From ten wins on the bounce to ten losses on the bounce. It’s been an odd old year for Aston Villa.
Words: Mark Jirobe | @VillaMarkPGH
Yet again, time after time, Aston Villa look like a team who are damned to be relegated from the Premier League.
You can blame it on bad refereeing decisions or lack of experience. You can blame it on character, or a lack of it. At some point, you have to start fighting back in the face of a challenge – an Aston Villa don’t seem to have that in their locker this season, in any capacity. This was most recently on display after the Video Assistant Referee let every football fan down again.
The Premier League and fans agree that the penalty given to Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes was cheap. It reeked of a “new era” of football that shouldn’t be happening but somehow continues to press on. Even as a neutral, or as a supporter of a club other than Villa, you can see why this decision is unfair, biased and wrong.
When a slight of life goes against you, there are generally two options. Cower and feel bad about it, or do everything in your power to make it right or at least manageable. The body language on display after the controversial VAR decision may as well have been a tell-all autobiography of the entire Aston Villa season.
There has been no push back from Aston Villa players, and certainly not since Project Restart. Aston Villa look like a child, bullied into submission at times, either physically or mentally. The supporters play the part of the parent, wanting to protect and defend their child no matter if they are wrong or right. It’s a sad state of current affairs, but an obvious one. This current squad are barely worth sticking up for – perhaps moreso than the last relegated lot – but barely. It may seem crass, but it’s true. Sometimes the parent has to have a hard talk with their child.
If you have kept tabs on Villa this season, you’ll hear buzzwords like ‘zonal marking’, ‘injury crisis’, ‘potential’ and ‘Fulham’. The last one hurts the most. In the summer of 2019, it was about as positive as could be for Aston Villa. Effectively promoted into the Premier League by being fifth in the Sky Bet Championship with new bankrolled owners, things were suspiciously bright for a club deemed “too big for the Championship”.
There was Sweet Caroline. There was champagne. There was a feel-good factor around the club that hadn’t been experienced within the soul of Aston Villa for years. Players were needed as a squad overhaul was on the cards. So the club spent, and then spent, and then spent some more.
And what, exactly, do they have to show for it?
In less than a season, we’ve watched Aston Villa win ten games in a row to not winning a single game in their last ten attempts. Not good enough is a whimper in terms of how frustrating this has been for supporters.
The frustration is visible on the pitch. It can be seen across the faces of the players. Tyrone Mings told John McGinn to “fuck off”, audibly, according to Birmingham Live’s Ashley Preece. There was another passage of play where Douglas Luiz was was seen dragging the ball through the middle of the pitch, looking for a team mate, and none were found. Once finding a simple option to his right, which still wasn’t picked up hastily, the visibly upset Luiz threw his arms around like he knew what the situation was.
The players seemed like they had given up. Not just one or two players, almost all of them. And they’re not the only ones that are frustrated.
Former captain Stiliyan Petrov did not hold back when asked recently about his former club. Speaking to BBC’s Radio 5 Live, Petrov claimed:
“When you’re in a relegation battle and you fight for your life to survive – if you do not have leaders of players with a strong mentality, this can affect you.
The problem? The reaction afterwards. It looks like we did not go for it. It looks like we did not believe in ourselves. This is the biggest concern for me, not the penalty.”
Outside of Villa, Roy Keane also had his usual scathing remarks about players – except for once, his opinion wasn’t exactly out of place or wrong. The former United midfielder was animated, but genuinely correct when speaking about Villa at half-time:
“When your experienced players struggle with the basics, I’m scratching my head.
Before the game I thought a bit of energy, big club, I had a short time there. Brilliant people there.
But when your defenders defend like that, you deserve everything you get.”
In fewer words, Aston Villa are exactly where they deserve to be; headed towards the Championship. No matter what you blame, the supporters deserve more. Staking a place at Wembley for the Carabao Cup Final should be looked at a plaster on a gunshot wound, a fools attempt to halt the bleeding of what should have been a year where Villa attempted to make themselves Premier League mainstays.
Did the players see the prospect of winning silverware more important for their CV than remaining in the Premier League? It is starting to appear so.
And it may condemn Aston Villa to the Championship before the last day of the season.