The Rise of Watkins, Engels Nightmares and Ugly Comebacks

With Aston Villa’s fortunes more good and less ugly nowadays, MOMS podcast contributor Phil Shaw resurrects ‘The Good, Bad & Ugly’, an old favourite MOMS column that started over eight years ago on the site…

By Phil Shaw

There aren’t many things that sum up being a football fan more than how you feel after your team concedes a late goal. It’s time for the Good, Bad and Ugly.

The Good


The good news is that, for once, the international break, isn’t going to halt the momentum of Aston Villa. Previous breaks, especially the one before Brighton at home, derailed the exciting rollercoaster Villa were on. 

At the minute, nobody can describe the previous performances as exciting, so this break provides a chance to regain fitness and the spark that’s been missing since the turn of the year. 

With the lack of worry from Douglas Luiz and Emi Martinez travelling to South America and no midweek game, unlike our next opponents, Spurs, this week should have been as free from outside concerns as possible unless you are Villa’s number 11.

Villan of the week — England International Striker Ollie Watkins 

If hard work is what you need to get picked by Gareth Southgate, then Ollie Watkins should have been picked before now. 

I give him a hard time but not as hard as he gives himself. If Watkins gets to make his debut against San Marino, Albania or Poland, then he has every chance of making the same impact Darius Vassell made when he got the chance against the Netherlands.

It shows again, you don’t need to leave Villa to get in the England squad.

The Bad

The last game against Spurs has left me a little traumatised, so I can only imagine what it did to Bjorn Engels. 

Engels, who had been tracked for over a year by Dean Smith, while at Brentford, had started the season as Tyrone Mings’ partner at the back. His displays were so good, there was talk of him making it into the Belgian squad. Unfortunately, things took a bad turn.

Before the fateful Spurs game, doubts had surfaced after a dismal display in the home defeat against Southampton, but to be fair, everyone was dismal, so he wasn’t the only one that day. 

A few weeks later against Spurs at home, the spotlight was on him. In an entertaining game where Villa missed early chances, Engels, unluckily gave away a late penalty to put Spurs 2-1 up. It was a risky tackle, but plenty have got away with worse, even with VAR.

Redemption arrived early in the second half as Engels showed he knows how to direct a header at goal, with the equaliser and despite huffing and puffing a precious point was on the cards.

Then came the moment which I hope will not define his career. Baston makes a mess of a high ball, and it gets sent towards Engels in his half. No matter what has gone before, the ball is coming to Engels at a good height and average pace. 

I’ve been plagued by nightmares of this moment ever since. 

For some reason, probably unknown to poor Bjorn as well, he decides to try to trap the ball. Like Peter Enckelman before him, it goes under his foot and lets Son Heung-Min run through on goal for a stoppage time winner.

Poor Engels denied his moment of redemption in the league cup final a week later, when his late header was turned onto the frame of the goal. Sliding door moments aren’t always good.

So, whatever happens this time against Spurs, even sitting on the bench won’t be as bad for Bjorn. His moment of redemption is still in front of him.

The Ugly 

When a comeback goes against you, it opens up ugly old wounds as a fan and as a team, it sows seeds of doubt in your self-confidence.

We only need to look at Villa’s results since the Burnley defeat and draw some parallels with previous comebacks. No manager is immune from the lasting effects of throwing a game away.

22nd February 1995 Villa 4 — Leicester 4

This was a stinker, leading 3-0 and 4-1, a transitional Villa side threw it away against new manager Brian Little’s old side. Luckily, Villa and Little recovered from this capitulation and went on to one of the best periods in the club’s recent history.

1st October 2007 Spurs 4 — Villa 4

Another capitulation, this time in Martin O’Neill’s prime. Under O’Neill, Villa always needed a result to get them up and running and for most of 90 minutes, it looked like this would be the one against a Spurs team full of attacking talent. Berbatov, Bale, Robbie Keane, Defoe, and Darren Bent all made it onto the pitch, but again Villa were 3-0 and 4-1 up before conceding a late equaliser. Again the team rallied and a period of success followed.

10th November 2012 Aston Villa 2 Manchester United 3

I could’ve picked any of about a dozen against Alex Ferguson’s teams, but this one doesn’t involve Federico Macheda.

It was of course the dawn of Benteke, even though Weimann scored both goals. Benteke’s show of strength in removing Chris Smalling, before squaring it for his strike partner Weimann deserved a victory. 

Unfortunately, Villa don’t get what they deserve against United. The introduction of Javier Hernandez, just as Villa had taken a two goal lead, turned the game as three instinctive poacher’s goals undid all the promise that Paul Lambert’s team had shown. 

Who knows what might have happened had Villa finally beat United that night?

13th September 2015 Leicester 3 — Villa 2 

The ultimate divergence of two team’s seasons. Villa looked to have got over their first wobble under Tim Sherwood as Jack Grealish’s first Premier League goal was followed by an equally impressive Carles Gil strike.

From the unlikeliest of positions Villa and Joleon Lescott managed to carelessly give the ball away leading to a Leicester corner. 1-2 became 3-2 to the home side and Tim Sherwood never recovered. His side had no confidence and the elder players brought in were past it. 

For one side an unlikely League title followed, for the other the ugliest of relegations. 

The comeback in football is one of the defining moments in a season as long as you avoid the ugly end of it.


Follow Phil on Twitter here – @PRSGAME

Check out the latest MOMS podcast show (featuring Phil)