Having lost their last four home games, to say Aston Villa is in anything other than danger of going down without a fight would be a huge understatement. Losing four home games in a row is bad enough and a tough one to take as a fan, but when three of those defeats have been in “relegation six-pointers” it makes grim viewing for the Villa faithful. Wigan Athletic, Southampton and Newcastle United have all taken three points home from their travel to Villa Park since Christmas day and really dragged Villa into the depths of despair.
The latest result was a bittersweet 2-1 loss to a Newcastle side buoyed by transfer activity and up stepped Moussa Sissoko to confirm my worst fears that there may be more than one reason that Villa would regret not signing the French midfielder - laying the early opening goal for Papiss Cisse on a plate with a wonderful through ball. If Newcastle’s first half performance showcased just how useful strengthening in the winter transfer window can be, for Villa it showed how you can get left behind when the teams around you strengthen and you fail to act.
The Magpies were quick out of the blocks and went into the dressing room at half time with a well-deserved two goal advantage, with Lambert opting for a 3-5-2 formation in the first 45 minutes which changed to a 4-4-2 after the break. The difference in the second half was astounding and despite not going on to get anything from the game, the performance was something to boost morale and give hope at least - the introduction of Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor at half time should not be understated, but I think the changing of the formation was essential and the main contributor to such an impressive second half of football in which the hosts were unlucky not to draw level in.
Perhaps Paul Lambert will have seen enough to persuade him to ditch the 3-5-2 system that he has seemed to favour lately; which worked so well in the 3-1 victory at Anfield earlier in the season but has evidently become far less effective ever since.
Maybe the reasoning behind the signing of 22-year-old Yacouba Sylla was to bring enough steel for Lambert to trust a two-man midfield and start 4-4-2 against Everton; it has been well documented among fans and pundits alike that a midfield consisting primarily of Barry Bannan, Fabian Delph, Stephen Ireland and Ashley Westwood often lacks the grit required to grind out results and bully the opponents midfielders into submission.
I haven’t seen either Sylla or Simon Dawkins, the 25-year-old loan signing that completed Villa’s deadline day activity, in action but Lambert had glowing reviews of the two and just by looking at Sylla, it’s visible that he is in a different physical mould to any other midfielder already playing in claret and blue - if he’s the type of player that he has been described as by former manager Gerard Houllier then he could be exactly the kind of player Villa have been lacking up to now in the season.
Dawkins however is an attacking midfielder that can play on either side or centrally and seems to be an unpredictable creative force; with Villa again lacking quality wide players on many occasions this season they may have found a player that could make a big difference.
Villa and Queen’s Park Rangers have both taken a big risk with their transfers in this window, albeit at opposing ends of the scale. Widespread acknowledgement that Villa needs experienced players to stave off relegation wasn’t addressed by the clubs hierarchy but I’m of the opinion that we have got players for the positions we needed, players that will have a point to prove and that want to play for the club and this could prove yet to be a successful formula despite being written off before either signing has kicked a ball - you’re far from guaranteed passion with the signing of a 30-year-old that has been there and done that and is looking for one last payday despite the obvious advantages.
Ultimately the players are taking a big step up and will be looking to impress bigger clubs, we are being used as a stepping stone but as long as those players have ambition they will help improve our team. QPR on the other hand have spent huge amounts and risked being in dire financial trouble should the gamble not pay off, but managed to lure a great defender in Christopher Samba to help the remainder of their campaign. Only time will tell which approach, possibly either or both, was the right one to take.