Slow start for new Villa

Posted by Kevin Hughes

Well, that was an anti-climax.

Not a soul-destroying, crushing defeat - nowhere the pain that QPR (paying £9m for Michael Dawson, decent centre-back though he is, is one hell of a knee-jerk reaction to conceding five against Swansea) and Norwich fans must have felt on Saturday night - but even so. Losing at West Ham with barely an effort on goal is a low-key beginning to the new Premier League campaign.

It's a reminder, if any were needed, that rebuilding Villa is going to take time. There are at least ten other squads in this division stronger than the one Paul Lambert has at his disposal, and he won't need to look far to look for areas of improvement. As I wrote in my previous blog, the defence that lined up at Upton Park was chronically low on top-flight experience. Lambert, rightly with an eye on long-term progress, has dumped Hutton and Warnock from his plans, Collins has been sold and Dunne injured: the old guard have been stood down.

Stepping in to their boots were Matt Lowton, making his PL debut after coming through in League One with Sheffield United, Ciaran Clark, a Republic of Ireland international but with more senior club matches under his belt as a midfielder than a central defender, Nathan Baker, a centre-back drafted in at left-back, and Ron Vlaar.

Vlaar can't really be described as a novice: he's 27 and played for Netherlands at Euro 2012. But nevertheless, it was his Premier League debut, and he spent it having a right old wrestle with Carlton Cole. Cole knows the scene inside out, and he gave Vlaar a testing debut. Vlaar had a head injury patched up early on, playing the majority of the match bandaged up; later on he could nearly have given West Ham a penalty when he and Cole ended up on the turf (again) following a tussle. He got away with it.

The goal, the only goal, was scruffy, and slightly unlucky for Villa - a long ball flicking off the top of Clark's head - therefore keeping West Ham onside - and allowing Kevin Nolan to tuck in from a few yards. Cue that awful chicken celebration... I don't know what that's all about, but Nolan's surely rinsed every last drop of funny out of it. At least Villa won't have to see it again for a while.

At the other end, Villa threatened little. Bent looked lost up front, barely got a decent sniff. Behind him, Charles N'Zogbia and Stephen Ireland had no influence. Another new signing, Brett Holman, made way in the second half, replaced by Andreas Weimann. Not many attacking options there for Lambert to ponder over.

Was it any better than the dross served last season? Yes - there was a fluidity to Villa's play that wasn't evident in 2011-12, a commitment to keeping the ball. But no cutting edge, no threat.

With talk of Lambert considering moves for Tottenham's Jermain Defoe (surely unlikely, given Spurs' shortage of top-class strikers) or Kenwyne Jones, Bent's former heavyweight centre-forward pal at Sunderland, Villa fans will be watching the remaining ten days of the transfer window with interest.


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