Aston Villa and Newcastle played out a 0-0 draw yesterday. But the defensive resilience marks a change at Villa Park.
It's the type of match that Aston Villa would have lost last year. One-way traffic for long periods of time against a more talented opponent would've led to that inevitable defensive mistake that reminded us all how young and frustrating Paul Lambert's side were. It might've came in the 70th or 90th minute but eventually, that back line would've been breached and Villa would've went home empty handed.
But fortunately, it's not last year. Or the year before. Things have been different this year, better, and more organized. Villa haven't conceded yet in 180 minutes of play and have four points from a pair of fixtures they got nothing from last term. That's good. Especially without your two best striking options. To the recap...
While Villa had a pair of half-chances early—Gabby Agbonlahor couldn't make the right decision (again!) on five minutes before Charles N'Zobia headed over on nine—the opening stages of the match were dominated by the Magpies, who had 81% of the ball in the game's first 13 minutes. N'Zogbia had another chance as he pushed a free kick just wide on 17 minutes but the visitors created what was probably the best chance of the afternoon 25 minutes in when Remy Cabella mishit the ball from point-blank range where even a decent finish would've sufficed. But to be fair to the Villa defense, the shot came from the deflection after Yoan Gouffran saw his effort from 15 yards out blocked.
The rest of the first half saw Villa gain a fair foothold in the match though as the Claret and Blues attacked down the left with Aly Cissokho Fabian Delph, and Andreas Weimann combining to put in crosses that would ultimately find nobody. But coming out of the interval, it was more of the early stages as it was truly one-way traffic at Villa Park with Newcastle downright controlling play in the early stages. Daryl Janmaat had two solid goal-scoring opportunities—he forced Brad Guzan into a nice save via a header before firing over a few minutes later after getting past Cissokho—but Villa were able to weather the storm well enough until Carlos Sánchez made his Villa debut on 62 minutes.
From there, the match entirely changed. Sánchez came on for N'Zogbia—who had been booked and was probably a little fortunate to not pick up a second yellow minutes later—and Villa were no longer overrun in midfield. From there, the match was pretty even and the introduction of Darren Bent for Kieran Richardson—who had been in the No. 10 role most of the match—on 75 minutes didn't change much. Aly Cissokho went over and left the pitch in the 82nd minute as Nathan Baker came on to help Villa hold on as Brad Guzan denied Siem de Jong with a nice save two minutes from time. Paul Lambert's side in fact played stoppage time with an extra man after Mike Williamson was sent off for a second bookable offense before the final whistle blew.
It was, in many ways, a dull contest without much in it. But, like it or not, Villa are in the position where they need to grind a few of these out until Christian Benteke returns to the starting lineup. So far, a lot of chance creation (or lack thereof) from Villa has come from the left wing as Cissokho especially stood out today. Unfortunately, there's nobody that started today that's really capable of consistently winning aerial duels. Despite the fact that Villa didn't manage a shot on target today, there's definitely positives to take from the way they attacked... once Benteke gets back, that is.
The three proper central midfielders all put in pretty strong shifts today. Despite getting overrun at times, Fabian Delph put together some nice runs (he'll be a box-to-box guy by Boxing Day) and Ashley Westwood completed 93% of his passes. And when Carlos La Roca Sánchez entered proceedings, he settled Villa down and created a chance with a beautiful first touch in the claret-and-blue shirt.
The defense was solid again. There's nothing else to say, though Newcastle could've done better in front of goal. But above all else, the back four forced its opponent to conduct most of its business from the edge of the penalty area—and that's a great place to start.
Four points from two is all we really could've asked for. And if Villa can come away with three points next weekend at home to Hull, they'll take some pressure off going into the toughest stretch of fixtures you'll probably ever see. Progress. That's what we're after.
Note: The intent is for these more formal match reports to come on the day of the match rather than the day after but Villa were the first of three football matches I watched and cared about yesterday so, apologies for the delay.
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