Villa were underwhelming against Newcastle on Saturday, and gave little indication of being capable this season of exceeding the modest expectations I have of this current side. Middle of the table, playing football that does little to quicken the pulse.
Perhaps I'm being over-critical; under Alex McLeish, Villa have regained some of the solidity that was noticeable during Martin O'Neill's tenure and the defence has, in the main, got its act together again. Dunne, Collins and Warnock have morphed back into the players they were before the very presence of Gerard Houllier appeared to reduce them to hapless wrecks. Alan Hutton has settled in fine. Shay Given looks an absolute steal of a signing in goal - indeed, the save he pulled off to deny Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye was the very definition of top drawer.
So, it is early days for this Villa side, and yet, I'm anxious. I'm anxious because Villa and McLeish couldn't have asked for a kinder opening set of fixtures to the season - and we've won one of them. We've played teams who I expect to be in and around the same position as us this season, and out of the five of them, we've only beaten Blackburn. At home. We really should have beaten Newcastle. Yes, the visitors played well and I viewed their midfield with envy; Cayabe has class and ability on the ball, whereas Tiote, alongside him, does the graft but supplies more than just the grunt. It's a nice combination, and it works. Villa's midfield has set to demonstrate the same cohesion.
But while Newcastle grew stronger in the second half and deserved their equaliser, Villa should have put this game out of reach by half-time. We were ahead a shade after ten minutes through Agbonlahor and failed to capitalise. Darren Bent missed a sitter - by his standards - when a great Villa break by Warnock, N'Zogbia and Petrov gave him a tap-in from seven yards, and he pushed it wide of the near post. I'm pretty sure anyone else, Fernando Torres excepted, would have gobbled that up. The chance went begging, and so did Villa's best claim for three points.
Winning games, actually finishing teams off, was my biggest concern when McLeish was appointed. I knew he could build solid teams, but could he push a team the extra mile? To be fair, it's a problem O'Neill had on occasion, especially at home, but back then, I always had the feeling could get something out of the bigger teams; Villa won at Anfield, at Old Trafford, at the Emirates, beat Chelsea and Spurs at home, all under O'Neill. I don't feel as confident this season. Villa need to be taking full points from the teams around them, because when the fixture list gets more traditionally tougher, I fear we might really suffer.
The other main reason for my anxiety is the mounting injury list. The squad we have is vulnerable and, just five games in to the season, problems are mounting. By the final whistle on Saturday, the injury count was at nine. Not all nine definitely ruled out of this weekend's game at QPR, but nine suffering various injuries. Some key players too: Bent, Petrov, Warnock - the first two needed replacing against Newcastle, Warnock played on after a half-time injection. Heskey, Cuellar (still) and Lichaj will remain on the sidelines, Jermaine Jenas may be fit, and there are doubts over Ciaran Clark and Chris Herd. Broken down, then, that's our shadow back four all potentially unavailable. Certainly, I don't expect to see Cuellar involved for a couple of weeks at least, while Lichaj is out for the long-term. Three to four months.
After the Carling Cup tie against Bolton, Villa's next two league games are at QPR on Sunday, followed by Wigan at home. I'm expecting more than a tricky game at Loftus Road, with a resurgent QPR boosted by their new signings, while Wigan have a decent record at Villa Park and to expect victory in that one is to overlook recent history. Villa need to start getting points on board before the big guns roll up, or else we could be in for a dismal winter.