Tuesday 15th August, 2017 was an incredibly disappointing night for Villa fans everywhere, both on and off the pitch as the team left Reading with absolutely nothing to show for it. We lost the game, but more worryingly it is the hope that is fast disappearing. (Match Review by Tom Julian)
At no point did the evening go right. Train works caused monumental delays causing a number of fans to miss the start of the game (this one included), and some of those picking up tickets at the Madejski also struggled after a breakdown at the ticket office.
Not a good start.
Things didn’t improve inside the stadium as we struggled to impose ourselves on the game, allowing Reading to dominate possession and giving the ball away when we did win it back. Birkir Bjarnasson’s first touch let him down as it is prone to do, and the central midfield pairing of Conor Hourihane and Glenn Whelan never got hold of the game.
Despite all that, Andre Green had the best chance of the first half, pouncing on a deflected ball to run clear through on goal. He should have done better with the finish which was comfortably stopped by a diving Vito Mannone.
Villa goalkeeper Sam Johnstone reacted well twice to keep things level as Reading spent much of the half creating opportunities and pressuring the visitors’ back four, and it speaks volumes that Johnstone was again a worthy candidate for man of the match.
Reading’s opener was a scrappy affair as Adrian Popa’s shot deflected off Glenn Whelan and looped in off the back post. Johnstone looked as though he had kept it out but, courtesy of the new goal line technology introduced to the Championship this season, the goal was awarded.
The Royals doubled their lead five minutes later as Mo Barrow tapped in from close range, in and Villa only really rallied when Conor Hourihane added what turned out to be a consolation.
There were a few telling signs that, despite new faces in the dressing room, a debilitating lack of confidence still remains. Villa allowed Reading to play, standing off and giving the midfield time to build attacks. When we did win the ball back, every pass felt panicked and it was often cleared away to no-one in particular.
Gabby Agbonlahor replaced Hogan and, though he worked hard there wasn’t any semblance of attacking unity. We still haven’t found a system and because of that, both midfield and attack look confused.
Josh Onomah had very little influence on the game, and it was perhaps too much to ask for the 20 year old to assert himself as a dominant threat in three matches this week. Green looked bright and tried to create chances, but the lack of understanding was telling.
A bug bear of mine was the free kick situation where, from the left hand side, left-footed Hourihane was floating balls in. With our aerial prowess, surely we should be driving the set piece right-footed to the back post and asking John Terry and James Chester to attack the ball?
However, the most dissatisfying thing about the whole affair was how similar it felt to last season.
Fans turned up and roared on the team, as is expected from this passionate Villa fan base. Nonetheless, it is tough to rally the spirit after the latest abysmal performance on the road, which leaves us with just one point from three games.