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

Sunday, 30 March 2014

For how long must this go on?

Last week I wrote about swallows, and now I'm tempted to write about counting chickens before they're hatched!

Football at Villa Park is certainly not a bed of feathers, though, is it?! Getting three back-to-back wins at Villa Park has proved far too much to hope for. And now we're back to conceding a few too many goals.

I have many times felt like posting a message saying that "Yeah, it's not good, but we've been through all this before." Except that I can't post that; no matter what we saw in the 50s and later (in the 60s) I am not sure we then ever saw so much sea-sawing as we've experienced of late.

I vividly remember Blackburn doing a 'Stoke' on us one day in the mid-60s, winning 4-0 with the fourth resulting from a Mick Ferguson dribble from the half-way line to underline who was the better team that day. But at that time Villa were generally mediocre anyway - you didn't get a win against a league championship contender the previous week to give you any sense of false illusions.

After the Stoke week-end, we definitely know that Villa Park is a ground where unpredictable things happen. Or perhaps not, as we've kinda got used to the business of Villa coming back from behind, but we've now learnt to expect the worst when Villa score an early goal. For some reason, Villa gaining an early lead tends to fill me with concern! And I told 'em years ago not to sell Crouch; Graham Taylor liked 'em lanky and in respect of Crouch he wasn't wrong.

The Claret (and Blue) in our blood makes it difficult for us to be objective and it is indeed difficult to see where all this is going to lead. Please don't ask me to look into my crystal ball as it's been put away under the stairs - in a box.

But perhaps the time is ripe to ask ourselves - as fans - what would now be an acceptable return on an investment in a season ticket. The way I see it is that when Doug was replaced, the expectancy was that within a few years the club would be knocking on the door of Champions League football. Indeed, that's what the then chief executive under Lerner (Fitzgerald) confirmed. But the reality of matters seems now to be that the club is a mile away from that objective and, what is worse, now seems to be a 'pie in the sky' notion. One can wonder what it was that made Fitzgerald leave the club after a fairly short stint as CEO, so maybe there never was a real commitment by the board to getting the club to that exalted state, despite money being spent so freely at times (but not spent on enough quality).

Reality, therefore, stares us in the face. We seem to have to face up to the fact that great glories in the short or medium term are a futile expectation; that the main task now - which may take another couple of years to achieve - is to achieve self-respect. By that I mean that when the opposition turns up at Villa Park, they are to expect a hard fight from Villa with a good chance that Villa will win the day. No visiting team which is outside the top-4 should arrive with any belief that they will get more than a glimmer of a chance.

Now, assuming that Lerner remains as owner and assuming that Villa improve their points haul this year (and 8 points from the remaining 7 games is not too much to expect), I do not see any chance that Lambert will leave. In fact, so long as Villa stay up I believe he will stay anyway. But what I do believe is that the owner and the team manager are still sufficiently green around the gills that they will spend (as I said earlier) another couple of years developing a side that stands a chance of demanding the respect that former great Villa sides held - even those under Big Ron and Little Brian, and even the sides that pushed for the championship under John Gregory.

I don't believe, however, that the owner and the team manager don't want to achieve things - they must do. But I don't expect there to be any great signings this year. I believe it will be a case of progressive development.

So, without looking into the crystal ball, those are my gut feelings. In short, it seems to me that fans have to expect another 2 or 3 years before any greater things will show a sign of evolving. And if they don't evolve, maybe the owner will only then really come to realise that he has to sell up and move on. In any case, the owner may have lost interest by then.

What I will say is that if fans can get their heads round the likelihood of such a development timescale and accept the situation, then perhaps they might feel more inclined to support the owner and manager - for that contracted period. A kind of unwritten 'social contract' between fans and the owner.

Can the fans put up with another 2 or 3 years of non-achievement but some improvement, especially when clubs like Everton do better?

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Swallows and Summers

One swallow doesn't make a summer; indeed, I'm wondering if we will see a summer this year after the extreme weather conditions that have occurred these past few months, and longer. But we can't seriously equate the deluge in the west country and other areas with the dismal conditions at Villa Park these last 3 years. Yes, we have been suffering as Villa supporters but the condition of wading around in floodwaters for months on end is something quite different, no matter how we might think that Villa have been sinking into the mire. Sometimes we have to take a reality check. And sometimes an event takes place that helps to punctuate the gloom. 

 The result of the Chelski match cannot be knocked and has to be savoured; after all we don't know (yet) whether the players can sustain the effort of constantly chasing around to harry the opposition into errors. They did it well against Chelski, but is this really what football is all about? I loved Eric Houghton's account of how the famed pre-War coach Jimmy Hogan used to tell his players to "make the ball do the work". And, more recently, Brian Little repeated that mantra, and added (in words to this effect): "I was taught to carress the ball; to treat it as if I loved it." Ron Saunders used to instill a teamwork ethos into his players based on fitness, effort and trust, but they knew how to play football. The sweeping moves from midfield via Mortimer and Shaw to Morley remain with us in our memories (and on video) to this day. In the recent Norwich match, a glorious end-to-end Villa move resulted in a fine third goal, and against Chelsea we again saw evidence of football ability in the execution of Villa's goal. But what do we see most of the time? I don't need to tell you - you have seen it. 

But if the team is showing effort and winning then it would be folly to lambast the players, and the manager, even after such a long-lasting run of paltry home results as they (the team) are developing experience. In the past four home games, at least, we have seen Villa score four goals (twice) and the win over Chelsea. 

Winning at Villa Park is beginning to become a normality again, and the players have clearly responded to the backing of the crowd. The hope is that the team is acquiring confidence to start applying science to their game as we have seen, flittingly, in the past two games. When safety in the Premiership is attained, perhaps we might see the team relax a little and play the football we loved under the mangership of Ron (Saunders), Big Ron and Little Brian. 

We Villa supporters forgive very easily. Watching the highlights of the Man U vs Liverpool match on Sunday, my mind momentarily dwelt on how Villa surrendered to the same Man U at Villa Park earlier in the season. But, of course, Villa had been without the rock that is Ron Vlaar that day - one player that can inspire others from the back. That his absence usually means that Villa relapse into poor play is a big worry. We are all too aware that the squad lacks depth, as also the fact that we seem to be able to raise our game against the big 'uns, but against the minnows we struggle. Now, if I were to make this observation:
    Until we add the following things to the team:-
  • 1. Quality players
  • 2. Invention
  • 3. Unpredictability
  • and dare I say it....4. Flair, we will be a safe mid/upper table team who will flirt with cup success and the top 6 at best.
... you might think that I was being optimistic about how we will faire with the curent squad at Villa Park. You'd probably be thinking "well, if we finish mid-table, that's as best as we can hope for as things are now." However, the above is roughly what I would have stated last summer, if asked. 

But now I'll tell you the truth. The short synopsis above was written 10 years ago (on another blog, but not by me) in the time of David O'Leary and, of course, when Doug was chairman. And even the left-back position was a bit weak in those days. Jlloyd Samuel was then the incumbant and his lack of defensive ability was soon reported as being more apparent. These scenarios are not much different to what we've been getting of late, I think! 

So, all-in-all, we're experiencing something of a deja vu. We thought the situation was getting bad ten years ago, but the take-over of 2006 came as a big relief and heralded something else, we were told. Is it possible to conclude (after the recent results) that we might be on the right road at last? Or is it still too early to judge? Perhaps we are slowly making progress, but maybe towards being "a safe mid/upper table team who will flirt with cup success and the top 6 at best". 

 Within 12 months we'll have a better idea. Perhaps.