Don't look at me like that, you're the one that picks the team and tactics. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
No one not at Villa Park saw what happened this evening, but if the reports from those in attendance are any indication this was as poor a performance as has been put on display by Aston Villa under Alex McLeish in a competitive match. Even notorious homer Jack Woodward pointed out that Villa were playing as you'd expect from the away side for most of the evening. The biggest issue seemed once again to be a lack of creativity from Villa, as it seems as though every time the home side got the ball into an attacking position they sent the ball out wide and crossed aimlessly into the box only for the ball to be cleared away by Bolton's excellent center half pairing of Gary Cahill and David Wheater.
It was scoreless at half, but Chris Eagles pounced on a ball given away by Marc Albrighton and fired in a screamer in the 54th minute. That seemed to put at least a bit of a charge into Villa but it wouldn't last as the visitors adapted to the slight change in emphasis and began to make a great deal of headway on the counter. It was all over once Gael Kakuta fired in a curler in the 77th minute to put the Trotters ahead 2-0, and despite James Collins shifting to center forward for the remainder of the evening Villa would very rarely threaten the rest of the way.By all accounts Gabriel Agbonlahor and Barry Bannan were both excellent while Marc Albrighton continues to struggle mightily and Stephen Ireland is still quite terrible. It's frustrating to be bounced from the Carling Cup this early on, but it's even more distressing because of the strength of the team put out by Alex McLeish, especially as compared to that started by Bolton. If you'd like to find a positive in this it would have to be that Villa are now done with mid-week matches (barring a schedule change) until December. That takes a bit of pressure off an already short handed squad, but it really is little consolation.
While most will be disappointed, Villa fans will likely see this one of two ways; for those that haven't turned on McLeish as of yet, it's just one game in a competition that most fans don't put a great deal of stock into (that Villa have been bounced out of early on plenty of occasions) and Villa are still undefeated in the Premier League. Those that have turned on McLeish (or were never behind him) will see it as yet another example of his lack of fitness for the job, especially considering how dull and without a spark the team looked. For me, there's truth in both of those views; this game alone is certainly not enough to change anyone's opinion of McLeish, but those of us that have concerns about his approach saw those concerns justified on the evening. He's surely not deserving of all the blame, as Marc Albrighton's decline started well before he arrived and Stephen Ireland was terrible from the day he put on a claret and blue shirt, but there was absolutely nothing in this game for anyone to be excited about.
But, we'll probably have this argument in various forms for the rest of the season unless Villa end up at either extreme of the table. What I think everyone can agree upon is that this is a major disappointment and that losing 2-0 at home (and doing so in such drab fashion) to a side that should by all rights be a tier below in the pecking order is never acceptable. Luckily for Villa it's a quick turnaround as they head to Loftus Road on Saturday to take on QPR and with all the improvements made by that side before the close of the transfer window any result there will likely be a nice boost in a side that was by all acounts severely lacking in confidence this evening.