We’ll dedicate this section to a “what could have been?” scenario. When you’re struggling desperately and you’re starting a home game against a team playing without a recognised striker on the pitch, what you really don’t want to happen is for your defensive frailty to be exposed early on. The way in which Palace cut through our woefully disorganised backline inside the first minute was as chilling as the weather, and had Zaha’s effort curled a fraction more, the atmosphere and scoreline would have turned sour with just 45 seconds on the clock.
Villa’s positive intent after that opening close shave was encouraging, but as our first-half display showed, you don’t score goals by having a single man in the opposition penalty area and just chucking in a load of poor crosses.
Kozak’s appearance in the starting XI for the first time in over two years was greeted with the kind of joy normally associated with the return of a war hero, but in truth he wasn’t ever given a real opportunity to mark his comeback with a goal due to lack of attacking support, despite Ayew’s best efforts.
Garde and Villa must find a solution to their striker conundrum quickly if Villa are to start scoring the kind of goals that we need to in order to at least launch some kind of challenge to stay up in the second half of the season. Rudy Gestede is not the answer – he can win a dozen headers and occasionally hold the ball up, but we need more. The issue with Kozak is that he is going to need time – possibly as much as months – to play himself back in to regular first-team football, and we don’t have that luxury. Bringing in a proven striker in January is going to be difficult and costly, but it may well be necessary.
Had we been 1-0 down at half-time after that opening scare, or even if we had progressed beyond the hour mark without finding a breakthrough, who knows what would have happened? All that is certain is that the tension around the ground and on the pitch would have intensified, and we could be talking about another wasted opportunity instead of a vital three points. But who cares?
For once, there is little to be said here. All that remains is to highlight the key issue which, in truth, doesn’t need any more highlighting. At the time of writing Villa are still eight points off safety. One victory is a milestone, but it has to be the start of something much bigger and far better.
Garde and his players must build up a head of steam and need a minimum of two or three wins from their next four in the league (Leicester at home, Albion away, West Ham away, Norwich at home) to truly be back in contention. After those four, we then embark of a run which consists of Liverpool, Stoke, Everton, Man City, Tottenham, Swansea and Chelsea.
We need serious points on the board before we reach the clash with the red Merseysiders on Valentine’s Day, if we want to be still alive and kicking come March.
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