Was it nice to be back at the KCOM Stadium for one of the warmest nights of football I've ever seen in this country? To welcome Aston Villa to our 2/3 empty mausoleum? Eh, no.
Villa have had a torrid few months since their play-off final loss but already have new owners, a squad full of very good footballers and an experienced manager and are making plans to spend big money on new arrivals. Meanwhile City are 4 years into the Allam nightmare and showing no signs of waking up.
This game was never going to define our season but unfortunately did expose many of the weaknesses that everyone already knew we had. It's going to be a tough old campaign until those weaknesses are overcome by the players learning and learning quickly. I wouldn't say that the bubble of optimism has burst because, honestly, I don't think there was any in the first place.
The City players started the game well and lead early on when the Villa keeper, Steer, could only punch a free kick to Evandro and he somehow lobbed it into the corner with Villa defenders looking up into the bright sky accusingly [1-0]. It was lovely that the goal came during a minute's applause for Stanley Metcalf, the young fan sadly killed recently at just 7 years old.
Unfortunately, the lead didn't last long as Tommy Elphick headed in unchallenged by Jordy De Wijs at the far post - exposing the city back line and not for the only time in the game [1-1].
That back four contained three new signings and you could almost make that four with Stephen Kingsley, who played so little football last season. Burke and De Wijs did work hard together to try and build understanding and some of the basics were there in their positioning and work off the ball to manage Kodjia but De Wijs is a big clumsy oaf with the finesse of a bulldozer who is far less capable a footballer than he thinks he is. Lichaj had a very solid game right back but Kingsley made Elmo look like the sprightly flying wing he was about 5 years ago. Some City fans weren't fussed by Max Clark's departure. Idiots.
Despite Villa shading possession for the rest of the hald, City created the best chance when Campbell slid Bowen in behind but Steer was quick off his line and smothered. That was about as good as it got at either end. City went into the break having looked comfortable and having played some neat football particularly through the classy Evandro, Batty and Todd Kane. Kane was a very lively although neutered by playing on the left. Evandro is just head and shoulders above the rest of ours. He'll take possession of the ball anywhere, under any pressure and look after it. The others need to follow his lead, particularly Henriksen who disappointed.
The second half followed a very similar pattern for the opening quarter of an hour with Villa dominating the ball but City offering occasional threat on the counter attack. Sadly mistakes began to creep into our performance with De Wijs failing to control the ball on a couple of occasions- presenting it to them - and then Henriksen racing towards his own goal in a flutter and being very lucky to avoid gifting them a goal.
Just after City made changes to try and take the game to Villa with the arrival of another debutant in David Milinkovic and Nouha Dicko for Todd Kane and Fraizer Campbell, Villa were gifted a lead. David Marshall chipped a goal kick straight to Elmo and he slotted the ball into the bottom corner [1-2].
It gets harder and harder to defend Marshall whose City career has been a disaster since day one and this was another calamitous episode. The guy is absolutely cursed, I'm convinced. It's hard to see how he can possibly turn around such a faltering career here. It's sad because the guy has been a fantastic goalkeeper at times in his career but we've never seen it. It's also extra frustrating because City matched Villa, for all their "names", to that point with some comfort. Individual errors have crippled us for the best part of three years now. Something has to change.
However, conceding 2 abysmal goals was not enough for City so of course the defence stood and watched as Alan Hutton of all people ran through our defence like Maradona breaking apart Reid, Butcher and Co in Mexico and slipped the ball beyond Marshall (who was present in body but not mind after his gaffe) [1-3].
There was no coming back from that. You cannot concede such pathetic goals at this level and expect to get anything out of games. Milinkovic put in a spirited performance but the game had long gone.
Positives: Evandro is our brightest hope. Batty was assured. Kane is lively. Lichaj had a very solid game. Burke shows promise. Campbell was better than he's been all pre-season. Milinkovic was bright. Not every team has individuals the quality of Villa.
Negatives: We already look like we need to make changes when chopping and changing killed us last season. Marshall already. Kingsley has never shown anything. De Wijs is nowhere near. There is no sign of the 2/3 more signings we clearly need.
We should have stayed in the Gemmell.