He was just one match into his reign as Aston Villa manager but Tim Sherwood already looked very different on Saturday evening from the self-assured, fast-quipping figure unveiled to the media five days earlier.
A manager who had promised that his team would throw punches in their fight for survival had been hit by the late sucker punch of Victor Moses’ injury-time penalty winner and a notably subdued Sherwood admitted that it was one of the worst feelings he had known in football. “Yeah, I’m low,” said the 46-year-old who saw for himself the fragility of a Villa side now beaten in their last six league matches.
“It’s a confidence thing,” he added. “We need to improve, we know we need to improve and we need to start improving very quickly.”
Mark Hughes, whose Stoke City team recorded their fifth away win of the campaign on Saturday, warned that Sherwood “is not going to have a massive impact immediately”. But Villa’s problem is that any improvement must be immediate – starting at Newcastle United next Saturday. With 12 games left, time is running out for a team who have gone 11 without a victory in the Premier League. Villa have taken just three points during a downward slide which has taken them from 11th in the table on 7 December down to 19th, below Burnley – their opponents on the final day – and Queen’s Park Rangers on goal difference.
The new-manager bounce lasted just 20 minutes on Saturday and, for all the talk of Sherwood wanting to revitalise Christian Benteke, the Belgian striker had a quiet game by comparison with his Stoke counterpart Mame Biram Diouf as Villa managed just two shots on target.
At the other end, meanwhile, the home defence switched off for Stoke’s two goals, scored at the end of each half. Just as Sherwood was settling for a point as “something to build on”, he saw his team lose to a goal that was wholly self-inflicted – the result of Ron Vlaar’s miscontrol and subsequent foul on Moses.
Perhaps the one noteworthy positive for the ex-Tottenham manager was the performance of Scott Sinclair, the winger on loan from Manchester City who gave Villa an early lead with his first league goal since August 2012. Sinclair admitted that they had shot themselves in the foot thereafter.
“Some of us need to manage the game a little bit better when we go 1-0 up,” he said. “In training we’ve been sharp and we started in that manner [but] we need to carry that on. We need to kick on and get the next win and, hopefully, the confidence in the team will get a lift.”
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