First off it’s great to see Badger back following the positive results to his recent scan. I know how tough it’s been for him and I’m sure I speak for every Villa fan in wishing him the best for the future. In the short time I’ve helped out, I’ve realised just how much time and effort Badger has put into running this blog and I’ve not had to deal with the techie issues the site has recently encountered (in fact I wouldn’t know where to start!)
Without him we wouldn’t have this excellent forum to air our views so a big thank you from all of us.
Following the ‘throwing away of three points’ (Dean Smith’s words – not mine) midweek in a game we should have won and without a single VAR controversy we could blame, it was important that Villa came away from St Mary’s with a result.
Our recent results against Southampton have been dire (I’m getting a bit bored with this statistic of late); without a win in 8 and Southampton looking for a fifth straight win having scored a hatful of goals in the previous four. Their recent results have not been great but we are also enduring a bit of a wobble ourselves with only one win in five and on a run of four away games without a win albeit against some pretty decent sides.
Not probably a surprise then with Smith going back to the Project Restart mantra of being hard to beat – and we were that although we perhaps rode our luck on occasion, or maybe not!
Once again Smith went with the same side and seems reluctant to rotate or rest players – it raises the question of whether he really does trust his bench? Even though there were obvious signs of tiredness in the last 20 minutes or so, particularly Traore and Barkley, he didn’t make any substitutions until the 96th minute!
This raises a serious question of burn out risk – particularly given the high tempo attacking football that we now generally play.
Throughout the game we defended superbly with Southampton failing to get a shot on target until the 70th minute; none less so than Cash and an ever improving Targett (nine tackles – the most of anyone on the pitch), so often a target for criticism in the past.
Although Martinez’ distribution was shaky by his own high standards his saves to deny Adams (70 minutes) and Bednarek’s late header from a corner were exceptional as was the double block that followed from McGinn and Cash. Mings not only marshalled the defence but made two blocks and a team leading five clearances whilst Konsa was, as usual, impressive in his positional play and all round commitment.
We also know how dangerous Southampton are from free kicks / set pieces and, apart from one instance I can remember, we didn’t commit needless fouls in the final third to give them the opportunity to repeat the their Villa Park feats.
And Targett deserves a mention for his contribution further up the pitch; his looped pass to Grealish before the goal was one of many that got Villa moving forwards. Grealish’s excellent delivery and a stretching header from Barkley did the rest. Smash and grab perfectly executed.
Whilst Traore definitely offers something extra going forward his inconsistent tracking back left Cash horribly isolated at times and I really can’t understand why Smith didn’t bring Trezeguet on for the last 20 minutes or so. It also raises the question as to why Barkley, who visibly faded later in the second half wasn’t substituted earlier by Nakamba.
I can fully understand why Smith would not wish to bring on Sanson given the circumstances so we’ll have to wait for his debut, possibly at Villa Park in one of our next two games.
It seems to me that football is being suffocated by VAR; there is more spoken about VAR decisions or non decisions that there is about the actual football. So the headlines are Villa were lucky with two VAR decisions rather than being applauded for a top class defensive display.
In fact I don’t believe we were lucky – yes two VAR decisions went our way (which is a rarity in itself) – but both followed and supported decisions made by the onfield officials; if there was no VAR the result would have stood. I’ll leave the penalty decision for others to debate (although we’ve had our fair share of dodgy ones given against us) but, whilst as fans we may not like the marginal offside decisions being given, there is now a consistency to them which we have to accept.
Personally, I still think if VAR is going to be accepted by the majority of fans, it needs to revisit its protocols in the summer (can’t very well change them mid season) so that it serves the game rather than being bigger than the game itself.
We all know the Grealish factor is massively influential on the pitch but it seems that it may be playing with coach’s thinking as well.
To cope with Grealish, it appears Hassenhutti decided to play, arguable their most influential player, Ward Prowse out of position at right back rather than in his normal central defensive midfield role. It’s always a risky move; Grealish stayed out wide and found a lot of space behind the Southampton defence which ultimately led to the goal as well as a number of other good chances.
In summary, another battling win, not unlike that at Wolves which proves we are not just an exciting attacking team but one founded on top class defensive principles. Maybe our VAR-Kama has also balanced out.