There is a time to be grateful for small mercies. After being granted a mere 27 per cent of possession at home to a hitherto out-of-sorts Swansea City, Aston Villa were relieved to gain their first point in five matches. But Paul Lambert, the manager, admitted that his good relationship with the chairman Randy Lerner does not make him immune from the sack.
The draw may have stopped the rot but, with just two victories at Villa Park this season, Lambert will be glad to be back on the road, at Sunderland, on New Year’s Day. To what extent Lerner will feel emboldened on this evidence to back him in next month’s transfer market is a moot point, but as things stand Villa are not good enough to avoid a relegation fight.
Lambert spoke of a “long road of a challenge that I relish” after holding talks with his chairman on the eve of this game. “I don’t think it can be any tougher than last year and he was great with me then,” the manager added. “I’ve only been here 17 months and I knew the first few years would be really difficult. But we’re on 20 points and we’re halfway there [to staying up].”
The truth is that Villa are a worse team than last season. And that was a battle. It is not only that they have missed Ron Vlaar, their captain, and Christian Benteke, their talisman last season who had misplaced his form even before a knee injury, but the summer signings look poor. Those on view yesterday – Leandro Bacuna, Antonio Luna, Aleksandar Tonev and, eventually, Libor Kozak – all struggled.
At least Villa scored in the first half of a Premier League game for the first time this season, Gabriel Agbonlahor providing the ideal fillip for Lambert’s team in the seventh minute as he ran on to Andreas Weimann’s neat pass, composed himself and rolled the ball past Gerhard Tremmel.
Swansea, who were excellent throughout, have been on a poor run themselves, with only two wins from 15 games as their participation in the Europa League has taken its toll. But they dominated yesterday.
Ben Davies had already headed down and over the bar and De Guzman shot wide before Roland Lamah, the Belgian player on loan from Osasuna, equalised at the back post, heading in Pablo Hernandez’s deep cross after good movement.
Swansea dominated thereon in but, missing the injured Michu, failed to find the necessary penetration. Villa, resorting to lumping clearances in the general direction of Kozak in a 4-5-1 formation, were grateful for a point.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Guzan; Lowton, Clark, Baker, Luna; Bacuna (El Ahmadi, 70), Westwood, Delph, Tonev (Kozak, 61); Weimann (Albrighton, 79), Agbonlahor.
Swansea City (4-2-3-1): Tremmel; Tiendalli (Rangel, 55), Flores, Williams, Davies; De Guzman, Canas; Pablo Hernandez, Shelvey, Lamah (Pozuelo, 68); Bony (Vazquez, 84).
Referee: Roger East.
Man of the match: De Guzman (Swansea)
Match rating: 7/10
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