Hawk-eye saves Villa and embarrasses the Premier League as football returned to the world’s TV audiences with Sheffield United leaving Villa Park after a scoreless draw. Villa were the better team with 15 shots compared to Sheffield’s 5 shots. 6 of which were on target compared to their 1 on target. 12 corners to the Villa compared to 4 from the visitors further shows our superiority. These help to explain Dean Henderson winning the MOTM award for his performance between the sticks for Sheffield. The key moment of the game was when the less than confident Nyland carried the ball across the line. Hawk-eye didn’t work and disallowed a perfectly good goal. If the goal was awarded, Davis would have been credited with the assist for his part in helping Nyland across the goal line.
Smith’s team selection
I think HenleyVillain summed up Smith’s team selection with his post ‘Perhaps there is one positive. Sheffield would not have guessed this line up’. The biggest shock to me was Samatta not starting for Villa as I think he is our best fit striker. Next, and a close second on the shock scale was Hause starting at right back. Davis played really well and but for some excellent goal keeping by Henderson he would have scored but he did enough to make Smith think. Engels and Guilbert were both injured which helps explain the unusual defensive line up. I definitely would have started Elmo at RB before Hause. Nyland is not my preferred number 1 and only for Hawk-eye saving Villa the result could have been very different. I would prefer Steer or Reina. Saying all that, I think the team did well to keep its shape and discipline and rarely looked under much pressure. Hause preformed better than I expected which helped us get our first clean sheet since the 1-0 win over Norwich on Boxing Day.
Best use of substitutions?
For as long as Dean Smith is the Villa manager I have read that his use of substitutes is weak. Against Sheffield United, Smith had the extra flexibility of been able to use 5 substitutes, 4 of which he used. On the 69th minute Trezeguet and Samatta replaced El Ghazi and Davis. Maybe these change could have been made a bit earlier in the game. But in fairness to Smith, Villa had Sheffield under pressure for the preceding 10 mins. Hourihane, Davis and Grealish each coming close only to be thwarted by Henderson. And surly Mings should have had a penalty when Robinson pulled him down in the box.
I would have preferred to see Davis stay on the pitch and play alongside Samatta but unfortunately Smith denied us that opportunity. The second set of substitutions took place 7 minutes later in the 76th minute. This time we saw the tiring McGinn replaced by Elmo and Konsa replaced by Nakamba. None of the substitutes made much impact albeit some fresh legs no doubt helped us see out the game without the customary late goal conceded.
Can Villa stay up with this point?
There is no question that we would all be in a happier place if we had taken the 3 points from Sheffield United. If we had done so, Aston Villa would no longer be in the relegation zone. However, there are 9 games left and the 3 teams above us are only 1 point ahead.
I have been thinking about what Villa needs to do to avoid relegation over the last week or so. I have come to the conclusion that it is not all about going out and winning lots of games. It is only about just finishing ahead of three other teams. I really don’t care if we finish 17th on goal difference or 10 points clear of the drop zone. The bottom line is that both scenarios mean Aston Villa retain its status as a Premier League team for next season.
Looking at it from this perspective and we need to consider the run ins that our relegation competition have. I don’t see that any team, including Villa has an easy run-in. Each of the 6 teams will be very concerned about relegation. A view of each of the blogs for the 6 teams also shows that a large portion of each set of fans think their club will go down.
If I look at each fixture in isolation I can see a possible loss for each of the relegation candidates in every game. This league is really that difficult and although no team will actually lose each of their remaining fixtures, they will all struggle for points. Hawk-eye saved Villa today and we needed this piece of good fortune but we need not to rely on luck. I just can’t see any team running away with safety and as such every single point will count.
There are also a number of fixtures between teams who are both in the bottom 6. This means some teams in the bottom 6 must drop some points on those game weeks. Norwich has 3 games against teams in the bottom 6, if they win those 3 they will be looking at survival. To this end, I think that Expat correctly predicted the outcome to this Premier League about 6 months ago. Aston Villa will be playing West Ham on the final day and the winner will stay up and the loser will go down.