Here we are again – for the fourth year running

7

After our fourth consecutive defeat on Saturday (three of which came against Stoke, Palace and Fulham) we find ourselves embroiled in a relegation scrap for the fourth season running.

The run of bad form stretches to half a season of fixtures, with a paltry fifteen points picked up from nineteen games. That is long term relegation form and, if we don’t go down this time, we will next season unless big changes are made in the summer.

The manager has not had the desired impact. There is no getting away from that. His win ratio is 26% from seventy-one games and he has lost nineteen home games from thirty-six played.

I’ve no doubt that it’s a very difficult job but Lambert should be doing better than that and he has become entrenched in negative tactics and selections as the results have gotten worse and worse.

We are in big trouble right now as it appears the manager has lost both the players and the crowd, which is a potentially catastrophic combination.

I was sent reliable information this week that before the Fulham game there was a major bust up between Culverhouse and Cowans. This is how the information read:

Hi Howard, I don’t want to be perceived as an ITK but I’ve a work friend who’s very close to a senior Villa official and from time to time he tells me things passed on to him. Anyway, I’ve had breakfast with him today and he told me Gabby and Delph were axed from first team duties last week after an argument between Cowans and Culverhouse broke out about giving some of the youth a chance. Gabby and Delph backed Sid and belittled Culverhouse, saying Sid is AVFC and you know nothing about the club so basically pipe down. Lambert sided with his man and Gabby and Delph were dropped and fined. Like I said, my friend worked with this Villa official and they’re very close.

I was also told there is some truth in the Lerner selling rumours but nothing concrete.

Another source sent me the information below:

A player’s dad, who I have known for years, told me most players hate the management. They feel they have no say and bullying is rife.

Some suggest bringing in Grant Holt was to give Lambert an insight into what players were saying about him as he is close to Lambert. Nobody trusts Holt. Also, Lambert and Faulkner are close to each other. Players think that Faulkner does not tell Lerner most of what goes on. Most players want out.

You may argue that the two sources have made this information up. Knowing them both, I highly doubt it. They are both big fans who have integrity.

Lambert has brought so many of the problems he is now facing on himself but it was interesting to see that Charlie Nicholas on ‘Soccer Saturday’ was adamant that Lambert had lined up several deals for good players like Holtby, Lukaku and Coutinho during his reign here at Villa and each time the board backed out of the deals. If this is true, you have to have some sympathy for the manager as all three players would have been major assets to this football club and the board and owner have once again let down the club by passing on the chance to sign players who would have made a telling difference.

So, will Villa survive? It’s still a pretty simple task as it is more than likely that three or four points from five games will do it but now the belief and confidence needed to win a game at this level have gone and the dressing room appears unsettled so the longer we wait for this win the more anxious we will become.

Fans are rightly furious that once again we find ourselves in this position and Paul Faulkner’s rare statement won’t change that. The only ones who can change things are the players. They need to go out and play freely, forgetting the manager’s instructions to sit deep and not break shape. If they run off the ball and show courage and commitment the fans will be right behind them. If they hide and don’t show the necessary desire, the fans will let them know how they feel. It’s been placid and apathetic for far too long whilst we continue to drift into oblivion.

After the Norwich game, I predicted we’d end the season with thirty-eight points and was mostly told what a negative prediction that was. I think most of us now would take that total and run!

If a takeover is to happen, it is vital that we preserve our Premiership status so let’s pray the players and staff can muster the effort and courage required to do their jobs and get us over the line. They are certainly paid well enough!

Finally, after many requests, I have decided to make public my letter to Randolph Lerner, which led to Paul Faulkner verbally attacking me. I think you will agree none of it was unfair and the vast majority of it has come true. It’s a shame they deemed my actions “unsupportive” rather than helpful in trying to avoid the problems and dangers we now face.

Letter to Randolph Lerner, dated January 6th 2014:

Dear Mr Lerner,

Some of my observations/ideas that I believe need to be implemented if Aston Villa is ever to be a force again or at least to appease its long suffering supporters!

A football philosophy has to be implemented throughout the football club – a clear identity which should be a passing game with lots of movement off the ball all over the pitch – diagonal runs, overlapping full backs, triangles etc. I would love you to watch a game with me by your side. I could easily show you that none of this is happening at Villa, especially in home fixtures where it is paramount for success in breaking down teams that invariably sit deep. All the most successful clubs play this way and it comes down to coaching. This must be the consistent way of playing the game throughout the club. We do that and the fans will start believing again. They are not a greedy bunch but the home form in the last four years has been shockingly bad.

Home form has to be good to have a happy customer base long term. This has not been the case for far too long at Aston Villa. The core support attend home games and the life blood of your support are season ticket holders. Paul Lambert promised a totally different approach to home games when he was appointed, which would result in exciting play and positive results. Twenty-nine Premier league games later at Villa Park, we have only achieved seven wins and this season its getting’ far worse when you would expect a plan and style to be evolving. This season we have played twelve games at Villa Park in all competitions and won only two, scoring only eight goals, five of which came in two games, leaving three goals in the other ten! This leaves us with the worst home record in all four divisions in the country; no wonder the fans are fed up. It is ugly, very boring, humiliating and ineffective and nothing like the current manager said it was going to be. He knew we already had a poor home record when he came. He knew the main reason why he was a popular appointment with supporters was down to his reputation for bold, attacking play that took the game to the opponent. I have no idea why that hasn’t materialised here. It did briefly for a twelve game run between March-May which had many believing this year would continue in the same vein but since Chelsea away (second game) it just hasn’t happened. Instead, week by week, particularly at home, the football has been getting worse and worse, culminating in the last five home performances (United, Sunderland, Palace, Swansea and Sheffield United), which have been simply appalling and driven the crowd to near breaking point.

I hear excuses like it’s the crowd’s fault or the players are inexperienced. Hogwash! The crowd is brilliant at Villa Park and far more loyal and patient than many supporters. Can you imagine Spurs or Liverpool fans putting up with this for so long? All they want is to see a method, a pattern of play, some running off the ball, players running at defences and getting beyond the ball. If they witness that, they will be roaring them on. Instead, we have the sideways, backwards, hoof show which creates nothing and produces very poor results. It simply can’t continue.

You may well point out to me that we are in eleventh place, in relative comfort with twenty-three points from twenty games. That has come from a set game plan away from home (earning fifteen points from ten games) that certainly has merit and a track record of working, although teams around us are getting wise to it and are sitting deeper, even at home, to stop our main effective tactic of counter attacking hence why we drew 0-0 at Hull and West Ham and lost at Stoke and Fulham. The main reason for the improved performance at Sunderland was the fact that we got a very fortunate early goal which made Sunderland come out and attack, giving us the space to counter attack in and behind them. When teams do that we know what to do and we are pretty good at it. But you have many games in the Premier League, especially at home, where this won’t happen and the onus is on you to break them down. This is where we really struggle as so evidently proved on Saturday against a side fifty-one places below us in the league pyramid. I talked to Ian Taylor about it at half time and we honestly could not believe what we were seeing! We were playing right into their hands and were making no attempt to play around them but this has been the story whenever a team sits with two banks of four – and comes back to my first paragraph in this piece of writing.

So, Mr Lerner, you have to make a decision. It is all very well looking for continuity and beating the drum of support if the ship is going in the right direction. However, if it is heading for the rocks it is not a good idea to continue on the same course. The captain of the ship either has to be changed until the right one is eventually found or he is told in no uncertain terms by the owner of the ship that a change in direction has to be effected immediately to avoid dire consequences for all concerned.

Having witnessed such poor performances at Villa Park and there only being signs of the performances getting worse rather than better, my faith in this current manager is stretched to the limit . If he is to stay on, I firmly believe an attacking first team coach should be brought in and John Collins would be the ideal candidate. I believe he and Paul Lambert played together at Celtic. I watched him on ‘The Footballers’ Football Show’ last night; his ideas and philosophies were outstanding and just what we need at the football club. If not John, then appoint someone with the same outlook/ideas.

We certainly need a major improvement at Villa Park and fast. The supporters have pride and they are fed up of being sent home feeling hurt, embarrassed and frankly short changed. This has gone on for far too long now.

We do ultimately have to sign better players but it is all a waste of time and money if the coaching is not of the necessary standard and producing the right style of football which is eventually going to lead to the club challenging again. Please remember that as it’s the most important message of all.

I have taken ninety minutes out of my working day to write this so I hope you take the necessary time to read it, digest it, see it for its merits and best intentions and then reply to it.

Kindest regards,

Howard JP Hodgson

7 COMMENTS

  1. The letter speaks volumes, there was not a damning word, just good friendly advice that any of the faithful down at VP would in all honesty agree with. It’s truly a sad day when a senior official at Villa Park can deem that unsupportive or negative towards the club.

  2. Good friendly advice? If I was Lerner I’d crumple it up & throw it in t’bin , for the ingratiating tone of that advice!
    Of course the team’s performance needs to improve BUT it takes 2 teams for a match to happen, 2 teams to dictate how a match progresses. But all we hear are snivelling comments about how t’ manager should have done this that or the other & that the team is crap, the manager’s team selection is crap. We want fancy footie & when they get the crap kicked out of them for trying to play fancy footie all one hears is that the players need to toughen up and NO comments about the garbage coming from the opposition. All one hears is they were garbage & Villa should have won or spend your dosh Lerner or get out. Well maybe instead of worrying/complaining about how Lerner is spending his dosh why don’t you use your brain cells to make more dosh than Lerner then you could buy the club off him & show us all how much you really know about running the club.

  3. Good letter. I have to agree with all of your points.

    Four transfer windows and Lambert still has a very unbalanced squad – only one CB over 25, no number 10 and five number 9’s (2 of whom he never uses). Equally, the club continues to make embarrassing PR gaffes like Joe Bennett’s Q&A and Fatty Faulkner’s latest patronizing release.

    I think Randy’s heart is in the right place (from what I have seen with his efforts to restore the ground, bring history to life and make charitable donations) BUT he does not have the first clue how to run a football club and does not seem to want to bring in a person that does! This is not about money – all clubs will (/should) be constrained to living within their means by ffp – but about optimising the return you get AND VILLA IS NOT!

    Keep fighting Howard. The message will hopefully get through at some point.

  4. Keep it up Howard! Most rational, loyal Villa fans agree with you and know you have the best interests of AVFC at heart. I have also been told by someone who usually has his finger on the pulse that Lerner is leaving in the summer. We will see.

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