Our start to the season has clearly been poor, but there is one performance that stands head and shoulders above the rest, our 4-2 victory over Norwich City. Now, yes this was a home performance, but with the quality we have at our disposal and over 3,000 away fans there cheering us on it is possible to see this sort of performance transcend from Villa Park to Oakwell.
Against Norwich, Villa started on the front foot and didn’t allow the opposition time to settle in the game. This bright start was rewarded with a commanding 2-0 lead at the interval. On the contrary, we have seen throughout this season that if we don’t start positively and allow the other team to settle into the game then we face an uphill battle from the off.
The first 20 minutes against Bristol City and Brentford exemplify this point and both were games where our early negativity left us chasing the game towards the end.
The first way in which we can start positively is through the starting eleven that Steve Bruce selects.
Clearly the 3 at the back system deployed away at Bristol City was a poor one and so I hope Bruce goes with a 4 at the back this time on our travels. Away from home, Bruce has often been far too happy to give up possession to the other team, 20 completed passes in the first 30 minutes away at Reading tells you that much, and so I hope come Saturday he selects midfielders who are happy to carry the ball through the midfield and up to our dangerous front three.
For me, Josh Onomah and Conor Hourihane are our best attacking threats from midfield and with Mile Jedinak sweeping up behind them as cover, I believe that they can drive us on to our first away win of the league campaign.
The next issue is the front 3. With Andre Green unfortunately out injured for what has been documented as months and ‘Elmo’ being used at right back on Tuesday, our front 3 is anything but settled. Goals in general, but especially away from home, have been few and far between and so we need to put our best 3 attackers on the pitch together to stand a chance.
For me, those 3 players are; Albert Adomah, Jonathan Kodjia and Robert Snodgrass. When these 3 were on the pitch together on Tuesday, albeit for a short period, I felt that we looked more threatening than we had all game. That front 3 is arguably the best in the league and with support from Onomah and Hourihane will prove to be too much for Barnsley to handle.
However, positivity has to be coming from the dugout as well as from the pitch. As I previously mentioned, Bruce is happy to hand over possession and attempt to hit teams on the counter. The problem with this is that because we are set up so deep, as soon as we win the ball back and attempt to counter we have ten men behind the ball and our sole striker completely isolated from his teammates.
Even away from home, we have the quality to dominate possession and that is the mentality the players should walk out with on Saturday. If we didn’t set up so negatively, and rather set up 10 yards higher up the pitch then when we win the ball back we will be in a position to hurt the other team rather than being sat on the edge of our own box.
I fear that if we don’t start positively on Saturday and allow Barnsley into the game then they will punish us like they have done at home to both Sunderland and Forest this season.
TAKE OUR CHANCES
The positivity I have spoken about above will create the team chances, but ultimately if we are wasteful then we won’t win. In the league so far this season we have had 28 shots on target yet scored just 7 goals, a goal every 4 shots on target. This shows how poor in front of goal we have been this season and frankly in tight games such as this Saturday we can’t afford to be squandering 3 of every 4 shots on target.
On Tuesday against Middlesbrough, despite us not performing as well as we should’ve, we had more than enough chances to win the game. In the first half Lansbury had a shot from close range saved by the keeper before Scott Hogan came on as a sub and air kicked a cut back and then inadvertently blocked Conor Hourihane’s half volley on the line.
At the moment, that is the difference between us challenging for promotion and languishing where we currently are.
The reintroduction of last seasons’ top scorer and top assister, Kodjia and Adomah, will hopefully bring that cutting edge back to the claret and blue. I am in no way slating Scott Hogan or Keinan Davis by saying Kodjia should return and immediately go above him in the pecking order, I just feel that Kodjia brings the physical presence of Davis and the finishing ability of Hogan and with how well he played last season as our lone striker, he has to start Saturday.
There may be issues over his fitness but the cameo on Saturday showed to me that he is match sharp and fit enough to start.
GIVE THE LOYAL FANS SOMETHING TO CHEER ABOUT
So far this season has been a difficult one for us Villa fans. We have travelled all over the British Isles already and have yet to see us come back to B6 with 3 points. Despite this, over 3,000 fans are set to make the trip to Yorkshire, many of whom have already helped sell out our allocation for Burton away in a couple weeks. Having been in this away crowd many a time, I can attest that it really can be the 12th man at times.
The problem is that so often in recent seasons there has been so little to cheer about.
4 away wins in 19 away games under Bruce is a damning statistic. And yet, we still turn up week in week out. If the team can give the Villa fans something to cheer about behind the goal by starting positively and taking their chances, then I can guarantee you that the fans will do their bit in order to secure victory.
A win on Saturday will help built some bridges amongst the travelling support and the playing and coaching staff that will hopefully be a catalyst onto bigger and better things this season.