One step forward, another step back has been the theme of Steven Gerrard’s reign at Aston Villa.
And after Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at Crystal Palace, it is now just three wins in their last 14 Premier League games for Gerrard’s Villa side.
There was an initial bounce when the former Liverpool captain took over from Dean Smith last season and at one point they were ninth in the table.
But their form took a dip in March and they won just two of their final 11 league games — and those were against Norwich and Burnley.
Former Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard has struggled for consistency as Aston Villa boss
On Saturday Villa could not handle Wilfried Zaha and Eberechi Eze, who ran the show at Selhurst Park. Zaha scored in each half after Ollie Watkins’ opener before Jean-Philippe Mateta secured a first win of the season for Patrick Vieira’s Palace.
Gerrard’s side had bounced back from an opening-day defeat by newly-promoted Bournemouth with a 2-1 win over Everton, but their performance on Saturday was another step in the wrong direction.
‘We took a big step forwards last week and a big one backwards today,’ Gerrard said. ‘The challenge for me and the players and this group is we need to find a better level of consistency. It’s what I’ve said since I’ve come in.
‘The challenge for us is it’s got to become a habit, it’s got to become a daily thing where we’re a team. We can’t be a team one week and then have so many problems the week after.
They need to pull together to find this consistency because it’s there and clear to see. The results last year and the results so far this season are too inconsistent.’
The loss of £26million summer signing Diego Carlos, who ruptured his Achilles and came off in injury time in the win over Everton at Villa Park, saw Gerrard start a centre back pairing of Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa.
The loss of summer signing Diego Carlos will come as a huge blow to Gerrard’s team
Both struggled, but they were also badly protected by the midfield in front of them.
And while right back Matty Cash looked good going forward, he often found himself exposed by the double threat of Zaha and Eze.
At the other end of the pitch, Watkins looked lively but was starved of service after his early goal and Danny Ings’ introduction in the second half did little to boost Villa’s threat in front of goal.
Gerrard admitted he may be forced back into the transfer market and while the arrival of £25m Watford forward Ismaila Sarr looks imminent, Villa may also have to strengthen in defence and midfield if they are to go on and improve.
Gerrard replaced Dean Smith at Villa after the 51-year-old was sacked in November
‘The get out is to say we’ve not got enough players in the building but I’ve got full belief in these players, I’ve got belief in myself and my staff that we can find this consistency,’ Gerrard said.
‘We had a huge set-back last week in the heart of our defence which has obviously been well documented.
‘In the coming days we’ll do everything we can to give the players more support because we want to move forward and we’re not satisfied with the consistency at the moment.’
Palace are now above Villa in the table despite having had a much tougher start to the season with Arsenal and Liverpool their opening two games.
‘I was really proud of the team,’ Vieira said. ‘When the team perform you always have special talent that can do something more. We had one of the best performances (of my time) I would say.’
Crystal Palace (4-2-3-1): Guaita 6; Ward 6.5, Andersen 6.5, Guehi 7, Mitchell 6.5; Doucoure 7, Schlupp 7 (Hughes 82min); Ayew 6.5 (Olise 70, 6), Eze 7 (Richards 90), Zaha 8 (Milivojevic 82); Edouard 6.5 (Mateta 70, 6).
Scorers: Zaha 7, 58, Mateta 71.
Manager: Patrick Vieira 7.
Aston Villa (4-3-3): Martinez 7; Cash 6, Konsa 5, Mings 6, Digne 5; Kamara 6, McGinn 5 (Luiz 73, 6), Ramsey 5; Buendia 5 (Coutinho 73, 6), Bailey 6 (Ings 66, 6), Watkins 6.5.
Scorer: Watkins 5.
Manager: Steven Gerrard 5.
Referee: Andy Madley 6.