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

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Who Are The Real Villa[i]ns?

We’re walking a difficult tithtrope aren’t we? On the one hand we have come to totally disrespect the top brass at t’ Villa, and yet on the other hand we have love for the club, built up over decades.

The question is, when addressing vitriol at the top brass, are we in effect hastening the demise of the club? 

You may think this question is absurd, but thoughts create reality and if the toxicity gets to reach the players too much – and the evidence suggests it has – then it can be counter-productive to a successful outcome to the season. “Successful” meaning to avoid relegation.

I am not for one moment supporting the owner – he has revealed an attitude which is twofold – surface (for presentation purposes) and real (which I see as incompetence), but I’ve come round to thinking that Remi Garde and the players on the pitch deserve every support.

The composition of the present squad is not the fault of the players – its construction has all been part of the top brass incompetence – but I’d say in Remi Garde we have a manager for the future. If he stays, of course. And if anyone can get something out of this lot then he can.

So, I say give the manager and the team plenty of backing. But at the same time keep flying a strong banner that reminds the top brass they’re not respected – without the vitriol: it never works.

Incidentally, the turnout last night was poor, but it was not exactly the kind of game that would attract a big attendance. It was merely a low-key Cup game. And the Cup is not the competition that we should be much concerned about, i.m.o. It merely provided an opportunity to see whether other players that have not been getting games could step up. Well, Grealish definitely didn’t, and if he can’t do it against WW, who can he do it against?

Collymore, Gabby and now Grealish. They’ve all purported to be Villa supporters, but have not measured up to that responsibility. In recent years, I can only think of Ian Taylor who has manned up.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Bring On The Big Boys!

So, in ten years the slogan has gone from “Proud Heritage, Bright Future” to “Aston Villa do not the fear the consequences of relegation from the Premier League”.

Apologies to the fans? Not a bit of it. Our new chairman had no cause to apologise but the owner and late chairman has remained quiet and leaves the talking to others.

It is probably true that so long as the team manager and players show the fight and guile required to try to create a miracle escape, the supporters will almost forgive anything. Or – if relegation does occur – will the realisation then set in and cause a reaction?

I have to say that I have respect for Garde. His demeanour is usually calm, but he has given away his emotions outside the dugout from time to time when on-the-field play displeases him. He is, I can declare, visibly human when caught off-Garde.

Back in the office it is clear that he does try to address matters that the fans are also concerned about. The complaints against Guzan and others have been fizzing all season, and so Garde decided he’d seen enough ‘merde’ and took action to reverse out of the ‘cul de sac’. Bunn came out of the oven and immediately earned his crust – particularly in saving a penalty against Leicester at a highly important juncture in the game.

Garde has, though, inherited a highly improbable squad and to massage a recovery out of this lot is – I would say – nigh impossible. Unless – of course – he’s able to bring in a couple (on loan) who are inherently capable of making a difference.

The defence now looks more settled, though not perfect, and it’s the attack that now seems to attract the main focus. We have to score to win, right?

Garde’s eventual ploy of having 3 big men on the field against Leicester certainly had the desired effect, and it’s maybe that kind of battering ram tactic that is needed: it may succeed against Albyun for example. But all of them have to improve the accuracy and regularity of their goal attempts – plus we need more service from the wings.

The minimum we have to get to survive is another 7 wins and 6 draws, or 8 wins and 3 draws. And we have to start scoring more to achieve either set of stats. Since Liverpool are not getting anywhere, perhaps Benteke could come back on loan? Yes, that maybe sounds daft, but in my view the need for a spark is getting desperate – and surely it’s better for CB than freezing on the bench? OK, you’re right, it’s just a pipe-dream.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Vanilla Anyone? I Prefer Plain Icing On The Cake.

That sinking feeling has come back this season with a vengeance, but because we have been so close to the drop for 5 years I suppose it could be said we’re inured to the idea.

But has the Villa Disappointment been just a 5-year affair? No, of course not. Despite the comparatively halcyon years of 1989-2001 and 2007-2010, there has been little to chortle over since the early 1980s, over 30 years ago. And the 1974-1984 time must count as Villa’s greatest success period in over a century.

Thinking about it, I recall that my father was born a few months after the previous championship success (in 1910) and died not that long before the next one (1981), so between us we have witnessed only the one championship success in 106 years. Since 1910, the Villa have been mostly struggling to find themselves, except during that lovely time of 1974-84.

Indeed, my first 23 years of life and as a Villa supporter were mostly spent in depression as relegation always seemed a stone’s throw away during that time. But Dad must have had a premonition of something that was going to happen in the mid-50s as he acquired a TV in 1956, and in 1957 we saw Villa win the Cup on it.

Yes, they played that day in those dark gray and light gray stripes (er, I’m told they were actually claret and blue stripes, but we couldn’t see that on our TV) and though they were not playing anything like Real Madrid, they did give the suggestion that they were out there to give Man U a fight. And they did: Supermac laid out their keeper after 10 minutes and so we won with the advantage of they playing with effectively 10 men before the days of subs. Supermac scored a hat-trick: one knock-out and two goals.

But at least they played with effort. And in Supermac they had a real match-winner. Johnny Dixon was also an inspirational skipper, and Dugdale (the centre-half) and Sims (keeper) were great players. They were a good, well-oiled team: nothing fancy, but full of drive.

In their current situation this season we have needed just that: “[a] good, well-oiled team: nothing fancy, but full of drive”. Well, perhaps they have finally found just that: Villa finally came of age in their 21st league game, against Crystal Palace. An injury to Hutton enforced a change at r-b - letting in Bacuna - and with Richards dropped, Bunn making his Villa league debut in goal at age 31, and Kozak returning to lead the line, there was suddenly a greatly improved team performance and a win. Villa survived a first-minute shot against their post, but went on to score a solitary and freak-ish goal via the opponent keeper's fumbling, to bring about the first league win of the season since the opening day and the first one at home. But bizarre or not, it was a deserved win. The referee in Villa's first win of the season (Mark Clattenburg) happened to be the referee in this match as well!

Villa have gone down in the football world a lot, but even by the 1960s, Villa were being seen to be something of a has-been as they are today. I recall that when I went to Crystal Palace to see Villa play about 1968-time, my shouts of “C’mon the Villa!” were echoed by my nephew shouting “C’mon Vanilla!”. Even Small Heath supporters were calling our club Aston Vanilla – because we could always be licked. But we did win, that day in 1968. So there was no ice cream that day for our opponents.

The challenge now is to maintain the momentum set in their last match - and they have to keep going to the very last kick of the season. Can they do it? Can they be the "good, well-oiled team: nothing fancy, but full of drive”? 

The challenge is great and never before have Villa faced such a stiff challenge. They got out of tough corners in 1951 and 1956, but this time around it is a far more stiff challenge than those as well as the previous few seasons before this.

Well, so long as they show the willingness to fight then they deserve the support if we don't want the relegation that would otherwise materialise.

Up the Villa!

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

All We Need is a Touch of Speed.

These days, trying to write anything constructive about Aston Villa Football Club is a real struggle.

Even in the last 2 or 3 months of last season, we somehow found a sense of buoyancy and hope that had been generated with the advent of Tiger Tim, and we even got to a cup final. But that final – and the couple of league games preceding it – produced a reversal to numbness amongst us that Villa could have fallen away so badly. Virtually nothing has gone right since.

In fact, however, apart from the thumping at Everton, no team has given us a thrashing this season. Even the 1-3 defeats at Spurs and Sunderland resulted from a goal right at the end of play to make the scoreline look more drastic. So close to a few wins, yet so very, very far.

But all these non-win results have come about from two main factors – lack of defensive quality (and gaffes) and lack of achievement in the penalty area. The hallmarks of a relegation team.

The defensive gaffes speak for themselves, but what about the attack? From time to time, there has been real quality exhibited by the attackers. The following stick in my mind:

1. The Traore run and centre and Gil’s glorious volley as recent as last Saturday.
2. Ayew’s goals – all of them good.
3. Gestede’s determination and skill in scoring his two at Liverpool.

But, sadly, these have been mere isolated lights of joy amidst very average attempts, other than a couple of shots by Veretout of late that probably deserved better.

By the way, it’s interesting that Gil’s two goals this season have both come in the 63rd minute, and all the other goals from the attackers (Ayew and Gestede, mainly) have come from the 62nd minute onwards. Do they not get a sense of urgency until two-thirds through the match? Or is it that they score when the opposition is beginning to tire?

The fact that there have been so few such lights of joy is to me down to one thing: we build up too slowly. We have a lot of midfield craftsmen, but we mostly see the ball criss-crossing the field with very little end-penetration. And the pace at which we do all that allows the opponents to marshall their defence to counter any threat. In the first hour of the match we need more swiftness.

We have lacked an explosive player to open up the opposition, in my opinion. The goal we scored at Sunderland is a great illustration that when we burst forward at pace then we can get a resulting strike. A glorious goal brought about by bringing on a player who, clearly, can devastate the opposition. We remember he did just that on his first appearance at Crystal Palace.

But it’s not just one player we need to rely on, of course. One of the other weaknesses in the team selection has been the regular omission of Gil from the starting line-up. He doesn’t shoot that often, but all his three goals for Villa have been well struck and beautifully placed. And he has enough midfield artistry to keep him in the team, as well, in my opinion. I feel he needs to be a permanent fixture, at the exclusion of Sinclair.

Ayew’s selection is pretty well without argument now, but the worry, of course, is the central striker position. In view of what Gestede demonstrated at Liverpool, I’m hugely disappointed that he hasn’t gone on from there and made his mark. But, of course, he’s of late been lacking quality service from the wings – hence more the need to use Traore as I see it.

In fact we could do with a couple of Traores. Mark Albrighton would do for me.