Sunday 25 February 2018

Villa fans turn on players and Garde after fresh ignominy

Wycombe Wanderers 1-1 Aston Villa

Aston Villa’s Micah Richards celebrates his goal during the FA Cup game against Wycombe Wanderers yesterday. Photo: Ian Kington
Aston Villa’s Micah Richards celebrates his goal during the FA Cup game against Wycombe Wanderers yesterday. Photo: Ian Kington
Wycombe's Matt Bloomfield celebrates with Michael Harriman after the game. Photo: Reuters
Aston Villa manager Remi Garde. Photo: Reuters

Daniel Taylor

Remi Garde's winless sequence as Aston Villa manager now stretches to 10 matches and the indignities continue to stack up for the team holding the Premier League's wooden spoon. Their supporters began this match by singing about relegation but, by the end, the dark humour had made way for open dissent and the clear sense they are bordering on mutiny.

Garde's decision to substitute Carles Gil, Villa's most dangerous attacker, did not go down well with the supporters who had earlier chanted, "We scored a goal", in mock surprise at taking the lead against a League Two side that had lost their last home match to Morecambe. Villa's main problem is they have scored twice in only one game since September.

Joe Jacobson's penalty four minutes into the second half means a replay at Villa Park, and the away supporters behind Garde's dugout were so voluble with their criticisms that Micah Richards, having been substituted, left his seat to try and answer their complaints.

Those were tense moments, with the game still going on, and at least Villa's captain was willing to front up an angry crowd. Richards was clearly piqued by the accusation that the players were not putting in enough effort and it needed the intervention of a couple of stewards. At the final whistle, there were chants of, "You're not fit to wear the shirt". Garde was targeted with cries of, "You don't know what you're doing", and his brief spell in English football has already taken on the form of a full-blown crisis.

"I can understand the fans being angry with the results," Garde said. "We have to accept the criticism because we are not winning enough games. This is what we deserve. When you are not winning, the manager is always making bad decisions. I still believe I can turn it around. The day I can't do anything positive for this big club, you will know about it. I do know what I'm doing, but sometimes it is not working."

It certainly did not work here and there is already talk of a protest at the replay when, once again, it might not be easy getting past the team 54 places below them in the football ladder. "Our away record is even better than our home record," Gareth Ainsworth, the jubilant Wycombe manager, pointed out. It was an exaggeration but Wycombe reached the third round by winning ties at Halifax and Millwall, and should not be too fazed by a trip to the Midlands. As Martin O'Neill, the former manager of both these sides, pointed out from the television gantry, Villa's confidence is not so much low as subterranean right now.

The worst team in the Premier League, with only two wins in all competitions this season, certainly ought to have made it a more straightforward afternoon after the moment, midway through the first half, when Richards surged forward from right-back to sweep in Gil's pass for the opening goal. Instead, the match exposed Villa for what they are: a side low on self-belief, conceding all sorts of goals and so devoid of attacking threat there were only sporadic moments when they put their opponents under sustained pressure. Richards was injured in the first half but lasted until the 83rd minute. He was their best player but, beyond their captain, there was a startling lack of leadership. Scott Sinclair, in particular, was a substitution waiting to happen.

Rudy Gestede did strike the angle of crossbar and post with a deflected shot late on, and Villa might have been spared an awkward second half if referee Michael Oliver had seen Anthony Stewart pulling back Richards in a congested penalty area. Richards's driving runs forward, having been moved across from his usual centre-back place, were a prominent feature in some of Villa's better moments.

Gil also showed some decent touches, but Wycombe, playing with great togetherness, matched their opponents for long spells. Jacobson's set-piece deliveries were always a threat, and Sam Wood had three reasonable chances.

Ainsworth also deserves credit for recognising that Villa had a spare midfielder in the first half and instructing his centre-forwards to drop back on Ashley Westwood. After that tactical tweak, Villa never played with the same freedom, not least because the Wycombe centre-backs, Aaron Pierre and Anthony Stewart, were outstanding.

Before the game, Villa's fans could be heard singing, "Sign them up", when a line of flag-waving mascots walked in front of their end. The mood changed for the worse after Westwood's reckless challenge on Matt Bloomfield gave away the penalty, clattering him with a forearm as they jumped for the same ball. Paul Hayes, Wycombe's usual penalty-taker, was injured, but Jacobson confidently struck the ball past goalkeeper, Mark Bunn.

"To see players running through brick walls for you is such a great feeling," Ainsworth said. "Pride is the word. Every time I ask my players to do something they never say, 'I can't do that'. They always say: 'I'll give it my best shot'." How Garde must wish he could say the same.


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