Thoughts and issues regarding the past and present of a great football club by "The Chronicler".

Monday, 30 September 2013

Overdue, But Very Welcome!

Given that Villa's 2 major strikers were absent, plus the absence of 2 other main players, the triumph over Man City at VP has to be considered a major achievement. The City have been flying of late, and Villa stopped them in their tracks.

A good win at VP (and even just a win!) was vastly overdue on Villa's home turf and the manager's team selection proved to be spot-on given the major absences. Also the manager clearly had the team suitably motivated to come back as they did in the second-half, with City probably a little complacent at half-time.

Now to build on that. We don't want to see any more shirking - at VP in particular!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Going to the next match?

The miserable results and performances at Villa Park have generated some debate as to whether it's worth going down to the ground any more! But as a Villa fan of such long standing (sometimes sitting!) I do not take that view.

I remember the 60s too well and still went down even when reason told me there's no reason to expect a win. But I have to agree that even in those days of desperation, the players' will to fight stood out even though they didn't have the skill of the best teams. You continued to support Villa then (up to 1967) because you knew they'd try to make a match out of it.

Now? I agree it's a different situation. The game is now mostly about money, media and makeover and the old club's tradition has (we have to say it) now gone. The players no longer feel the pride and affinity with the previous greats. As a result of the current set up we now seem more remote from the last great achievements.

Since the departure of dear old Eric Houghton I think that's how it has been and I think we now have to accept the fact that Aston Villa is - effectively - a new brand. No-one appears to want to listen to Denis Mortimer anymore, either.

At the moment it appears that the new brand is as a New Wigan, but I do think that the club has got higher aspirations and the evolution is just taking us through a phase.

However, whether the current set up have got their evolutionary execution right remains to be seen.

The overall approach still has to be be given time. In the short term, the performances at VP badly need addressing.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Villanous Dreams

There's been some gnashing of teeth in the past 3 years or so about how Villa have gone down in the world (which situation we hope will change very soon!) but I was a-thinking that if we examine the last 80 years of the club's history, there have only been two significant periods (and one shorter period) to write home about.

Yes, you can argue about the 1936-39 period and 1957 and even 1960-63, but I'm talking about a solid presence in the top flight. The periods I allude to are, of course, the periods of 1976-1983, 1989-2000 (with 2 or 3 disappointing years included) and 2007-10.

So, in 80 years, we can say that Villa have provided meagre faire in more than 50 of those years. That's 67% of the last 80 years less the war years.

On the other hand, the three good periods just stated have all occurred in the last 37 years, so the meagre periods % then reduces to 23.4% for those 37 years. Not too much to shout about, but much better than virtually 100% of the 43 years from 1933 to 1976 - and particularly 1933-1970, of course.

But for a club that can boast that it's the Pride of the Midlands, the record of the last 37 years is still not what it should be given the population of the area. And, frighteningly, we're still a long, long way short of matching the post-WW2 records of the leading clubs in the north and the south.

In the 1981/1982 time we felt we were on the brink of being equal top dogs with Liverpool, Man U and Arsenal ... but the dream seems ever more to slip away, particularly these last 10 or 12 years.

But are we downhearted?! Never!! .. It's always 'Up the Villa!' so far as the supporters are concerned.


Sunday, 15 September 2013

C'mon ... Wake Up The Villa!

Oh, dear! I seem to recall that it was against yesterday's opponents last season that the second-half performance triggered off a recovery. We were spared relegation following improvements after that match, even though the result was identical. Have we gone full circle?

So, what's going on? Judging by the first-half performances of the season's first 2 home league matches we seem to be afraid of doing something wrong in front of our own people!

Still too early to judge, but we really did need 3 points from yesterday to boost morale and in view of the matches to come. The way it's going I suppose we'll win at Norwich and Hull, but lose our home matches between now and November.

Overall, I feel that Lambert's strategy is good, but he seems to be missing in a couple of vital areas - particularly defence and midfield. Clark seems to have pushed his way back in (though inadvertently). And as Scylla finished fairly well last season, why isn't he being played?

And another big worry is that only Benteke is scoring any goals in PL matches. I am surprised that Gabby hasn't chipped in yet and he certainly lost his bearings on one magnificent occasion yesterday.

If it goes on like this I can see big changes in the starting team selection ... but will it cause improvement in the quality of play, and the number of points garnered?

We can only wait and see! The life of a Villan is never easy!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Gabby for England!

I see that Tony Morley is bemoaning the fact that Gabby has not been called up for England duty - he reckons that Gabby would be a good squad player and (if not included in the starting 11) could be brought on to use his pace in the latter part of a match for England, and boost England's chances.

Perhaps there's something right in what Tony says. Given the shortage of strikers available for England, and Gabby's playing record since the beginning of the year, I'd say that Gabby has been overlooked and perhaps deliberately.

It makes me recall how often Villa's players have been overlooked for England since the War, the main exception being (1) after Villa's EC success, when England had no choice but to select a couple, but they never made great use of Cowans (2) when Graham Taylor was England manager and (3) in MON's days at Villa, when he probably had influence at the FA.

I can think of England failing to make use of Villa's players going back to 1952, when Johnny Dixon was at the height of his form, but was overlooked. Then the case of Nigel Sims, who was surely the best keeper in England for a period, but lost out - though I think it was something to do with the Wolves' chairman being on the FA and sour grapes about Sims leaving them for Villa. The FA also took their time in making up their minds about Gerry Hitchens, though I admit Gerry had a lot of competition in the c-f spot.

Alan Deakin is another example. When Bobby Moore broke through, some thought that England's 2 wing-halves should have been Deakin and Moore. None of Mercer's Minors got to the England first team.

But Brian Little's case was all too obvious as a magnificent failure to use real talent by the FA. Gidman also probably deserved a better chance.

It seems to me that Villa's success before WW1 always rankled the ruling bodies in football and they've since done their best to push Villa down the ladder - just as the London papers have tried.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Bring on the big boys!

Christian Benteke appears to be no 'one-season wonder'! He has already indicated that there's a lot more to come from his golden boots (and head), but the manager has bought yet another striker of substantial girth to presumably help Benteke along the way. In Kozak and Helenius we possess two more tall strikers who promise to be able to do the old Tony Hateley job of getting into the clouds to create mayhem in the opponent's citadel.

After too many years of possessing relatively lightweight cannon, we now seem to have big guns!

Another aspect of Benteke's play is that he's not afraid of putting himself about. This can be dangerous on two fronts - the referee's wrath, and also injury - but this characteristic was one possessed by many of Villa's great centre-forwards of long ago. With devastating results!

We can recall in recent decades the daring-do of one Andy Gray and one Peter Withe, both of whom were strong and did not flinch from going in where it hurt. Dion Dublin was of the same category but in his case he nearly died as a result of his efforts. He was never quite the same player after that frightening injury.

'Arry 'Ampton (1904-1920) was probably the first of Villa's main strikers to be of concern to the referee in the way he ('Arry) would go about his challenges. 'Arry had a particular penchant for goalkeepers and scored a number of goals by bundling 'em into the net in the days when such a thing was legal, provided the keeper had his feet on the ground. The opposing centre-half was often given a few bruises, too, and there was the famous case of 'Arry and his marker in frequent conflict during the 1913 Cup Final. As a result, both were suspended for the opening of the following season. 'Arry was hated by the opposing fans but loved at Villa Park! He still holds the club record for the number of league goals scored during a career (215).

Succeeding strikers of the strongly combative type include the famed 'Pongo' Waring (1928-1935) who scored a remarkable 50 goals in season 1930-31 - still a club record for one season. His on-the-field temperament is the reason given for his not acquiring more England 'caps'.

The oldest Villa supporters can remember Trevor Ford (1946-1950), whose penchant for 'keepers was similar to 'Arry's, and Peter McParland (1952-1962) who had the serious collision with the keeper in the 1957 Cup Final when keepers still had a tough time. Today they are nearly always protected from harm. Tony Hateley (1963-67) did not flinch too much either, and we also had Andy Lochhead and Sammy Morgan during the lower division days of 1970 to 1975, who did their best to uphold the club's physical tradition in that department.

So in these few words I have summed up the great physical strikers that have been seen at Villa Park. With few exceptions, when Villa has possessed such strikers then Villa has achieved success. And now we have the potential of a lot more fireworks!


Monday, 2 September 2013

No Real Surprises (?)

I was quite optimistic before the season started; I felt that Villa would come out of their tough first three games with three points, and they have. But the gremlins decided to interject so that the three points were surprisingly (and happily) obtained at The Emirates in the first match, against a rather disunited Arsenal.
I had expected that the points would be obtained in the third match – against Liverpool at home – but Villa disappointed a little in the first half.
The overall situation is more-or-less what I had hoped for at the start – that Villa have confirmed that they have substantially improved since mid-way through last season and, indeed, that the squad looks capable of producing at least a middle-of-the-table finish to the season as the re-building continues. Their form in the Arsenal match was encouraging, and in the match at Stamford Bridge only four days later, they were unlucky to come away without any points.
These first three matches have necessitated the gradual introduction of new ‘blood’, and they will take a little time to develop understanding amongst themselves. But the squad looks as though it will be capable of dealing with the tough programme of fixtures to the end of October and should then be in a good position to develop well in the rest of the season and perhaps even give us a good run in one or two cup competitions.
There is good reason for hope.
My fear is that the effective breakaway tactics used in away matches will not be appropriate in home games. The tradition was once that Villa should be the top-dog on their own soil, and that meant visible domination of the opposition. We’ve not really seen very much of that for quite a few seasons at home, and certainly not much against the top teams.