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

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.