I was keeping watch of the Arsenal vs Wigan match last night and when Wigan got the equaliser around half time I feared the worst. However, their endeavours in the FA Cup proved too much and Arsenal ran out comfortable winners. My phone was duly inundated with text messages – some from very happy Villa fans, others from our Midlands rivals and then some from the neutrals bemoaning the fact that Sunday will now seem pretty boring.
I think this in a snapshot sums up our season. At the start of the of the season as a collection of fans we were full of hope. The majority of us were happy with the appointment of PL, although there was maybe a little bit of disappointment that it wasn’t OGS. We knew money was tight but we had bought reasonably well and we had a good core of experienced players who could push on from a truly awful season under he who shall not be named. As it turned out, our core of important players either didn’t show up, were injured or sidelined and as a result we had to rely on our youngsters. For many years now we have stated that we have an excellent academy and we had high hopes, but I guess they had never really been put to the test out on the field.
I think it is fair to say that we learnt a lot. We learnt that in reality it isn’t like Football Manager where you can buy a 17 year old wonderkid and watch him score 30 goals in a season. The reality is that in life you have to learn from your mistakes and in truth there were plenty of them. We had seen a good run of results and then around Christmas we imploded. It was coming. I personally felt that we had ridden our luck for a couple of games and when we truly came up against a quality team we would be put to the sword. Then we had the calamitous cup results and again it showed that we can’t just rely on our older players and that maybe some of our younger players who think they are the finished article need to have a good look at themselves, keep their heads down, put in the extra training and then do the talking on the pitch.
In saying that, through all the lows, I still do genuinely believe we are in a better place than we were last season. PL, to his credit, has stuck to his guns. He has done things his way and the team is definitely showing real signs of improvement. This season has been a real learning experience for our team. They players have realised that there are teams out there that fight for every point, that you have to be up for every game otherwise you suffer at the hands of teams like Bradford.
We have got lucky in some regards with Benteke; the key now is to prove that lightning can strike more than once. For me personally, Scandinavian and Benelux players seem to flourish in this country and I do believe that Belgium is going through a footballing renaissance at the minute so if we can tap into that then we will do very well. However, we still need to make sure we keep faith in our home-grown players. I am very concerned to see that we may be losing a player like Crowley to Arsenal. He is the sort of player we need to nurture and then keep hold of. I really hope we get to see Gardner next season and that Albrighton can rediscover his form for us.
We still need four or five players but I really do want to see us stick with our policy of employing young, hungry players. It is when Villa is at its best. Yes, we will have to sell, it is a work in progress. Speculate to accumulate. As we rebuild our stock, we will reduce the need to sell as people will want to join us.
As I have said before, we can’t out-spend our rivals, but we can out-think them. I really do think Lambert has got it in him to be able to do that.
Now if we can beat Wigan and results go our way, we could get a good mid table finish. There is plenty to play for in our last game, so let’s keep playing until that final whistle. I am really looking forward to the closed season.