Expectations, criticism and panic all need to be tempered, especially regarding individual players like Jack Grealish.
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As the idiom explicitly says, ‘there are three certainties in life; death, taxes and meltdowns on Twitter from Aston Villa supporters’. The frustration from players and fans alike was unambiguously evident and whilst we were the better team over the full ninety minutes, the naivety of our squad was apparent.
The energy built inside the stadium as the pressure on West Ham United escalated, simmering at the brim in the hope that an explosion of euphoria was a matter of when and not if. Yet as the minutes went by, the realisation that the deciding goal, followed by that overwhelming feeling of ecstasy we had felt in the Championship slowly churned the emotional cauldron into one of irritation.
Objective thought is a beautiful thing when adopted and being critical in the analysis of a game – in an atmosphere that encourages the mind to do anything but – is a skill. I walked out of the Holte End and back to the car which was parked near where the King Eddie’s pub used to stand. On my walk, criticism whistled in the winds by understandably frustrated minds, but why? Okay, we only took a point when we had the chances to take a further two, but we were, without hesitation, the better of the two sides. That’s why some of the reaction to the 0-0 stalemate is quite frankly absurd.
The most bemusing statement I have heard post-match was that “Grealish should be dropped”. Are you for real? I understand better than most that a failure to win may provoke often extreme and insincere responses but in what sane mind would this ever be a solution to the lack of creativity our team currently has. Keeping an opinion to myself, especially those of the unpopular nature isn’t the strongest aspect of my character but now is not the time for a volatile atmosphere within the confines of the stadium and social media. Constructive criticism is useful. Criticism quite simply is not.
Our desire to be identified as a big club – in my opinion – has merged our views on what is currently realistic, and what our long term expectations should be based on what we once were; so much so that the distinction between the two almost fused into one translucent ideology, demanding immediate success and immediate cohesion within the team.
This train of thought has spilled over to our expectations of individual players to an extent, particularly our creative ones as James Rushton (@Jamorushton) of ‘7500 to Holte’ points out in a recent article (I would recommend reading). Jack Grealish is at the mercy of this more than any other individual within the squad. Quite like James, I think Jack’s position affords him less opportunity for a mistake.
I have no greater pet hate in life than when fans call Grealish a number “10”, it’s ridiculous beyond comprehension and the myth needs to be dispelled quickly. In the modern game, very few number “10” roles exist, and many do it unsuccessfully. The second, and more accurate but still not quite the truth is that he is an “8”, a midfield runner that looks to penetrate enemy lines without much need to contribute defensively or deep. Both roles suggest Jack is the main driving force behind the team in an attacking sense and in this, fans expectations of our young captain are otherwise inflated and like Mr Rushton states, we don’t afford him the luxury of making mistakes (drafts as he puts it) when trying to compose a masterpiece.
It would serve better to think of Jack as a hybrid between a number “6” and “8”. The “6” being the stereotypical holding midfielder. Grealish fulfils both roles; he drops deep to collect the ball and has no problem recycling play around the backline and being the ignition in starting attacks, whilst transitioning to an “8” and driving past the opposition midfield and into the final third. He has a lot on his plate basically.
Yes, he made errors on Monday, particularly in the final third and while it can be once again frustrating, for me included, we as fans must realise the amount of work he does in the other two-thirds of the field. His tenacity was unmatched; his defensive contribution was outstanding, putting his body in the firing line on more than one occasion before driving us out of our own third towards enemy territory. His work will be overshadowed by a lack of it in the final 30 minutes of the game in the key areas but overall this was not a bad performance and had at least of his passes found its target resulting in a goal, the conversation would be around how great he was on Monday night.
Scapegoats are an inescapable fact when three points don’t follow a game but Grealish, nor Wesley who has also gained a lot of criticism, should be ours. Aston Villa have problems going forward and I will readily admit that however it’s a collective issue rather than individual, yet that doesn’t mean we must panic.
Last season I wrote an article; around December/January time it must have been. The article called for patience; patience with the philosophy, players and execution on the pitch. We were in trying times with the absence of Jack last season – deprived of his ability we had won once in twelve games I believe; playoffs were all but gone. For the most part, fans were supportive but small pockets of discontent arose. Last season we needed time to adapt, last season the squad needed time to gel as a team and the same must be said about our current season. We have a new-ish squad, a new and better set of opponents to adapt to. This will take time – mark my words – but just like a year ago, the signs of a good team are there and eventually, things will work themselves out.
In hindsight, our frustration with results is not manifested due to being utterly hapless, it is one of what could, and likely should have been. A recognition that despite the result not being a true reflection of the performance, at least there was a performance to discuss afterwards. We must remain hopeful, not cynical. Hope may be the aspect that is the most damning when things don’t go to plan but in a sport of uncertainty that we know better than most, hope is all we have.