It’s fair to say we’re all enjoying this season so far with a sense of renewed optimism, albeit whilst not being able to completely shake off the feeling that things could blow up in our faces at any second.
So what has shifted to produce this more solid, organised Villa? Aside from the signing of experienced players (at last) there’s definitely been a change of attitude on the training ground and the biggest new influence has to be Roy Keane. There were a few raised eyebrows when he first joined and the doom-mongers flew off the handle – but they do that all the time. If you cut through all the jokes, and look some past incidents involving Keane’s fiery temper, we have a coach who is eager to learn and prove he can, one day, be a Premier League manager again. The signs are good so far. Keane gets directly involved with training, taking a hands-on approach, showing the players the ropes, which will only benefit our younger players who can learn a lot from someone of his quality.
It also puts pressure on Lambert to improve and ensure the good results keep rolling in. If things go wrong then Lerner will surely look at Keane as a ready-made replacement who knows the team and as someone the players seem to like and enjoy working for, as Jack Grealish’s comments in ‘The Birmingham Mail’ earlier this week suggest.
While we’re on about ex-Manchester United players, I want to offer my penny’s worth on Tom Cleverley, a player, if you ask me, who has received a lot of unfair mocking and criticism over the past few months. Admittedly, I wasn’t overly enamored when I heard we were in for him but, having looked back, we may have gotten our hands on a very useful player who does have some skill – and a point to prove. The Manchester United fans booed him out of Old Trafford, which just shows their quality: fans should never boo their own players. Cleverley will hope to raise his middle finger to them by proving he’s worthy of his England caps. Yes, he may not work out but, as it’s a loan, we can’t really lose at this moment in time and we may even end up being glad of his presence. Let’s not forget that he drew the praise of Fergie and that wasn’t easy to come by. We all mocked when Senderos joined and, after a few games, we’ve changed our tune.
Going forward, all I want from the Villans this season is more of them same. I don’t expect us to set the league alight but would like a solid home record, picking up a few big results on the road to facilitate a mid-table finish because, let’s face it, we’ll take the comfort blanket of being safe by March as progress – this season at least.