Remi Garde needs a striker at Aston Villa after West Brom stalemate
Aston Villa's 0-0 draw with West Brom offered two conclusions: First, that boss Remi Garde is now having a positive influence as the club's manager, and second, the lack of a top class centre-forward is seriously undermining Villa's desperate attempt to climb off the foot of the Premier League table.
West Brom are 15 points ahead of Villa, but they failed to register a single effort on target at the Hawthorns.
On the balance of play, it was a game there for Villa's taking. And come the final whistle, the disappointment was all Garde's. His opposite number, West Brom manager Tony Pulis, seemed relatively content with a point, but on a day when Newcastle and Norwich both lost and Sunderland and Bournemouth slugged out a draw, three points would have been a step forward.
On the positive front, the manager looks to have improved a previously porous defence, and Villa are no longer giving away cheap goals.
On the downside, the need for a regular goalscorer is painfully clear. When games are tight, a touch of class can be decisive. With a week of the transfer window remaining, Garde's priority must be to find a striker.
The hamstring injury suffered by Rudy Gestede late on may mean Villa's forward options are limited further in the short term. Help is needed.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Mark Bunn, 6 -- That's two clean sheets in three league matches for Bunn since coming into the side, though this game must rank as one of the quietest of his professional career.
DF Micah Richards, 6 -- Back in the starting line-up after two league games on the sidelines, Richards was brought in at right-back. Booked for an ugly tackle on Claudio Yacob -- which could have been a red -- he flashed a late header on goal wide.
DF Jores Okore, 6 -- Struggled at times and didn't seem his usual assured self. Won several tackles but not his best day.
DF Joleon Lescott, 7 -- An excellent performance from the veteran on his return to his former club. Now settled in the heart of the defence and playing consistently well.
DF Aly Cissokho, 6 -- His return has coincided with the team's improved defensive record. A coincidence? Maybe not. Another solid display at left-back.
MF Leandro Bacuna, 5 -- Disappointing delivery from set-pieces and open play, which was a surprise as his crossing is usually one of his best assets.
MF Idrissa Gana, 7 -- Seems to be over his midseason slump and thriving with the responsibility of being the team's midfield general. Looks quicker and stronger, and helped Villa to boss large periods of the game.
MF Ashley Westwood, 7 -- Happier away from a defensive midfield role, Westwood was involved in many of Villa's brightest moments. Dug out a fine cross for Gestede to head wide and forced Ben Foster to save his low drive from 20 yards.
MF Carles Gil, 7 -- Enjoying a run of successive starts for the first time in his Villa career. Was bright and inventive on the ball, but just couldn't unlock the Albion defence.
FW Jordan Ayew, 6 -- Played well in bursts but quiet in others. At his best running with the ball, his right foot strike forced Foster into a good save and should have won a penalty when Jonas Olsson brought him down. Villa need him in central areas more.
FW Libor Kozak, 5 -- Great to see the big striker getting opportunities but two years out of action is beginning to show. Needs a goal but didn't look like scoring. Taken off just after the hour.
FW Rudy Gestede, 6 -- On for Kozak, 64 minutes. Glanced a header wide but lasted only 16 minutes before going off with a hamstring injury.
MF Jordan Veretout, N/R -- On for Gestede with 10 minutes remaining. Too little time to make an impact.
Kevin Hughes covered Premier League football at Match magazine and was later deputy editor of Sport. You can follow him on Twitter @KevHughesie.