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Given Stars, but Shay-me Villa Couldn’t Score

Aston Villa Blog’s newest recruit Ollie Scrimgeour follows up his debut article with an opinion based look at the ups and downs of the season opener vs Fulham, capped by some positive predictions for the rest of the month.

Some home (or away) truths

Let’s begin with the negative aspects of the game on Saturday. It’ vital that Villa actually take these into consideration this season, because too many times last time out did we fail to learn from problems that were as obviously ugly as Joey Barton’s hairstyle.

First and foremost, it upset me to see that we were playing the same old football style. That’s to say we were hitting too many long balls, aiming for Heskey and hoping he would flick them on for Bent. It’s not nice to watch, for a start, and I really do believe it is ineffective. In my last piece, I wrote about the importance of crossing balls in for Bent, specifically utilising Marc Albrighton for this purpose. McLeish decided to play Agbonlahor on the wing instead of Albrighton, which was an error in my view.

Agbonlahor is not a winger – he is a forward, and it would be good to see him play alongside Bent as such. That would enable Albrighton to play right, and N’Zogbia to play left, both of whom are more than capable of creating chances for the forwards. Gabby and Bent would thrive like this, I feel. Persisting with Heskey is not the way to go, if we are to be a success this season. We must use the wings, and find finishers in the middle. It’s very straightforward and would increase fluidity in our play.

The fact that Villa had just 46% possession compared to Fulham’s 54% is an indication of how other teams are able to keep the ball and move it around better. Fulham took 10 shots on Saturday, 5 of which were on target. Aston Villa took 6 shots, with a dismal 1 effort on target. The figures speak for themselves. Keeping the ball on the ground, playing the passing game, leads to more possession, more chances, and more accuracy in front of goal. Do we have the players to play this type of football? Absolutely. Swap Petrov for Ireland and give him a run in the team.

A further issue was that the defence allowed too many chances on goal. Given was at his best, but he had to be. Villa can’t afford to be as shaky and unconvincing as they were last year at the back, or we will inevitably end the season in a less than satisfactory position. The game could have gone either way. We need to see Villa taking games by the scruff of the neck for this is something we lack completely.

Think positive

Craven Cottage is always a tough place to go, and I don’t think I’m alone in believing the point collected there was a good result. That is a positive, of course, but it doesn’t say much for the ambition of the manager or the players, or indeed the fans if we are willing to just accept a point at Fulham as a ‘good point’. Personally, I want to see more.

Continuing with the positives, Shay Given put in a top-class appearance, saving from close-range on a number of occasions. Cynics will say the ball was hit straight at him each time, but he spread himself well, demonstrating his unfailing and quite brilliant technique. It will do his confidence a lot of good too, not to mention that of his defenders in front of him. A clean sheet is a big positive to take from Craven Cottage.

Another encouraging aspect to take from the match was that Stephen Warnock played very well, joining his goalkeeper in the Premier League team of the week. Out-of-favour last season, Warnock, much like Given, will want to get his career back on track and prove his quality. He started well, showing astute defensive ability and an undying work-rate.

Additionally, Charles N’Zogbia looked sharp. One of the players I predicted to be a star for Villa this season, the new signing played on the wing and was linking up well with his teammates. After the game, he stated that the Villa fans had been very welcoming and he was delighted to be at the club, so to those of you at the game, give yourselves a pat on the back, or whatever makes you happy. His ability to put the ball in the box effectively was on display on numerous occasions. Often met by Emile Heskey, with whom N’Zogbia has played at Wigan, the crosses were then diverted wide or high. Wherever the headers went, they were ugly, and this needs improving. Still, the chances are being created. Positive.

One final point – Stiliyan Petrov, who I’m not the greatest fan of, as you will find out, managed to hit his first ferocious long-range shot since Derby County were happily setting the lowest ever points tally in the Premier League. Remember that goal? We all do. Unfortunately, Stan is not the Man anymore and needs replacing, in my opinion. Still, we’ll notch that one up on the positives tally.

Audacious Aspirations for August

Judging by the fixtures Villa have in the rest of August, I truly believe that they could and should win all of them. Some may say that as a Villa fan, things never work out as we would like them to. Admittedly, I get that feeling regularly but I don’t think it’s too audacious to think that it is well within the realms of possibility to pick up three victories from the three games that remain this month.

That would give us a really positive start to the season, which would in fact be more beneficial to the team than could be anticipated. It is important, for once, that the team takes advantage of an opportunity. All of the games are at home, and it is imperative to win as much as possible at Villa Park. Let’s make it a fortress this season, for that could be the foundation for any success that could be achieved.

Here are my predictions (hopeful though they may be) of the remaining fixtures Villa have in August:

Aston Villa     2 – 1   Blackburn Rovers                           (Premier League)

Aston Villa     3 – 0   Hereford                                           (Carling Cup)

Aston Villa     1 – 0   Wolverhampton Wanderers     (Premier League)

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