Sat with my brother and his son in the corner of Villa Park where the Trinity Road Stand and the Holte End meet, I was about as far away from the City fans as it was possible to be at yesterday’s 2-0 defeat to Aston Villa. However, I could still easily hear the choruses of the new song supporting our manager, “Don’t sack Mackay” being sang throughout the match and couldn’t help but appreciate the irony of a situation whereby the impressive visiting support were belting out their backing for our manager while the team was turning in a performance which, if repeated too often, would, almost certainly, see Malky come under pressure for reasons other than those that have dominated the headlines for the last month or so.
Now there are those who say that Villa were a poor side who were there for the taking, but, despite having gone 380 minutes without scoring before kick off, I thought they were pretty comfortably better than us and the two goal margin between the sides was about right – while it was Villa’s lack of goal power which was making the headlines beforehand, it’s a worrying six in nine league games (just one of them coming from a striker) for our misfiring team.
City spent the afternoon offering further evidence of the truth of the maxim that domination of the football doesn’t always equate to domination of the game. At Upton Park on the opening day of the season, City had 52% of the possession and one goalscoring effort on target while losing meekly by 2-0 to West Ham, yesterday they had 56% of the ball and managed to double their on target efforts while losing by the same score. Perhaps, with their resolute defending and goalkeeping which kept Villa out for the first 80 odd percent of the game, City didn’t deserve to have the adjective “meekly” applied to yesterday’s display, but the blunt truth is that the Villa back line and keeper have probably not had as easy an afternoon as that all season.
Craig Bellamy’s first half free kick, which barely tested Brad Guzan, was one of those on target efforts, but, I’m darned if I can remember the other one and the closest I thought we came to scoring all afternoon was when home striker Libor Kozak nodded just wide of his own goal shortly before Bellamy’s effort.
Now, there are those who maintain that a more attacking approach would have made all of the difference yesterday. I disagree, even without the injured Wiemann and Agbonlahor, the speed with which Villa broke on the rare occasions when we did commit men forward proved what was already known – that is, that, even at home, Villa are essentially a counter attacking side and I’d maintain that we would have been asking for trouble if we had gone there and looked to have a go at them.
There are plenty of City fans around who seem to believe that they know more about the game than the professionals (nearly all former players at a high level within the domestic game) who see the players for far more than the ninety minutes every week that we do. They don’t know the true domestic, fitness, training and personal issues which may be bothering any one of our squad and yet they presume they are better qualified to make judgments on our squad than Malky and his staff – although I do try to make observations which occur to me while watching matches on here rather than trying to lecture our manager on what he is doing wrong, I’ll admit I don’t always succeed and so, at times, I’m as guilty of this as the next person.
However, if Malky and his staff think that having a go at sides is not the best way we can pick up the points to stay in the division this season (thereby earning the chance for further strengthening of a squad which may be more attractive to some players who didn’t fancy committing to us as a newly promoted club), then I have to say that, based on what I’ve seen so far, I agree with them.
Let’s face it, we are not very good at having a go at other sides are we. I’d say the only match we’ve done that to good effect has been Fulham – I still maintain that we picked a more attacking line up at Norwich and ended up somehow clinging on to a point despite being overrun at times by a team who managed thirty one attempts on goal.
If average is classed as tenth or eleventh in the table, then, based on the first eleven Premier League games of the season, I would rate the different departments of our team as follows;-
Goalkeeper = Average
Defence = Just below average
Midfield = Below average
Strikers = Relegation material, maybe even bottom of the league
Now, to be fair to our strikers, Fraizer Campbell has shown against, arguably, the best team in the league that he can be an influence on matches at this level and Peter Odemwingie’s goalscoring record in the Premier League says he can be an effective performer. Also, playing as a lone striker in a side set up like ours is most weeks is a very tough and, I should think, frustrating task, but, as a collective, I’d say these two, plus Maynard and Gestede, are amongst the three weakest in the league.
It has to be said as well, that this is now very much Malky Mackay’s squad, but, in his defence, our manager can point to the fact that there is another striker who has seen all of three minutes of league action so far this season who should be included. I’ll admit that, when Andreas Cornelius is fully fit, it’s putting an awful lot of pressure on a twenty year old to expect him to be able to transform that very poor overall rating I gave to our strikers, but, he’s obviously got something that interested plenty of other clubs at this level and I’m certainly not going to write him off without getting a proper chance to show his worth as some seem almost pleased to do.
So, although I cling to the hope that Cornelius might prove to be good enough to bring about a change in approach and I feel Craig Noone should have been given at least one chance off the bench to try and prove his worth at this level, I must back an approach which has so far seen us gain points at a rate which would, almost certainly, see us surviving in the Premier League if repeated over the course of a full season.
In saying that, I’ll finish by making a few of my observations about yesterday. First, Aron Gunnarsson and Don Cowie have their strong points, but, playing as advanced midfielders with orders to make forward runs at Premier League level does not appear to play to them and, so, having them, along with the goalless in 2013 Bellamy, as the ones charged with helping our lone striker out only made an already difficult task even harder for Odemwingie and then Campbell.
By contrast, the midfielder who is a proven goalscorer at Championship level was sitting deeper and. although passing neatly and showing some nice touches at times, played in a more conservative manner – I agree with what Nathan Blake says about Peter Whittingham this season, he seems happy to play a support role and let Gary Medel do the sort of passing which was once considered a speciality of his. Talking of Medel, he was, once again, one of our best players, but his performance tailed off in the last quarter of an hour when a City side which had to attack proved so ineffective at doing so.
Once again, the defenders and goalkeeper did a decent job and proved the most reliable parts of our team in my opinion. I refer especially to David Marshall and Steven Caulker here with the latter being my pick as our best player – his occasional forays forward in open play tended to end up with our punchless team at least getting into a dangerous position.
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