The usual suspect – Villa report

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Latics 0 -4 Villa
Sunday 26th October 2008

Aren’t football fans great?  All it takes is a solid thumping from the alleged ‘next best team’ in the division and “oh, my god, we’re all doomed!” has replaced “we didn’t deserve that result” as the phrase de jour on the Latics wide web.  Not that it’s the sentiment that’s questionable, of course the first job this season was always to avoid a relegation battle, but that it’s come as such a great surprise to some is worth a raised eyebrow or two.

Strikers can put the gilt edge on a good team, but they rarely make a team all by themselves.  At the risk of sounding like Alan Hansen, without the looks of Captain Scarlet to keep you interested, good teams are built on a solid defense and, though we may have one amongst the squad, there’s no way we had one on Sunday.  

Yes, the focus has settled on Titus Bramble and his almost perfect example of when not tackle, but the irony of that is he ended up, by far and a way, the best of a bad bunch.  Whether it was lack of fitness (Boyce), increasingly painful lack of experience (Figueroa) or simply being called Paul Scharner (Scharner) there just wasn’t much good about Latics’ defending.   

When it comes down to it though, it wasn’t the performance at the back that cost up this game although it didn’t help the final score.  Villa are a good side, in fact they seem to have taken Spurs mantle of ‘the team most likely’.  It doesn’t say much for the league if it’s true, but even if not they’re still a better side than Latics.  Not so much to stop us being disappointed with defeat, but plenty enough to make the ‘woe is us’ attitude a little excessive.

Let’s take things as they happened.  The first goal was a penalty, following a silly, but not unforgivable, challenge, which the player and some fans still dispute.  The second involved some lackadaisical defending but had more than a touch of luck in the finish.  At the other end, Latics had threatened throughout but were now faced with a choice to either minimise the damage, or try and get back into the game.

Two years ago, the choice would have been an easy one, in fact there’s a chance we’d have gone into the game protecting our goal difference, let alone switched tactics after going behind.  So I guess that the question is about what you’d rather see, a team, gamefully defending their 18 yard box to keep the score respectable (and maybe failing) or, what we got here, your side being caught on the break a couple of times through their efforts to get back into the game.

I’ve got two final points to make, before you run off thinking that I’m being overly optimistic in the face of defeat, first up is that, all I’m getting at above is that 4-0 wasn’t a true reflection of the game.  No matter how you (or I) explain away the goals in isolation, each was the result of bad defending in some way or another and the simple fact is that teams that don’t defend well (or at least get the basics right) don’t do well in this division.

Finally, whilst losing to Villa carries little shame, this defeat turns the games against Boro and Liverpool into a worrying trend.  Just like the recession, no one wants to be the first to declare it, but Latics are on the verge of a losing streak and as Chris Hutchings found out last year, getting out of that type of tailspin is, perhaps, the hardest job a manager can have.

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