It was a genuine shock to see what Aston Villa, customarily a top eight club, have been reduced to. Or to be exact, what their manager Alex McLeish has reduced them to. Surely, surely, you have to trust your creative players enough to have a bit of a go. After all, if he’s sacked he’ll have a great severance deal — I well remember him telling us it was the first thing in any contract he sorted out.
And another poor headline, given the piece is all about Villa.
Wigan 0 Aston Villa 0: Wigan peer into the abyss
Richard Rae at The DW Stadium
The Wigan manager, Roberto Martinez, signed off his programme notes with the Spanish phrase Sin Miedo, meaning he intends his side to play without fear. It is a concept that seems alien to Aston Villa’s manager, Alex McLeish.
To the increasingly noisy frustration of the Villa supporters, the Scot’s caution in the way he sets up his team is reducing once creative players to frustrated, gesticulating ciphers of their former selves, their instincts stifled. “We want our Villa back,” chanted the away fans after 70 sterile minutes, once McLeish, with Charles N’Zogbia and Stephen Ireland also on the bench, turned first to Emile Heskey.
To make matters worse, shortly afterwards McLeish lost Darren Bent to an ankle ligament injury. McLeish expressed fears he could be out for a lengthy spell. The striker is almost certain to miss England’s game against Holland on Wednesday.
That Villa left the DW stadium with a point, however, against a side who have won once at home all season, was justification enough for McLeish. “Our concentration was good today, I don’t think Wigan really penetrated, and we had the best chances,” he said. “The fans expect Aston Villa to come to Wigan and win.”
Wigan played neat, thoughtful football but made relatively few chances and still remain in with a chance of avoiding relegation. They dominated possession but it was Villa who went closest to scoring, first when Keane’s shot was turned around the post by Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi, and then when the Irishman put Bent clear on goal.
Again Al Habsi came to Wigan’s rescue, blocking the shot with his knees, and he was once more in the right place to save when Carlos Cuellar had a free header on the six-yard line. Wigan’s best chances came in the second period, Franco di Santo forcing a good diving save from Shay Given, and then Mohamed Diame setting up Hugo Rodallega to shoot over the bar.
“The performance was something to be extremely pleased about,” said Martinez. “We tested them enough to get three points but we needed a little lucky bounce.
“But to be able to play against a team like Aston Villa and be as dominant as we were suggests a big scoreline for us is just around the corner.”
Wigan Athletic: Al Habsi 8, Alcarez 7, Caldwell 7, Boyce 6, Figueroa 7, McCarthy 7 (Diame 78min), McArthur 7, Beausejour 7, Di Santo 7, Moses 7 (Crusat 89min), Gomez 6 (Rodallega 65min)
Aston Villa: Given 7, Hutton 6, Collins 7, Cuellar 7, Warnock 6, Albrighton 5 (Heskey 70min), Gardner 6 (Ireland 74min), Bannan 5, Agbonlahor 5, Keane 7, Bent 5 (N’Zogbia 78min)
Originally published in The Sunday Times