It happens to all of us. You tend to put the reality of some patchy performances aside & clutch at any glimpse of improvement to start believing your team is going to win & play well. Therefore, before this one I felt absurdly positive & predicted we’d be watching an entertaining match & win 2-1. It’s amazing what a last ditch victory on a Tuesday night in Preston will do to the confidence of us fans. Several hours later, I was trying to calculate where we’d finish in the tabke if we drew the remaining 42 games of the season. Wasn’t too despondent though. Trust in Nigel.
I thought Pearson might have started Camara after his bright performance on Tuesday but it wasn’t to be. So it was an unchanged line up & my first opportunity to witness our current formation, a 4-1-4-1 with Martin alone up front & Hughes in the deep holding role. Villa thankfully didn’t have new signing, Miles Jedinak, in the side but did have Ross McCormack, surely the best deep lying striker outside the Premier League. Yes, by that I mean a lot better than Martin.
McCormack was certainly prominent as Villa dominated the 1st half, hitting the crossbar & exchanging neat passes with his teammates, particularly Joey Essex lookalike, Jack Grealish.
Gardner also managed to hit the post & it was at this stage that the Derby fans began to get a but angry & frustrated. Our play had been completely disjointed for most of the half. Hughes is the best choice of a bad bunch for the deep midfielder role but even I had to admit he was playing way to deep at times, regularly dropping into the gap between Keogh & Shacks. Martin was again isolated up front & Butterfield’s only contribution had been to lose possession. Twice. Misplaced passes abounded from the rest of the team too, especially Fozzy & also the rest of our dysfunctional midfield. We needed some width & someone who could put his foot on the ball & create something in an advanced role.
Thankfully, Pearson did the right thing, the decisive thing, at half time. It was a bit McClaren-esque (1st season not the 2nd..) I thought. He knew what the problem was & sorted it. Camara came on for the completely ineffective & anonymous Butterfield & Hughes was pushed into a more advanced role. Bryson was seemingly the more likely to drop back deep.
The 2nd half was much better. We were certainly “on the front foot” & played with more energy, commitment & tempo. Camara was great, always willing to take a player on & causing a few wobbles in the Villa defence. Hughes was prominent too & gave us a bit more control in the centre of the park. Ince had a couple of great chances, one from a run when he was clean through on goal & another from a free kick that was inches wide. It was so close that the replays on the big screen prompted gasps from the Derby fans. He had a good game actually. Needs to be a bit more clinical with those chances though.
All that was left was for Villa to miss a couple of good chances, including one that was cleared off the line by Hughes. And Martin shot well I’ve from a free kick. He had a few good touches in the 2nd half but still seemed a bit listless. Perhaps this was his penultimate game for us if Wolves decide to come back to us with a bigger offer.
And then it was all over. Time for us to head over to Gurkha Paradise for some grilled meats.
What does this result & performance say about us then?
Well, we all knew the balance in midfield wasn’t right & it would be a challenge for Pearson to resolve this. He’s getting there but if we need to have a midfielder playing deep, it probably shouldn’t be Hughes. Thorne’s a country mile from returning to the side & I can’t think of anyone we currently have that can do it. Bryson brought the ball out from the back effectively a couple of times but surely he’s not the answer. Maybe if Hendrick goes, that will make some wriggle room to bring someone else in.
4 clean sheets from 5 games is obviously good, if you believe in the mantra that the teams with the best defences will win promotion (it proved to be the case last season). So we have some solid foundations to work on but we need to start scoring goals & picking up wins soon. Obviously. I’m sure the aquisition of Wilson will help, he’s impressed me every time I’ve seen him play. I think Camara will make a difference if he gets a run in the side, he really gives us something different. Tend to think we need a big, mobile striker too. Let’s see what happens before the end of the transfer window.
A few sadder things to note. The chanting of Dalian Atkinson’s name throughout the match by the Villa fans, which was applauded by our fans, was touching. An impressive tribute to a fine player who died in tragic circumstances.
The Fozzy injury. When it happened, you could see he was in trouble, as he was waving for help as soon as he hit the floor. But when he stood up & appeared to have considered coming back on we all thought it was probably just a bad knock. Sadly, it proved to be another ACL in the same knee. I hope he comes back strong. 2 consecutive seasons out injured is going to be a lot to come back from. Time for Olsson or Lowe to step up.
Onwards & upwards.