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

Saturday, 21 November 2015

A Win Next Match Is A Must-be

Remi has seven days in which to motivate Villa to get a win. A defeat (even a draw) against Watford would almost confirm our fears that this is a lost cause. You cannot keep on dropping points - especially against weaker sides like Watford - and have any hope that matters can get turned round by January. And January would be too late to bring in much new blood if we're in a bad position then.

A win this coming week would just give enough lift (I'd hope) to enable the team to gain confidence to face their next (challenging) fixtures.

And in respect of the Everton match, it's the first time this season that Villa have been pulverised and therefore the greater need for next week's win.

Apart from the fact that Everton are a very competent side …
  1. I don’t know why Sanchez was left out at the start … when he came on there was a perceptible difference. I’m no long sure about Gana … perhaps he’s popped his cork.
  2. Why select Grealish? I’m still trying to work out what there is in his game that’s supposed to make a big difference. Bring him on as sub maybe.

Remi has to start playing the same side week-in and week-out … but in my view it’s got to be (assuming Okore is fit, otherwise there’s no option with Richardson really) …

Guzan, Hutton, Richards, Okore, Clark, Westwood, Sanchez, Gil, Gabby, Gestede, Ayew.

We wait. And pray.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Isn't It Time That Tim Was Left Alone?

Today I was attracted by an on-line article heading stating: "Remi Garde Already Beloved Because He’s Not Tim Sherwood". Attracted? No, wrong word, I was somewhat repulsed.

There does seem to be a contingent that aim to vilify Tim and his efforts at Villa Park. That he made mistakes is without question, but let's examine the how's and why's he came to be there, and the positive things he in fact did accomplish.

When he was appointed in February, he replaced a manager whose record had been abysmal and at that point Villa had only scored 12 goals in the league. Tim came in, moved things around a bit and before long we were scoring and gaining points. The season did finish with something of a whimper, it has to be admitted, but at least Villa were not relegated and Villa had appeared in a Cup Final after a fine semi-final display at Wembley.

Back in February, Villa were virtually at the point of relegation. Tim was hastily recruited by a Villa management that had made some crass decisions over the preceding 4 years (okay, Tom Fox wasn't in the CEO chair all that time, but he had contributed to some of the problems). The Villa management had left it until virtually the last minute to get in a new manager, and clearly did so only after Villa had slipped into the bottom three despite many calls from the fans to do something earlier. They had left it so late there was no time to go through a short list for interview.

Up to the summer, Tim's rather small managerial experience at Spurs and Villa had collected impressive stats: a high proportion of his matches had been wins.

The summer change-over was the real start of the trouble. Not only did Tim lose arguably his best three (or four) players, but it appears he was presented with a fait accompli in respect of most of the signings recommendations. This, clearly, did not go down too well with Tim.

For me, how Tim was treated by the board smacks of sharp business practice. He was somewhat set up. Yes, Tim could have dealt with it better, but some of the failure is due to the players themselves. And the board.

So, Tim: thanks a lot for what you did accomplish. You did breathe life back into the club for awhile. Good luck for the future!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Perhaps I Won't Be Able to Garde Against Eating Humble Pie!

Well, 5 stars to the manager for his team selection. I applaud him for leaving Jack on the bench and didn't even use him. Doubtless Garde's already seen that Jack needs to work on his game and the media seem to be indicating that Garde is not happy about the hype surrounding Jack.

Also Garde did not have to be embarrassed about leaving out Gabby and Westwood (if that was his intention) as they are both injured.

Villa were lucky 3 times in the second half - it may have been 4 times actually. But maybe that luck has come to change around Villa's fortunes completely.

Sterling missed a point blank header, then another player got his legs tangled when a tap in was all that was required, and they hit the bar in injury time. Guzan also spilled a save but was lucky to see Clark on hand to get the ball away.

Villa did very well first half but you get the impression that City pace the game and let the opposition tire themselves out. Second half it was mostly a different story with Villa only very occasionally getting some moves together.

But it was a vast improvement - skill-wise, team selection wise and effort wise. Concentration was there ... aided by some luck. A recovery from the relegation zone could, indeed, be 'on', but I continue to be worried about our strikers.

Mmmm.. it was even a pleasure to see Zoggy come on ... he gave them something to worry about a couple of times.

Biggest joke (second half) was when Gestede did a customary throw-in back to their goalkeeper after a player injury, but he threw it at a fair pace and Hart (instead of letting the ball go out for a goal kick) attempted to field the ball ... it skimmed off him and went out for a corner!

Anyway ... to get a point off Man City after seven successive league defeats is a huge relief. We go into another international break, but this time with more hope for the next games we have to play.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Being Guarded About Garde

We wonder whether KevinMac can stimulate a mini-recovery before the arrival of the 'permanent' manager, and we contemplate also whether the apparent nominee for the job - Remi Garde - will be able to lift Villa out of this (now) yearly mire we're in.

Garde's lack of real experience in the Prem (apart from 3 years and 30 games as a player with Arsenal in the 1990s), and - indeed - lack of managerial experience of any kind - seems unlikely to provide confidence that he will find the magic to keep Villa up. But at least he can make himself understood with the French players we have.

Another blogger sums it up for me when he says:
Nothing will change until Lerner sells the club and the club is restructured with quality football people who actually know what they are doing.

The biggest concern (beyond the present state of affairs) is the one concerning who will be the new buyer, and I fear he/it will be nothing more than a clone of Mr. Lerner, who (in turn) has been something of a clone of Doug – with the added factor of being remote and out-of-tune with Brummidgam and Brummies. And also the “brightest” exponent of spin.

When – and if – Aston Villa’s ailments are properly sorted, only then we will have something truly to cheer about. Yes, we will always be disappointed from time to time results-wise (that has always been the case) but so long as we see the club being restored to something recognisable as that we recall from our youth then the disappointment will be transitory.

You know, looking back as to what fans said 100+ years ago when there was a poor patch makes me wonder whether they would have survived what fans have suffered this past 5 years. But, alas, I can’t see our troubles being removed – Garde or no Garde.

I wish any new manager all the very best, but, very sadly, I doubt that Villa will be revived – in the form that we’d hope for, anyway.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Tim's Out - Is It Time For Thinking Out The Real Solution?

I've today seen a blogger write: ”It would be nice if the club were run better.” 
That statement (in relation to Aston Villa FC) is possibly the greatest euphemism ever uttered.

This is the key issue – it’s not really about anything else. Its the ownership that have been directing things in such a way that none of the managers have been able to do what they wanted to do. You can’t have 3 managers in 4 years all not totally fit for the job, surely?

The scenario now is not that different from how it was in the 60s. Then we got relegated and spent 8 years getting back to the top.

Haven’t we learnt?

But as far as this owner is concerned, I have utter disrespect having now seen what disaster upon disaster he’s been inflicting on the club.

I’m afraid I must again recall the spin that appeared shortly after Lerner’s arrival. The slogan was “Great history … Bright Future!” – or words to that effect.

Whatever the misdemeanours MON perpetrated in his spending pattern, a new owner coming into Aston Villa FC should have realised that his word had to be his bond to keep the fans of this great club on his side – particularly in view of his promise.

With no “Bright Future” he’s turned out the lights, and it’s difficult to see how they can be switched back on again.

And while we keep on talking about team managers and their merits or demerits, we are mis-using our energy and missing the plot. We’ve been taken in hook line and sinker; we claim to be fans of a great club, but choose to ignore the real problem.

“It would be nice if the club were run better.” My goodness: the club has to be run better – otherwise we’ll never see another cup final win nor even a 6th place in the Premier League.

A new - and proper - owner for the club is an a priori requirement. Anything else is secondary in my view. I dream of a fans' ownership, but maybe that's just star-gazing. But what I am most worried about is that just as Doug found the current owner, we may find that Randy finds the person he likes. That could just mean further disaster.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Match Reports on Interesting Fixtures Since The Start of the League (1888)

I am pleased to state that I have further extended my webpage on Villa's league results (link here) to include match reports for significant and interesting matches going back to 1888.

I have finished providing selected reports for the period 1888 to 1939, but a fair number of later reports are also installed. I will be adding to the period since 1945 over the coming weeks. Later on I will review the matter again to decide whether to add further reports for the time since 1888.

Thank you for your interest.


Friday, 2 October 2015

The Time of Year For Grey Clouds - But Surely Not At Villa Park!

Jeremy Corbyn speaks of his desire for a kinder world, but he’s clearly not been to Villa Park very recently. Frustration is afoot and the knives are beginning to be drawn against Tim Sherwood, whose re-hashed squad have still to hit the high spots.

I’d like to think that if it was Tim that had been brought in during the summer of 2011, and that we’d never experienced the two Scots, we’d be a lot kinder towards him (Tim). But the experience of those five years of drudgery will take a lot of erasing from the fans’ collective memory.

So, can we see glimmers of hope percolating through the autumnal clouds?

I’d say yes. When Villa were 2-down at Anfield on Saturday, Villa’s game suddenly became alive. There was Hutton forcing his way to the byline and pushing across a deadly and inviting pass. No-one seemed to be awake to the possibility except our Rudy, who manfully shrugged off his marker’s attentions and strove to get there and force the ball home. “Wow!”, I muttered to myself. I doubt that Rudy’s predecessor, our formerly beloved Christian Benteke, would have been alive to that. He’d have been standing on the penalty spot and demanding to know why the ball had not been placed on his toe!

Villa then reverted to type and let Pool acquire a third goal before the other Villa full-back, Amavi, swung across a teasingly delicious centre for our Rudy again to seize on the possibility, again making himself the man to throw himself forward to power the ball home – this time with his head. “Wow!”, I (again) muttered to myself.

With 20 minutes to go, all it needed now was Traore to nip down the wing, beat three players and slip the ball past their keeper. But it was not to be, though you could see that the feller had that in mind. Yet having scored two goals like that, I felt that Villa should have found something in reserve to come back and level the match.

So, of the squad, who can claim to have done enough to secure virtually automatic selection? Who are the players we can say could be the core of a revival?

Guzan – yes. We know he has one or two foibles, but he still stops a few.
Richards – yes. Not quite as strong as when he started the season, but he’s hardly one you’d leave out.
Amavi – yes. Again, defensively he has some foibles, but he’s learning, and can’t he centre a good ball?
Sanchez – yes. Though appearing to be slow (and, yes, a foible or two), for me he oozes class.
Gueye – yes. His come back against Pool was not at all great, but he showed enough to suggest that he’s been missed.
Gil – yes. I can’t quite understand how he was left out against Pool. Has Tim got a personal dislike of him?
Traore – yes. He’s not seen much time on the pitch yet, but what he has shown is potentially explosive.
Gestede – yes. At Anfield, he proved to me he’s got what it takes as our new striker. And the fans love him.
I will also add Veretout, who is quietly getting his game together in my view. Potentially very good.
Of those nine players, six were signed by Tim. And they’re not bad, are they?

If we were to add to that list:

A more disciplined Grealish;
Okore or Clark instead of Lescott;
Gabby (I still think he adds more to the team than Sinclair in the way Sinclair is being used),

– then that’s 11 positions pretty well covered, with players like Ayew, Westwood (and Gardner?) usefully in reserve. Except it’s not, as the right-back slot is still weak. Sinclair? Unless you play him at the centre of the attack, I don’t see him as a first-choice.

The somewhat frail Grealish has been found out in my opinion. Pool were determined not to give him the chance to shine as they did at Wembley and other teams that are better than Small Heath will also manage him well. It’s up to Jack.

All-in-all, though, there are signs of a team that is developing and one that should give us optimism. We have already lost 5 matches, but they’ve all been lost by just one goal, and those defeats are mostly down to defensive failures. And, yes, a substitution error or two.

October is upon us. Now is the time, Tim, for your team to prove what they’re made of. As forcefully demonstrated by Rudy last Saturday.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Once Upon A Time, Villa teams were British!

Villa took the field at Villa Park on February, 27th 1999 with an all-English born team (and substitutes). The match, against Coventry City, was in a season when the club had been top of the league for much of the period until the December, but bizarrely lost this one 1-4 to Coventry. Villa thus lost any chance of getting back on top of the league that season. Coventry’s chief architect that day – the Dutchman Boateng – later signed for Villa!

The Villa team: Oakes; Watson, Southgate, Scimeca, Wright; Taylor, Merson, Grayson, Hendrie; Dublin, Joachim. Subs: Barry, Draper, Collymore.

How times have changed! We are now faced with the likelihood of a near all-foreign team, possibly in the shape of:

Guzan; Ilori, Richards(E), Lescott(E), Amavi; Sanchez, Gana, Westwood(E); Traore, Grealish(E)/Gil; Sinclair(E)/Gestede.

We may be playing with only four English players on the field at one time; maybe less.
This is in total contrast to the picture above (in 1999) and even more recently, under Martin O’Neill (2006-2010). Even Paul Lambert did not seem too keen about overseas acquisitions, but did get one or two good ‘uns from there, particularly in Benteke.

Now I’m not going to say that this is a shameful condition. It is what it is – a reflection on the fact that we just do not have enough players coming through the Villa youth ranks or elsewhere in Britain that are hungry enough. Indeed, the Villa youth that promised much have over the last 15 years in the most part have shown a tendency to think “I’m in the first team, I’ve arrived and there’s nothing more to do”. But we did let go Steven Davis and Gary Cahill, players that have proved they did possess the hunger. Craig Gardner as well – he stayed at it. In today’s squad, I have liked both Clark and Baker, but they each have their own foibles.

But what has impressed me about Tim Sherwood in his acquisitions is that he has gone for British (English) quality in the c-b positions and not (unlike Wenger and others) given up on British players in positions that (for me at least) will be best served by British players in our league. That, I think, has been Wenger’s ‘Achilles Heel’ – since Arsenal lost their English rod of iron in the centre of defence they have not been quite the same.

The big sadness for me is that no longer do we seem able to find the brave, solid British centre-forward of the ilk of Hitchens, Gray or Withe. It’s been over 30 years since Withe graced the Villa number 9 shirt: let us hope that Sinclair, his successor in the number 9 shirt (but thought to have been a scoring winger!), can at least keep scoring.

Anyhow, I’m reasonably happy with Mr. Sherwood’s work to-date. In my view he has shipped in just about enough players of reasonable quality to bring about more capability and a better balance in the team, and his main tactic is to keep on the front foot. His predecessor seemed more able to trip over his feet, so at least Tim seems to know which foot is which!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Here today ... gone tomorrow!

I've read a footballer's obituary: a certain Alan Woodward. "Alan who?" I hear you say, and if you were born since 1975 I wouldn't blame you for asking as this Sheffield United hot-shot winger never played for England. But I remember him well, and the Sheffield United team that in his time had several useful players, and later in Woodward's career (1964-1978) that United club bought Tony Currie. 

Again, you might ask about Tony Currie, but he was more famous. A cultured England midfielder with a heck of a dribbling capability (I saw him once dribble through five players from the halfway line before slotting past the keeper), and made possible a goodly number of the 158 league goals that Woodward scored. Currie has said of Woodward: "Woody was the greatest I ever played with". 

 It only seems like yesterday that such players graced the football turf, and as Woodward was a couple of years younger than me, his death came as a bit of a sharp surprise. 

But you must be wondering about why I'm writing about non-Villa heroes! Before I answer that I would mention that the said Sheffield-born Alan Woodward has a possible family connection with Jack Woodward of the Villa media team. He's also Sheffield-born. 

It's players like Woodward and Currie that are legends in the pantheon of Sheffield United's quite rich history, and I've gone a roundabout way of reminding us all that Aston Villa FC have more than their fair share of legends. I feel it's time to properly record their feats: the 1957 FA Cup-winning team is virtually no more and even the last championship-winning side is getting long in the tooth. 

You might remember Villa Park's 100th anniversary celebrations in 1997, when a number of very old favourites appeared on the pitch. Players like Johnny Dixon, Trevor Ford, Con Martin, Stan Lynn, and many more. They're all gone now, and as the fans of that generation also go, the memory of those players also leaves the scene. Just like Alan Woodward's career. 

Old-time playing legends such as Archie Hunter (still the club record goalscorer in the FA Cup with 34 goals) still fascinate people, and, indeed, such players left a story that reaches to a Villan's heart! 

So, I am planning a radical departure from the format of my previous books, The Aston Villa Chronicles (1874-1924) and The First Superclub and have decided to produce a 10-volume hardback series of quality called Aston Villa Through the Ages. Each of the first 9 volumes will be centred around the players and particularly about a long-serving playing legend of the club. So, Volume One will be : "1878-1891 : The Age of Archie Hunter." 

Each of these volumes will describe both the specific legend and his contribution to the club, the teams that he was a member of, and their achievements as a team, including reports of prolific matches. There will be profiles and images of all the other main players during that legend's era. Each volume will be a Villa-fest! For full details (including the contents of Volume 10) please click here.

As you will see at the bottom of my webpage, it would be greatly appreciated if you would give me your reservation as soon as possible (of a complete series or specific volumes) so that I can best determine the order quantity I need to place on the printers.

Many thanks for your interest, and I hope that in the latest crop of players we have more legends in the making!

Monday, 8 June 2015

Just What Kind of Owner Do We Want?

[My last article before August comes]

Aston Villa has rarely dropped out of the top-flight in over 125 years and, more significantly, for more than 20 years before 1915 the club dominated world football after the club's former chairman, William McGregor, had created the world's first football league. Aston Villa was the first 'Superclub'.

The Villa can also rightly be called the 'Pride of the Midlands', despite the fact of the events over the past five years in particular. Nottingham Forest had an upstart period thanks to Brian Clough and the Wolves were very strong for 30-or-so years prior to and after the War, but where are these clubs now? And where are the other Midlands clubs that might challenge the position of Aston Villa? 

 In 1981, Aston Villa had still won more domestic honours than any other English club. In 1982, the club won the European Cup and throughout the 1990s the Villa remained a leading club in the top-flight of English football. After the achievements in 1981 and 1982 and the mini-revival of the 1990s, we had high expectations back in ca. 2000. 

 So, what happened? 

Time, of course plays its part as the cyclical nature of life takes over, but it's not just that - is it? In 2000 we thought that 'the problem' was a certain Doug Ellis - we thought he was holding us back and we believed that it was the same Doug who had stopped Villa's continued rise after 1982, the year of European triumph and also the time when Doug had returned to Villa as the chairman. So, when in 2006 he found for us a new owner of Villa we breathed a sigh of relief and welcomed the new chief as the knight on a white horse. 

 We are now a bit wiser. We also found out that the current owners of Manchester City might have been Villa's new owners in 2006 but for the willy wiles of our Doug. Our Doug has a lot to be remembered for, and the name of a stand at Villa Park provides that remembrance. However, I have no wish to join the blame game: Doug did no more than try to keep the club in an atmosphere of English thinking that we would probably now regard as 'old hat'. We might call the attitude a remnant of a bygone age and related to the old-boys network but Doug thought he was doing right though his attitude became little different to that of the chairman and board members whom he supplanted in 1968. 

 In 1968, the club were penny-conscious and frightened to look towards new horizons: the board members were a pastiche of the club's leaders of the Golden Years. Meanwhile, on the pitch, a disaster was unfolding in front of our eyes. Attendances were down to 12,000, the ground was crumbling and the old third division invited us if we dared. But the fans stood up at last and said "enough is enough" - and, miraculously, the board actually listened and within a short time a new board was appointed with (yes!) Doug Ellis appointed as a chairman. The maverick but colourful Tommy Docherty was appointed as manager and we suddenly had attendances back to 30,000-plus. Tommy (and the new board, supported by excited, expectant and exceptional, helping, fans) managed to save the club from relegation to the Third Division that season. Suffice to say that a turnaround took place in fairly quick time, culminating in the return to the top-flight within 8 years, and within less than another 8 years, the club's first European trophy, quickly followed by a second. 

The 1970s and early 1980s were vibrant years of achievement and people remembered that time in 2000 after Villa had produced a very unconvincing performance at a Wembley Cup Final. The fans then spoke out again, and along came the change in 2006. Doug had proclaimed that Villa was still a top-6 club, and we believed that - in fact we thought we were due for greater things. 

Today, the reality is that the club is not that much further forward than it was at the time when Doug appeared on the scene at the end of 1968, but at least we are still in the top flight. I did not expect the club to return to the disorganised level we have seen these past 5 years - but it has happened, and our hopes have taken a battering. The last 9 years has seen yet another chairman who has been mostly clue-less about what is needed to re-invigorate the club back into the big-time, despite paying out large sums to commercial entities and media people and (latterly) team managers that have not enthused anyone until the arrival of the latest in February. 

Despite the so-called austerity under Randy, he has still opened his chequebook when the need has arisen, though money has sometimes been spent in a strange manner (the story of Darren Bent would be almost unbelievable if told to a stranger, in my view), so the issue is not simply about money is it? You could say that much money is needed, but as I look back to those times in 1968 and 1969, it was not money that saved the situation but the joining-together of a lot of people who loved the club, and the body of belief that it could all be turned around. It was not a case of expecting 'them' to do something about the situation, it was about about 'us' getting together and breathing life back into the club. That was when Villa WAS a club ... again. The atmosphere (we were told) was akin to as it had been in the 'old days'. 

So, just after we have again experienced a very unconvincing performance at a Wembley Cup Final, I suggest to all those who want a big-money merchant to take over the club that we should first of all ask that entity to prove how much he loves the club. With money alone I would not expect a lot: in my view sustained progress cannot be made unless that merchant has had an infusion of claret pumped into his veins, not a mere tattoo placed on the ankle. Haven't we learnt that? 


 My Villa website has had a make-over! Please click here to link. I expect to expand the site further during the summer, time permitting.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Down ... But Definitely Not Out!

On May 31st we're all in deep mourning.

Only when Gabby came on did a sense of urgency seem to get sparked, but he didn't find enough help and it was then too late. The third and fourth goals were given away, but Arsenal deserved their win.

It was all very sad. But ... it just shows how TS managed to raise expectations since February. If we were to think back to those days, we were very angry about what was taking place then under Lambert, but suddenly a new broom came in and ... raised hopes.

But, of course, TS had to use the same squad of players that Lambert left behind him. Amidst the continual array of injuries that hit the squad - particularly in defence - all TS could do was to motivate them out of their slumbers to do better ... and he achieved that sufficiently long enough for them to get big ideas and then be blown off course by the Saints. I think that helped to remind the players that as a team they were not as good as they were beginning to think they could be and since then they've not shown much: the match at St. Mary's was going to take a lot to recover from, and in the Cup Final they looked hesitant to try anything brave.

Well, TS has the summer to start building his own team. We can expect better days, I'm sure. Lambert has gone, we did survive the relegation threat, and (unexpectedly) we beat Liverpool to get to a Cup Final. There has been something to cheer about these last few months, and more will come.

Thank you for reading my blog. I'll be back before August to comment on what has been happening during the summer at Villa Park.


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Monday, 18 May 2015

Hope is not lost!

The re-arising of the Villa Phoenix seemed to have taken a backward step, but at least the result courtesy of the flat-bottomed Hull gave us something to ecstate about on an otherwise glum day. We live to fight again – and only three months since we thought all might be lost!

It’s that fact that, in 13 games prior to yesterday, the Right Honourable Sherwood had induced the same squad of players to play a level of footie that has been great by comparison with what went before. Not only are Villa now safe from relegation, but we also have another important fixture at Wembley to attend.

This most recent result (and the method by which the match was surrendered) may have seemed bad at the time. However, all considered, perhaps we should just accept it as a salutary reminder that it’s not all fixed at Villa Park just yet! And a reminder that our new manager is also relatively new in this level of job. At this stage his report card might state: “A wonderful understanding of the footballer’s psyche, but lacking caution in defensive tactics.” Whereas Lambert was overly cautious about the goals conceded side of play, we now have a manager who’s view is polarised differently. He likes to attack.

But maybe the problems seen in the last match will all be rectified if the defence is given a makeover during the summer.

Meanwhile, this coming Saturday we have the opportunity to give our team a great send off for the forthcoming Wembley fixture where, despite all, Villa just might upset the Londoners in Villa’s first ever meeting against the Gunners in the last four (let alone the last two) of the competition. In 110 years of competition against Arsenal and considering the status of both clubs over that period (even though Arsenal’s has been mainly higher than Villa’s these last 80 years or so) it is quite amazing to my mind that they’ve been kept apart. I have to add that despite Arsenal’s record these last several decades, they have still not (let us not forget) won the European Cup! But they keep trying – bless ’em! Let them have this season’s European Cup qualification as a consolation for not winning a trophy!

I have to say that after witnessing what an aware Southampton were able to do against a square high-line defence, I am a little in trepidation that Arsenal might try the same ploy. So, forewarned, this is an opportunity for our manager to delve into his medicine bag to find the antidote. I am moved to remember another Villa manager of an attacking bent – Big Ron himself – who found a cure for keeping the Man U wingers quiet in the 1994 League Cup Final, and yet despite player-marking concerns Villa still won handsomely. With that memory, I wait to see this Cup Final with baited breath and a great wish for success after 58 years – a match that I also saw. It’s easy to say (as I have) that we should just enjoy the day, but 58 years has been a long time.

Anyway, win or lose I would mainly like to see Villa give a good account of themselves, and a performance to show us that what has happened since our manager took over is no fluke. More, to sustain our hopes for next season.


Monday, 20 April 2015

A Cup semi-final versus Liverpool? All you need is self-belief...

Hitherto, Villa's progress in the FA Cup had been noted but had not stimulated huge interest until Villa's local antagonists, the Albion, were put to the sword in the quarter-finals. By the time Villa found out that they were to be up against Liverpool in the semi-final, Villa's mostly improved performances since Tim Sherwood's arrival caused their faithful supporters to be more upbeat. Claims of "Tekkers will sort 'em out" and ambitious visions of a substantial Liverpool defeat became a normal form of communication from one Villa fan to another and on the blogs.
When, however, the due kick-off arrived the anticipation had been hushed just a little, but only a little. But when Baker went off injured after only about 20 minutes, it didn't look quite so good despite Villa's bright start. Yet another Villa centre-back had to retire to the bench: it had been like this all season, it seemed. Sherwood shook his head in disbelief.
Worse, Villa went behind and the replacement and still warming-up centre-back, Okore, was not only partly to blame for helping Liverpool to probe their way through, but it was also his knee that deflected the ball into the net when it looked as though the ball might have gone at least 10 yards wide. But then Tekkers did indeed "sort 'em out" with an emphatic finish after a glorious Villa move that sliced through the Liverpool defence down the left. It was back to all-square at half-time.
The second half came alight within 10 minutes of the restart when another glorious Benteke-Grealish-Delph move down the left ended with Villa's captain scoring as though scoring was a weekly activity for him. It wasn't: it was only his second of the season, and both scored in the Cup.
The fun didn't stop there. On at least two occasions it seemed Villa must add again to their tally; Liverpool seemed to be all at sea facing Villa's brilliant and incisive interplay, something that Villa's younger fans had not even seen before in their lifetime. The pre-match optimism had been totally justified.
It got to the point that Liverpool clearly lost faith in themselves as two or three headed chances went begging in the last quarter period of the game, but Villa were not to be outdone. After a mostly wretched season, Villa had played like a team completely reborn and, furthermore, a dominant team. Every player deserved high commendation for their effort, and three - Delph, Grealish and Benteke - were nothing short of outstanding.
Arsenal in the Final? It will be just another game to this lot!
Can a 58-year wait soon be over? Of course it can!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Earning your spurs!

If ever there was a day to need to 'earn your spurs', this was it - at Spurs.

There was something unsatisfactory about the home draw against QPR. Yes, Christian had spared our blushes, but we had not pulled away as we had hoped. We were given a lifeline, however, by QPR not overtaking us, but to follow it up Tim had a chance to show Spurs that they had been wrong about passing him up. The resulting Villa win and method had a touch of "Watch out Spurs, we'll be up there giving you an even harder time next season."

From keeper to striker, every Villa man was determined to play his part as a team. Some of the Villa players might be described as of the journeyman variety, but they kept together and did not flinch when the danger came, even when the mighty Clark left the field early. The keeper was well protected and they even tried to play football: it wasn't all hoof, and Villa had the best two chances to score apart from the effort that mattered - Christian's fifth in three matches.

The win also caused me to think back to November against Spurs and how Villa had led at half-time but fell mainly to 'the big man' being enticed into a foolish retaliation and thus 'saw red' in two ways. This time, Villa mainly kept their cool until late on, when Sanchez decided he didn't want to play at Wembley after all. Silly man; is he so certain that Villa will get through to the final? Next week's team might yet half consist of academy players with the injury and suspension list growing by the week.

There was something else extra fine about the win at Spurs. Last week the London press was pleased to inform us that Spurs had now provided more players to the England team than any other, a record that until that week had been held by Villa for many years. But going by today's showing I saw little from Spurs' English contingent that suggested they deserved their England record. For me, Delph and Cleverley consistently showed more enterprise and effort than anything those Spurs players could muster. Not that Cleverley is really a Villa player, though, and most likely will go elsewhere this summer. But we have Grealish - don't we - if only he will decide if he is English!

The Spurs match was noteworthy for even yet another matter! Villa scored their twelfth league goal since the arrival of Sherwood, eight league games ago. That represents the same number of goals as Villa scored in the preceding twenty-five (yes, 25!) matches. In his short time, Villa have also added three wins to the five that we had obtained before Tim's arrival. And to top it all, the matches involving teams around the Villa all went the right way (for Villa). Even Albion might get sucked into the panic at the bottom, but I would prefer to see Albion stay up. 

As I surmised a few weeks ago, a fifteenth-place finish (or better) is on the cards for Villa.


PLEASE NOTE: I still have a few copies of 'Aston Villa In A Nutshell', a low-cost primer of Villa's history added to all the main stats from 140 years of football.  However, as we're nearing the end of the season, I have decided to reduce the (UK only) price: one copy is now £6 (not £7) and a single order of three copies will only cost you £12 (that's £4 each). The book also contains an additional insert of more recent records added since the book was printed last year. Please click here for more info and link to my e-mail address to make your order - please do not use the on-line ordering facility for this offer. Thank you!

Monday, 9 March 2015

Albion are perhaps a bit bigger than "small"!

Well done Villa! Beating the Albion twice within just a few days of course gives us a lot of satisfaction. In addition, not only has the relegation worry reduced a tad, but we have also obtained an entry into the FA Cup semi-final, five years since we last got to that stage. The caution must be that history shows that we have been to this point before, in 1959: Villa then got to the semi-final but also got relegated, thanks to a last match 1-1 draw at the Hawthorns; a reminder that the Albion has been meaningfully involved before in our history.

The Albion fans could say that the 1959 incident was pay-back time for their club’s exit in the 1957 semis at the hands of the Villa, and also for the 1956 relegation issue when Villa beat a comfortably-placed Albion 3-0 to enable Villa to stay up on an improbable mathematical factor of .01 of a goal.

But there is a deep history involving Villa and the Albion that has existed since around 1880 time, when the Albion seriously threatened to usurp Villa as the top dogs of the Midlands. In the mid-1880s Albion indeed looked as though they would march ahead of the Villa. When the two clubs came together in the FA Cup Final of 1887, Albion had already appeared in the final of that great trophy the previous year (1886), but lost, and now they thought their experience would put paid to Villa’s challenge. Albion had even pre-planned their celebration route for their imagined Cup triumph, but the Villa had other ideas. It was Villa – not Albion – that became the Midlands’ first Cup winners by winning 2-0 at The Oval. But Albion did not lie down: at their third attempt in successive years, Albion won the Cup the next year (1888).

Twice more, the Villa and the Albion would fight it out in the FA Cup Final. In 1892 Albion got a lot of satisfaction by blowing Villa aside 3-0, thanks mainly to a bumpy pitch and Villa’s keeper getting his sights wrongly adjusted. And then Villa won again in 1895. But though Villa and Albion have never met again in a Cup Final, there have been battles fought out in other rounds of both the FA and League Cup over the years, and those have been very seriously contested affairs: the 1957 semi being the most memorable, I would say.

In the 1950s right through to the 1980s, I remember Albion as having some great sides. Any club that has boasted the likes of Bobby Robson, Brian Robson, Ronnie Allen, Jeff Astle, Tony Brown, Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and other great names in their ranks must have been a club with something great to offer. And Jimmy Dugdale, of course, gained winner’s medals with both Albion (1954) and Villa (1957). In fact, when I was a youngster I always thought of the Albion as Villa’s real local rivals – the Small Heath club never meant much to me after their abortive attempt to win the Cup in 1956, even though later on I did admire Jimmy Bloomfield and Trevor Francis.

So, after extolling the great history of the Albion I come to the climax of this piece: our new manager has described the Albion as a “small club”.

Now, it’s likely we would have a measure of agreement with him on that matter, but is it a statement that has to be publicly uttered by a Villa official? I rather suspect that his pronouncement may have pressed one or two wrong buttons amongst the Albion fans, so that Villa also twice gaining the upper hand over the past week may have helped generate their outrage. I would certainly not say that Tim Sherwood was the cause of their fans’ fiendish pranks, but I do think that a tone of more respect for their club would have helped to keep the heat down a little.

We certainly seem to have a new manager with plenty of fire in his belly – and that is welcome – but let’s not totally eradicate the wonderful competition with the Albion that Villa have enjoyed for over 130 years. The relationship of the two clubs has been greatly tested on some occasions, but it has mostly been a well-fought kind of relationship. I would like it to be kept that way if possible.

Anyhow, for Villa the way forward must now be onward and upward!


Thursday, 19 February 2015

Mid-season Managerial Changes Usually Work Well at VP...

The arrival of a new manager brings with it, of course, a fresh perspective that rather depends on the personality and reputation of the person appointed.

The entrance of Tim Sherwood caused a variety of reaction, some clamouring that he is not experienced enough, others that he’s going to wind up the players the wrong way and others exclaimed relief that we now have a manager who has an attacking philosophy behind his strategy and will put behind us the tedium – nay, stress – we have felt over the past 4 years or so. Well, we shall soon see: no matter what his style, the primary hope is that Villa avoid relegation.

In the fact that Sherwood has come in after the midway point of the season, I thought it might be interesting to see how Villa have faired before when a new manager has come in mid-term or later.

1950, December – George Martin. The Villa had, amazingly, been without a manager for 17 months and had been supervised directly by the board, the method used before the club’s first permanent managerial appointment, in 1934. Martin came in when Villa were 18th of 22 (2 for relegation in those days) and gradually got the wheels moving again with an end-of-season unbeaten run of 9 games, starting with a win at Wolves in Billy Wright’s heyday, and finishing with the demolition of Stoke, 6-2. Villa’s next season (1951-52) proved to be Vila’s best season in the 32 years between the War and 1976-77 with young stars Danny Blanchflower, Tommy Thompson and Johnny Dixon showing their flair. Martin walked out in August, 1953 after realising he was not getting the support he wanted from the board.

1958, December – Joe Mercer. A generally popular appointment, Mercer started as being an affable man but left in 1964 with broken health. He could not prevent relegation in his first (half) season, but Villa enjoyed a magnificent run to the FA Cup semi-final where they were unluckily beaten by Villa’s old legend Billy Walker and his Nottingham Forest side. From 1959 to 1962, Mercer appeared to be taking Villa to better places, but then the board’s lack of financial help, and some bad luck, caused a decline.

1968, December – Tommy Docherty. The new regime came in with a clean broom: the cobwebs of many years of neglect were swept away in magnificent style and hope reinforced by Docherty’s appointment. He saved Villa from relegation from the old Division 2 but then tried to achieve too much too quickly, resulting in his departure a little over a year after he started.

1970, January – Vic Crowe. Villa’s old skipper was not able to stop Villa’s relegation from Division 2, but quietly re-built the squad and by 1974 had built the nucleus of a side and a youth policy that would hold Villa in good stead for another 5 years. Unfortunately Crowe was not able to get the best out of those players, and with Villa seemingly stuck in Division 2, Ron Saunders was brought in with marvellous results.

1982, February – Tony Barton. The club’s former assistant manager took over after Ron Saunders walked out of Villa Park and seamlessly took Villa forward to win the European Cup the same year. Unfortunately for Barton, Doug Ellis took over as chairman the same year and Villa’s opportunities for further success were cut back. Barton stood his ground, however, but was forced to leave in 1984.

1994, late November – Brian Little. Little took over from the former popular manager Ron Atkinson who had generally raised Villa’s profile over the previous 3 years. By this December, however, Villa were in 20th position out of 22. Little was able to bring about a recovery and took Villa through a couple of promising seasons.

1998, February – John Gregory. Brian Little voluntarily departed even though (at 15th place) Villa were not greatly in trouble, and with the same squad Little’s former assistant Gregory motivated the side to only two defeats for the rest of the season. Villa finished 7th.

2002, February – Graham Taylor. John Gregory, tired of disagreements with Doug Ellis, unexpectedly walked out when Villa were in a comfortable position in the league table. Graham Taylor took over for a second sojourn at Villa Park but also became discontented and vacated his post in the summer of 2003.

The omens for a mid-season incoming manager are generally good. Apart from the years 1958 and 1970, a mid-season change of appointment has been successful.

The appointment of Billy McNeil in September 1986 enhanced a disastrous season, however, and I am grateful his arrival does not qualify as a "mid-season" appointment.

Monday, 16 February 2015

A few timely words...

A few words at half-time, a lift in Villa's play in the second-half, and you could suddenly see the holes in Lambert's strategy. It was clear that Lambert had been given too much rope and too much time - a fresh and inspirational spark was needed, and in Tim Sherwood perhaps we may have it.

Sherwood comes with something of a reputation in several areas, but I would like to concentrate on the one that sounds really positive - that he can bring the best out of players. I hear that Adebayor was transformed at Spurs under Sherwood and that Sherwood was also key in bringing through the Spurs' latest shining light - Kane.

There are at least two Villa players that could do with guidance from Sherwood in my view. One is clearly Benteke, the big player who was our goal-blazer but who has become a shadow of his former self.

The other is Jack Grealish. People have been raving about him and wanting him to be played, but each time he has appeared he has disappointed me. He looks as though he has talent but needs guidance to make the best of that skill, and play with more maturity. Sherwood can do that. Maybe he can also get Gary Gardner back from Forest and re-generate him as well.

The next few games are going to be extremely challenging to get Villa back into scoring and winning ways, but Sherwood's style is a naturally attacking one (I remember him well as a player) and if anyone can save Villa's blushes, he can. A few minutes' talk at half-time yesterday proved that he can turn matters around. 


Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Virtually a deja vu from the 60s?

The latest league performance seemed to have 'relegation' stamped all over it.

Whilst the debate of 'why' continues, I thought a comparison of what happened in the 60s might be useful - 4 seasons of virtually continuous lower-level performances resulting in relegation in the 5th season.

The primary reason then was poor management at board level, and their policies resulted in the inevitable.

Virtually a deja vu?

Division 1, 22 teams 42 matches and 2 points for a win - total at 3 points for a win in brackets:

P W D L F A Pts
1966/67 21st 42 11 7 24 54 85 29 (40)
1965/66 16th 42 15 6 21 69 80 36 (51)
1964/65 16th 42 16 5 21 57 82 37 (53)
1963/64 19th 42 11 12 19 62 71 34 (45)
1962/63 15th 42 15 8 19 62 68 38 (53)

Premier League, 20 teams 38 matches, prior to 2014/15:

P W D L F A Pts
2013/14 15th 38 10 8 20 39 61 38
2012/13 15th 38 10 11 17 47 69 41
2011/12 16th 38 7 17 14 37 53 38

Monday, 9 February 2015

Well, the next 6 games are critical, are they not?

Scoring one goal these days is almost like a win over Man U, is it not? It’s such a rarity.
But if you concede two then the one goal proves to have done nothing more except bring back some hope that we can score. Indeed, with Carles Gil demonstrating impetuous skill at times against the league leaders and also linking well with Delph and Westwood, the old image of hoof football seems to have been put to bed. A possession stat of 51% (against the league leaders!), with a higher proportion than usual actually making inroads to the opponent’s half, seems to indicate that the team still has positive thoughts.

The depressing stat is that even with improved movement there was only one attempt on goal – the goal that was scored. The attackers seemed to think that putting the ball over the bar might gain 3 points, but it was a defender that showed them how. Encore Okore!

It’s this impotency in attack that is now the primary focus. Everyone (not just Lambert) assumed that after Benteke’s return from lengthy injury the goal scoring deficiency would be rectified. Indeed, in his early matches he put three in the net as though he was just warming up, but for whatever reason he has since looked a forlorn figure, generally not doing too much and waiting for someone to put the ball exactly where he wants it. Having been left on the bench this time we found that his replacement, though looking more mobile, also did not have his goal-finding equipment with him. We can look back in fondness to the days when Ashley Young used to measure the perfect centre for Gabby’s head to steer the ball home (a beauty versus Man U comes to mind), but the man seems to have lost that ability. Perhaps Young’s departure sent him into a mourning that he has never recovered from.

So, scoring remains the main crisis issue. And you have to score to win.

The tactic now can either be (a) a return to massive defence with swift counter-attacks, or (b) all-out attack and leave gaps at the back. Even with all-out attack I’m not sure that we know where the net is, so (a) (to me) seems the less risky approach. We simply must win some games.

We now have six games which must constitute the basis of our survival plan:

Feb 10 v. A Hull City
Feb 21 v. H Stoke C
Feb 28 v. A Newcastle U
Mar 3 v. H West Brom
Mar 14 v. A Sunderland
Mar 21 v. H Swansea C

We must have a target of a minimum 12 points from these matches to stand a chance of survival, I suggest – three home wins and three away draws or some other permutation with the same minimum result. Failure to achieve that must surely be curtains for our team. Following these six we have three consecutive away games against Man U, Spurs then Man City: what a thought! But we then have three consecutive home matches against QPR, Everton and West Ham. Finally, after a visit to the Saints we have Burnley at home. Maybe that will be the decider?

Whatever happens, come Summer something up top has to change at Villa Park.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Did Someone Find A Spanner?

The machine was in need of fixing, so someone found a good engineer and now everything's fixed - some might say!

Having scored two goals, and fine ones at that, and again seeing a Villa defence being mostly well-organised and well-led by Clark, we could be forgiven for thinking that the season has turned. For goodness sake, even Delph has put pen to paper and will be with us until at least the end of the season.

At least we had a day that ended with Villans having a smile on their faces.

Now for the downside.

The match yesterday was against lower-level opposition, but an opposition that has got a reputation for scoring. And eight against our Small Heath neighbours (earlier this season) can't exactly be sniffed at. Not only versus lower-level opposition, though, but a performance from Villa that did not auger well at the end of the first half: the sound of boo-ing was discernible at the end of the first 45

It took a magical goal from our new signing to put life into Villa and their game. And when it became 2-0 there was a temptation to relax and say everything's fine now.

But ... and there has to be another 'but' ... our supposed star talisman is not clicking. Christian Benteke seems not to like being a conventional striker, to put himself in where it might hurt. There were two occasions in the first half when he could have done better - he should have found the anticipation (the sign of a good striker) to get in there and at least make it difficult for the opposing defence. Some say he's lost his confidence, but why should that be the case? He has scored three goals since he came back from injury - and fine ones at that - but in the last few games has shown signs of being moody and wanting the ball exactly where it suits him. And not exactly using the benefit of his height and weight to good effect either.

And though Gil looks promising, he hasn't yet shown much sign of an understanding with Benteke to bring the best out of him.

Villa's next two games - against the Gunners and then the Pensioners - will be big testers for this renewed Villa. I await with baited breath to see the outcome of those two fixtures. From those games we will be better able to gauge the club's outcome this season. For me, I feel Villa are still short of a quality player - and need Benteke to be scoring once more.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

When There Was Width ... AND Quality!

We have heard, have we not, of how the prowess of Aston Villa used to lift the workers in Birmingham so that the following Monday produced an improvement in production.

Just folklore or not, I believe that the idea of it is not a daft one. After all, if you were physically working in a hum-drum and repetitious activity for very long hours in the days of non-TV and (until the 1920s) no radio, then you’d want something to lift your spirits. And investing a tanner to visit Aston Villa would provide that lift, both through their quality of play and their achievements, aided by a pint at t’ pub. And the Blues and the Albyun in those days usually had a good team, too, to ensure that when Villa were matched against one of ‘em there was plenty to talk about after. What days they must have been – I missed nearly all of that era but remember elements of that atmosphere in the days of packed terraces in the early 50s. Including that guy who, every home match, would walk on his hands from the centre-circle to the goalmouth. Different times; different people. What fun.

Days that have all gone now. The old-type heavy industry is no more, the cloth cap has gone but the trams are making a bit of a come-back. The culture of the country is vastly different from what it was 40 years ago, let alone 100 years ago. And Aston is no longer the district of local Villa supporters.

Sadly, the claret and blue colours look rather insipid these days: once they seemed to have a rich hue about them but now the colours look to me as though they are (literally) all gloss with a bookmaker’s name scrawled across the front. It’s all about money now – the so-called ethos of knowing the price of everything but knowing the value of nothing.

Where has the quality gone? Quality in the kit, yes, and the quality on the field in particular. All has gone downhill, it would seem, apart from the prawn sarnies (perhaps). But are our expectations of the club too much? Some supporters of other clubs took drastic action when their clubs went down unwanted roads, like Wimbledon and Man U, but is Villa a different case? Way back in 1936, Fred Rinder, that grand old bastion of the Villa (and even in the days of the club’s first real depression), still opined that Villa were, and always would be, a great club. I always believed he was right, until about 5 years ago when I started to feel that things were not good at the club. And in Villa’s history, 5 years of downturn is a very long time indeed. The length of this period in the club’s history can only be compared to the latter half of the 1960s. And it then took more than 6 years for the new regime to get things back on track: but they did – in grand style.

‘Where there’s life there’s hope’, they say. Can we have a 1969-type resurgence all over again? I now have me doubts, even though relegation has not yet taken place. The game is now a different creature to that which many of us fondly remember, and the money element is seen as what drives it along.

But it is people that have historically really made the difference, so where are the kind of people that really feel for the club and could help in another resurrection … the new Harry Parkeses and Eric Houghtons? And the fact that Villa could once draw on the then recent club experience of Vic Crowe and Ron Wylie. It’s that intimate connection that still existed back then, but I cannot see that level of connection and commitment in existence today.

Perhaps there’s a message here, about a broader picture. Premier League football now consists of precious few teams of real talent; the so-called top players live in a totally different world it would seem, and the lower league teams have really suffered since 1992. Perhaps we should examine the question whether top-flight professional football has passed its sell-by date; or perhaps we are content to go along with this ball-game within a ball-game and wait just to see what happens.

“The times they are a-changin’.” (Dylan, but best sung by Brum’s Ian Campbell)
Peter Paul and Mary version.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Boo, boo .... boo-hoo!

To quote some other fans...

It is now a fact that no club in Europe or USA or South America have scored less goals than Villa.
The Aston Villa FC goal of the month competition is taking on a life of its own now. 

It's also a fact that many old supporters are getting very ashamed about what is taking place on the pitch. Though the type of football lately being played is technically an improvement, it is played at such a pace and without variation that it is no surprise that chances are not created.

To think I spent a lot of my time encouraging would-be supporters to follow Villa when Randy Lerner took over (and I succeeded) and to now see what has developed over these last near 5 years ... I am appalled. The whole club should hang its head in shame.

It's enough to make you weep...

When the club had the temerity to sack me in January 2010 (5 years ago) I said then that the club would go backwards. It has. So far back that it's almost sunk.

What McGregor, Ramsay or Rinder would make of this lot I hate to think... 

We need a cure for this sickness ... and quick.