Agbonlahor typifies Villa's struggle in attack
Unless something happens in the final days of the transfer window, Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert has to work out a way to get his forwards firing. They failed to register a shot on target in Saturday's 0-0 draw with Newcastle and desperately lack firepower in the absence of Christian Benteke.
Lambert has been loyal to two of those forwards, Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann, for the entirety of his time at Villa. That loyalty should be questioned and as the manager continues to persist with a pair who scored just nine league goals between them last season, he'd do well to take a step back and reconsider. It might be time to try something different; it's definitely time to examine how each player is used.
- Ryder: Newcastle take small steps
For the majority of this match Weimann's position was almost that of an orthodox left midfielder, tucked in deep. Even when Villa stepped up to press the Newcastle defence it was Fabian Delph who advanced from midfield and not the Austrian. This continued use of Weimann in various wide midfield roles and not as a genuine striker blunts a player who possesses a natural instinct to score goals. At Stoke, Weimann showed how effective he can be with a chance inside the penalty area. Against Newcastle he barely entered that zone.
In contrast, Agbonlahor's days as a starting Premier League centre-forward look numbered if not up already. Last weekend he missed a tap in from six yards against Stoke. In the first half against Newcastle he mistimed a header from a similar sort of distance. The thought occurred that Agbonlahor, who can be a devastating force running at hastily backtracking defenders from deep, would have been more comfortable in Weimann's role, and vice versa.
Struggling to break teams down at home is not a new challenge for Villa but at least there are signs of progress in other areas of the team. A successive clean sheet was well deserved and after two matches of this 2014-15 season, Villa's defence looks considerably tougher to open up than in previous campaigns.
As per a week ago all members of the back five played well but Alan Hutton and Aly Cissokho were Villa's best players. When either pushed forward, particularly in the first half, they contributed in an attacking sense. Villa looked at their most dangerous getting the ball wide to both full-backs and CissokHo, especially, was a great outlet. When Lambert spoke after the game of Villa putting balls across the face of goal it was Cissokho's delivery he was surely refereeing to. Villa missed the Frenchman when he limped off towards the end of the game and it's to be hoped the injury is a minor one.
Another player at the heart of Villa's best play in the first half was Charles N'Zogbia. The winger was Villa's main creative threat, jinking inside from the right to cause Newcastle problems and his well-taken free-kick was the closest the hosts came to scoring, curling just wide of the post with Tim Krul flailing. Referee Mike Dean's decision to book him for a petty foul early in the second half was the correct one, as was Lambert's to replace him with debutant Carlos Sanchez on the hour. N'Zogbia was clearly becoming annoyed at failing to get into the game after the restart but like Hutton, he's another recalled player who can be pleased with the start he's made to the season.
Sanchez entered the match to an enthusiastic reception. The Colombian's first touch was a beautiful diagonal ball into the path of an overlapping Hutton and Sanchez definitely brought a physical presence to Villa's midfield.
Relatively secure at the back and neat and efficient in midfield, promising approach work invariably fell down in the final third. That's a familiar issue. Still, as it's been 15 years since Villa opened a season with back-to-back wins, taking four points is a reasonable return. It should be pointed out that those four points have come in fixtures from which Villa earned absolutely zero in 2013-14, too. Progress.