As long as Tony Mowbray has anything to do with it, Albion will never be accused of playing boring football. What they cannot escape, however, is the charge of being predictable. Certainly, what happened at Villa Park yesterday must have been all too familiar to their suffering supporters.
Long spells of possession from a midfield determined to keep faith with their manager's pass-and-move philosophy won them applause and respect, as it generally does. But no points. Successes against Tottenham and Manchester City at home may have raised their survival hopes, but an eighth consecutive defeat on the road leaves them stuck at the bottom of the table, their points tally worse than it was at this point of the 2005-06 Premier League season, in which they were relegated.
Slightly less predictable but hardly a new experience was the error by Scott Carson that made taking home any reward all the more difficult for Mowbray's team. The England goalkeeper, still taunted inevitably for the mistakes that have undermined the progress of his inter-national career, handed Villa the cushion of a two-goal lead after 40 minutes when a hopeful shot by Gabriel Agbonlahor squeezed under his body and into the net.
That he went on to pull off two fine saves, more worthy of a keeper of his status, against Ashley Young and Steve Sidwell in the second half did not lessen the damage done. Already trailing to a Curtis Davies header, Albion's chances of recovering against opponents set up to play a counter-attacking game always lookedremote, even though a goal from James Morrison four minutes into the second half gave them hope.
Mowbray did not dwell much on Carson's mistake. He was minded more to point out that a little help from the referee, Steve Bennett, could have resulted in a 2-2 scoreline, and that would have brought an altogethermore favourable assessment of Albion's prospects.
Mowbray felt that Ashley Young brought down Robert Koren in the last minute of stoppage time, moments after Luke Young had arguably tripped Roman Bednar. "I'm not going to complain because it is down to the referee's opinion," Mowbray said. "He has had two chances to give a penaltybut didn't. Had he given it and we had scored we might be sitting down here saying that we had done all right."
Instead, as Villa stretched their unbeaten run to nine matches and moved above Manchester United to third place in the table, Mowbray again felt obliged to defend his principles. "I enjoyed watching my team today, regardless of what people think,"he said. "You have a team that wants to attack against a counterattacking team with threats like Ashley Young or a Gabby Agbonlahor, and it is exciting.
"We are a good team maybe without the quality in the strikers to score enough goals. But we are working on that. What you don't want to do is go back to the days of Charles Hughes and percentages, because if that was all it was about then nobody would come to the stadiums."
Yet the bottom line, as Mowbray conceded, is results, and Villa hadthe quality to turn their chances,few though they might have been,into goals.
Their opening goal came on their first meaningful attack, Sidwell seeing two headers cleared off the line from Villa's first corner before Gareth Barry, regaining the ball on the right flank, supplied the cross from which Davies headed past Carson.
The goal was a bittersweet experience for Davies, who has found himself vilified by Albion supporters since moving to Villa Park from the Hawthorns 18 months ago but retains an affection for his former club nonetheless. He declined to celebrate. "I have a lot of friends there andit would have been disrespectful," he said.
Agbonlahor deserved some credit for opportunism as the lead was doubled, surprising Carson with a shot when the goalkeeper and his defensive colleagues were expecting a cross. It was a bad mistake, however, made worse by the factthat Agbonlahor's attempt might well have missed.
Morrison's goal was a good one, powered home from 15 yards after he had sent Martin Laursen the wrong way, but Villa this season have yetto lose after scoring first, andtheir Champions' League ambitions remain intact.
Referee: Steve Bennett
Man of the match: Ashley Young
Match rating: 7/10