There are plenty of differences between this season’s Aston Villa and last season’s. Perhaps the most obvious one is that after four games last season we sat one place above the relegation zone with three points, having already conceded six goals. Our current place in the Premier League – second – and near-perfect defensive record are providing fans with pleasure that we have not properly experienced for a long time.
Of course, we won’t get carried away but, as long as the good results last, we must acknowledge that something is being done better.
I’ll admit that I was not convinced by the acquisition of Roy Keane, particularly as he was replacing someone who allegedly lost his job for bullying behaviour, but I am most certainly coming round to the idea that he may be having a positive impact on the team’s results. For all the bad things you can say about Roy Keane as a player, there is no avoiding the fact that he was a winner, something which I think he’s really starting to transfer to our current team.
Keane’s instincts and his eagerness to win meant there was little that would stop him as he strove for victory, even if this meant pushing the rules to the limit. I can pinpoint two particular moments from the opening four games of the season when Keane’s influence has been evident on the pitch. Last weekend, against Liverpool, Philippe Senderos peeved and persecuted Mario Balotelli. It was just one part of the team’s tactical success but getting under the Italian’s skin was clearly part of the game plan. Senderos’ off-the-ball trip of Ballotelli, while up for interpretation in terms of its legality, is something that will almost certainly have been instigated by Keane. Last year, there were too many times when our young players were scared into submission. With Keane on our books, it seems as if some much-needed steel is being injected into the players, which in turn improves team cohesion, morale and performances. This togetherness is typified by my next example: nineteen-year-old Jack Grealish, then still eighteen, came on late in the game against Hull City and it is fair to say that he took a battering from the opposition. It was pleasing to see how he accepted the challenges and laughed them off and also how his team-mates rallied round him. After one challenge, Brad Guzan ran at least twenty yards out of his box to join Vlaar and Senderos, who were backing Grealish up. This unity is refreshing and it is something which I’m sure Keane’s presence has helped with.
Apart from one great season with Sunderland, in which he brought The Black Cats up to the Premier League, Roy Keane has previously struggled as a manager. Perhaps an assistant’s role, where he is out of the limelight but can still have a big impact, is one that he is better suited to.
While many would disagree with Keane’s methods of achieving success, Villa fans have been starved of it for so long that at this stage I welcome some classic Keane canniness in exchange for positive results.
Of course, Keane is not the sole reason for Aston Villa Football Club’s decent start to the season but it is clear that he is contributing to our improved fortunes. Long may it continue! Bring on The Gunners!