I think virtually every Aston Villa supporter will agree that the January window was painfully frustrating. We had been arguing about whether we should gamble on proven talent to stay up or start the relegation planning early, but in the end we did nothing. However, could the players we need to help us back into the Premier League be ones who are already at the club?
Contrary to the subject matter of this piece, I haven’t given up all hope just yet. With a couple more league wins in the coming weeks, I’ll be a believer again. Right now, the drop seems the likeliest outcome of another excruciatingly turgid season.
The list of teams that have dropped and bounced straight back is disturbingly small – the Championship will be no walk in the park for this squad, so we need to use everything we’ve got.
Who are the loan rangers?
Aston Villa Football Club currently have five players plying their trade in the Championship: Nathan Baker, Gary Gardner, Jed Steer, Callum Robinson and Joe Bennett.
The bearded centre half has never been a huge fans’ favourite at Villa Park and the jury is still out as to whether he is Premier League quality. That won’t matter next season, however, and his spell at Bristol City has proven that he is more than capable in the second tier. He has been a regular starter and been a vital part of his loan club’s defence.
His no nonsense defending style is better suited to the Championship and, as a first team player or a back up option, he’ll be very useful for Villa next year.
A lot has been said about Gardner over the last few seasons and a lot has been expected of him. He returned to Nottingham Forest in January following a very successful loan last year, when he made himself a firm favourite at the City Ground with some great displays and fantastic goals.
It was a surprise and a shame that Garde deemed him surplus to requirements for the rest of this season. Nevertheless, once again, he is doing well in Nottingham. He’s shown that he can be a very capable player at that level, earning man of the match awards already this time around.
If by some miracle we were to stay up it would be the end of Gardner’s Villa career, but if the inevitable happens it would be foolish to ignore a player who has experience of the Championship and has proven he can excel there.
Young goalkeeper Jed Steer has been first choice between the sticks for Huddersfield Town this season – and it has been a fantastic learning curve for a player who was crying out for first team football.
By all accounts he has done well during his time at the McAlpine Stadium, but it is very unlikely he’ll be Villa’s number one next year. It’s clear that Garde wants to bring a new goalkeeper in. With Guzan surely leaving in the summer, Steer’s time in the Championship could prove useful and allow him to be Villa’s second choice goalkeeper.
The young striker has had a tough year out on loan, firstly at Bristol City, where he barely got a look in, and now back at Preston North End – the team he helped to promotion last year.
He has largely been used as a bench option for Preston and it is beginning to look unlikely that Robinson will ever be able to make the grade at Villa. If he cannot make an impact at teams struggling in the Championship, I can’t see that he’ll be able to cut it in an Aston Villa side that should be fighting for the title.
Left back Bennett went out on loan to Sheffield Wednesday in January, having failed to impress at Bournemouth in the first half of the season.
His contract is up in the summer and it is unlikely he’ll be at the club next year regardless of how he gets on at Hillsborough or what league the Villans are competing in. It’s a shame for a player who has always shown glimpses of talent, although an inability to defend has proven his downfall at Villa. If Kieran Richardson is ahead of you in the full back pecking order, it’s time to move on…
Can any of them make a difference?
Having a few players in the group with Championship experience will be useful next year, although how much they feature will depend on who we can keep in the summer.
Gardner and Baker are the most likely to make a difference to the first team, especially if the likes of Gana and Okore move on. It would be a shame and a waste not to take advantage of players already accustomed to the league we’ll probably be in next season.