite securing their first win in 10 games three days later at Selhurst Park, Villa’s performance against Palace also left something to be desired in several areas on the pitch. Gabriel Agbonlahor was poor throughout the game, whilst Andi Weimann’s effort and enthusiasm was not always reflected in the quality of his play.
Most worryingly, the developing partnership of Clark and Okore and their protector Sanchez were put under huge amounts of strain as Palace consistently dominated the midfield. After Cole’s early enforced departure through injury, Villa’s midfield were outplayed for large portions of the game.
Sanchez may have shown encouraging improvement but without the creative spark of Cole or Grealish or the heartbeat of the side that is Fabian Delph, our midfield looks awfully lightweight. N’Zogbia was deservedly dropped after having added almost nothing for most of the season to date, and the likes of Kieran Richardson, Ashley Westwood and Tom Cleverley often let the game pass them by.
Delph has just returned to non-contact training and his return will be a desperately needed one, regardless of the issue of his contact or a potential transfer.
Roy Keane’s exit as assistant manager has been the biggest off-field issue at the club in recent days. His reasoning for his departure – that he could not handle both his duties for Villa and the Republic of Ireland – was weak considering his happiness to take on both roles and the fact that Ireland don’t actually play again until the end of March.
More disturbing were the reports of Keane having had bust-ups with senior players in the side due to his approach, although these have since been strenuously denied by the club. He was always likely to be a risky appointment, and the time bomb may have been ticking.
The timing of his decision to leave, just 24 hours before the Burnley game, was also unsettlingly reminiscent of current ROI manager Martin O’Neill’s acrimonious exit four years ago. Villa are now left to search for another assistant, a distraction the club could do without. It will be interesting to see whether the previous arrangement of Sid Cowans and Shay Given will be tried out again; Sid in particular is likely to have a large fan backing for the position.
Sunday’s home clash against bottom club Leicester is the latest in the line of distinctly-winnable games for Villa. The club should be looking at the Burnley game as two points dropped, and only a win against Leicester will be enough to build upon recent improved results.
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