It has been almost four years since Phil Dowd failed to send off Nemanja Vidic in the Carling Cup final at Wembley and as a result Villa tasted defeat in their first major final in ten years. That season also saw another trip to Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final, where we were comprehensively beaten by an organsied Chelsea side. Nevertheless, the glory days seemed to be returning to B6 for good.
However, five days before the start of the 2010-2011 season, Martin O’Neill stood down as manager and the free fall began – and continued at an alarming rate. After a well documented falling out with Randy Lerner, the Irishman left for pastures new and since then it’s fair to say that we have never reached the same level and overall have gone backwards as the seasons have ticked by, although a few fans may disagree with this view.
Gerard Houllier took over from O’Neill and I would love to have seen where he would have taken the club had he still been in charge today. The man had contacts in every city, in every country, in every continent and the caliber of players that he would have been able to attract could have allowed Villa to carry on where Martin left off. Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa were just two of the names Houllier mentioned he was looking at bringing to Villa Park before his battle with ill health took centre stage.
After Houllier’s departure in 2011, the task of managing one of the greats of English football was passed to none other than Alex McLeish, the man who resigned from Birmingham City in order to take the job. It was a strange appointment and to this day fans question why he was the chosen man. McLeish faced an uphill task from day one and with dwindling attendances and the crowd on his back, it was no surprise that he was sacked after just one year in charge.
That sacking brought us Paul Lambert, who has done quite well to last longer than just the one season if recent managers at Villa are anything to go by. His style of football is one that causes Villa fans to argue amongst themselves, with some branding it a work in progress while others struggle to stay awake at times. His philosophy of employing players with little top flight experience and under the age of twenty-three is a brilliant idea, providing that you have the experienced players in the squad to guide them and make them in to future world beaters.
Since O’Neill left, Aston Villa Football Club has had three permanent managers who have all failed to reach the dizzy heights achieved by O’Neill. After twenty games of each season, Villa’s standing in the table looked like this:
2010/2011 – Position 17th, P 20, W 5, D 6, L 9, GF 23, GA 37, GD -14, PTS 21 (Manager: Gerard Houllier)
2011/2012 – Position 13th, P 20, W 5, D 8, L 7, GF 22, GA 26, GD -4, PTS 23 (Manager: Alex McLeish)
2012/2013 – Position 17th, P 20, W 4, D 6, L 10, GF 15, GA 39, GD -24, PTS 18 (Manager: Paul Lambert)
2013/2014 – Position 13th, P 20, W 6, D 5, L 9, GF 19, GA 25, GD -6, PTS 23 (Manager: Paul Lambert)
The table makes dismal reading for any fan but the stats don’t lie and it is simply not good enough. In each of the past three seasons our beloved side has flirted with relegation. Despite Houllier finishing the season in ninth place, he forked out a club record of £24 million to purchase Darren Bent who enabled us to steer clear of the dreaded drop zone.
The days of reaching cup finals have gone and ,with the worst home form in the football league, I wonder just why Paul Lamberts job is so safe. Whether you love the guy or not, you would be a fool to presume that he is likely to lose his job any time soon due to the constant support shown by Lerner and Faulkner.
Eighteen months in to his reign, Paul Lambert has finally realised that we need some experienced heads in the side to guide the younger players and take us to that next level. That’s only eighteen months too late, Paul, but a valiant admission nonetheless. A number ten type player has been identified as a must have this transfer window but, with the rumoured pursuits of Wes Hoolahan and Steven Defour seeming less likely by the day, transfer speculation about the club is now merely that – speculation.
On the pitch, the football is depressing viewing for Villa fans. Each game, the opposition dominate possession and, generally speaking, have at least 60% of the ball for the entire match. When we do get a hold on the ball, it is normally hoofed forward by a centre half and the opposition tidy up without having to break sweat. The Villans’ inability to string five passes together is plain for all to see and, unless you follow the claret and blues on the road, it is highly unlikely that you will be seeing any victories soon.
So, just what state is this team in? The potential is brilliant but the reality is not quite brilliant. In Ron Vlaar and Jores Okore, we have the makings of a brilliant centre back partnership; it’s just a shame that one is frequently injured and the other is on the road to recovery. The lack of creativity is obvious too and, having been identified by the manager as a weakness, that should be the first area to improve on and then build from there.
The situation is not critical – yet – but without the addition of experience to the squad then it could be another season of flirting with the drop zone rather than establishing ourselves in the Premier League as a force once again.