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

Saturday, 28 January 2017

All Shoulders To The Pump, Now...

Well, this has been a 10-day period of transfer action ... and some action at that. There must be some doubt as to whether Steve Bruce reads Aston Villa Life to determine what we thought/think of the squad's weaknesses, but the signings seem to me to indicate that he's on a similar wavelength to a lot of us. And I've just had a marvellous insight into why that might be ... it must be the fact he's English without pretence to being influenced by foreign thinking. He's of the old school, and I for one am hugely relieved by that even if I shared doubt with some on the suitability of his appointment.

Anyhow, he's clearly worked out where in the team the weaknesses lie, and in the kind of signings he's made he's clearly been unhappy with dealing with players who are not committed or skilled enough to fully contribute to the cause, or players that sometimes think that just to get on the pitch and do a shimmy or two qualifies them for hero status. And talking of which I've been bringing to mind how until about 20 years ago, to be locally-born and to play for Villa was a big thing and such players are found in Villa's history to be the bedrock of Villa's old successes. Locally-born great captains like Devey, Spencer, Bache, Moss and Walker come to mind, but since Walker's retirement in 1933, there have been precious few who have been anywhere near the quality of that group. Thankfully, however, Harry Potts, Frank Moss jnr., Harry Parkes, Peter Aldis, Alan Deakin, John Deehan, Garry Shaw and Ian Taylor have flown the local flag with distinction in the last few decades, while the reason why highly-hyped players like Collymore and Grealish have not met that level of commitment intrigues me. And with Gabby and Vassell we have suffered two other local disappointments, it has to be said.

The call I have read to "develop a significant core of our current squad and academy players" resonates with me, also, but it would appear that at present we have virtually no-one from that group who will much help the Doctor's target of promotion this season. If that is his target then bringing in comparatively untried players would almost certainly cause delay. But it does not mean to say that academy players should not be given their chance to shine as substitutes at the right moments in a match ... or towards the end of the season should the target be missed.

Anyhow, all those who have voiced their doubts about the suitability of Hutton, Westwood and Bacuna must now be cheered by the kind of recruits that have just been signed, players that appear to be experienced professionals, ambitious and also seem to be multi-skilled, hopefully adding weighty support to the scoring instincts of Mr. Kodjia.

But wait! We also read that Steve Bruce likes two strikers up front, and it appears that he doesn't mean that Gabby is the second of those two. He appears to be earnestly looking for another bright spark to assist Jonathan, and there are 3 days left in this window for that to happen.

Now all these lovely signings are still fine on paper ... but we have to see how they work out in practise. And with Villa on the tele on Tuesday at Brentford we should be able to detect how good they might be. If they prove to be what we needed let us hope there is enough time for their impact to be felt and that we start zooming up the table. In fact, new signing Hourihane told the club's website: “For Villa, I hope we go on a run now and get into the play-offs. That’s what we will be fighting for every single day in training. ..."

It appears there's still hope!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Will Preston Bring An 'End' To The Strike Dilemma?

We are well into the third week of the transfer 'window', and still there's no sign of reinforcements arriving. Added to this situation is the news that Lambert has obtained striker Weimann for the rest of the season! Which makes the situation even more bizarre that we are (this Saturday) being given the chance to see Robinson show us what he's capable of in the goal-scoring department. And since old Villa players do tend to come and haunt us, there is a situation developing about which our auld (but so sadly departed) friend Gary Haddon would have some appropriate comment to make!

It's difficult to see our two so-called strikers (Gabby and Ross) making any kind of headway on Saturday. Indeed, at least one of them would be up for the 'chop' in normal conditions, so just what will the boss do? Will the boss kick his principles aside and throw RHM into the fray? I somehow doubt it. So with the prospect of another goal-less show from our side this week, I thought it best to put our fears aside and look back at some ancient Villa v. Preston history - out of which there is even a possible solution for this Saturday's match!

Since time immemorial, there has been a sense of history between our club and Preston North End. Indeed, in the few years prior to the foundation of the Football League (1888), the two leading clubs in the land were Preston N.E. and Aston Villa. Ahem, except that in those so-called "friendlies only" times, Preston very often followed the practise of playing weaker clubs in order to boost their statistical ratings, and keep their fans happy with the flow of goals.

But there were times when Preston did show Aston Villa just who was boss. And that became manifest for the first time in the very year when Villa became the Midlands' first ever winners of the F.A. Cup - in 1887. Villa were, of course, over the moon about their win, and the Baggies (who Villa beat in the Final) slunk away into a corner to lick their wounds. Meanwhile, Villa went on a great tour of the country to demonstrate their skills, sometimes playing a match every two days. But the very last scheduled match was to be played at ... Preston. Now the men of Preston were no fools; they watched from afar as Villa won match after match on their tour. And while Villa were doing that, Preston just trained a bit, and otherwise just relaxed, waiting for their visitors to arrive and believing that by the time Villa arrived, they would be fagged out.

Preston won the match 11-1. This is a statistic that many Villa fans will not have heard of, and because it happened during those "friendlies only" days (which - it has to be said - were definitely not friendlies when honour was at stake) it's been put aside as just a freak and not that important. But, at the time, it was important.

The Villa, of course, were incandescent! Villa immediately demanded a replay at Villa's ground (Perry Barr). And a few weeks later that replay did occur and Villa won this time, 2-1. Some wag pointed out that if the 2-1 score were to be translated into Roman numerals, it would look like the same score that Preston achieved in the earlier match, II-I!

Villa next met Preston in a real competition - the F.A. Cup - the very next year (1888), at Perry Barr. This was the match when so many fans attended that they overwhelmed the ground. Perry Barry normally operated to a maximum of 10,000 spectators, but on this occasion it is reckoned that at least 25,000 attended. There were no controls - they were just let in! Horse police and the local yeomanry were called in to keep the crowd under control (it must almost sound like the scene at the first Wembley Final in 1923!), but the crowd could do nothing but spill onto the pitch and interfered with the play. 

The interference was such that the two captains and officials met at half-time and agreed that the match would have to be declared void, but they would finish the match and record it as a friendly. 

Well, Preston won 3-1. But, to Villa's consternation, Preston (the masters of trickery) claimed that win as their route into the Cup's next round - despite the agreement midway through the match! And what was even worse was that the F.A. accepted their argument, and that was how Villa (the Cup holders) were ejected from the Cup that year. However, the Baggies did Villa a good turn - they beat Preston in the Final!

It was later that year (1888) that McGregor's Football League got under way, and Preston celebrated by winning the 'Double' - the League and the Cup - in the first season. Villa were runners-up but did not win over Preston in either of their matches. Several games into the 1889-90 season, however, Preston remained unbeaten in the League since its start the year before, but it was Villa that became the first team to beat them in the League, by 5-3 at Perry Barr. Villa's famous centre-half, Jimmy Cowan, had to be played centre-forward that day because of injuries, and scored a hat-trick!

I've had a thought: get Jimmy Cowan back to play this Saturday! Or does it indicate that Tommy Elphick should be given a chance up front, as someone has suggested? I can recall the 1950s full-back Stan Lynn being played there several times, so perhaps the idea is not a bad one.

Just one last thought: it was in 1970 that Villa and Preston were relegated together from the old Division Two. Now, according to the rules of those days it also meant that neither team would have full League membership while in the lower division: they would have to be promoted to regain that privilege. What a come-down to the only two teams that had ever won the 'Double' prior to 1961; how the once mighty had fallen!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Many Reasons Not To Cry Wolf!

It is closing in on 2 years since we last set eyes on Paul Lambert at Villa Park, but here we are about to face him and his latest charges, the Wolves. And he looks more relaxed in his new surroundings, I have to say.

It appears to me that Lambert's new project is a more long term issue, and where Wolves are in the table (at Lambert's usual position of 16th or thereabouts), and nothing in their recent league results that should cause Villa much alarm (they lost their last home game, against QPR), Villa really must think positively and get the win.

But of course, this is a 'derby' match and pride is at stake. Added to that, Wolves won on the week-end in the FA Cup at Premier League Stoke, so we should expect them to show some confidence in this upcoming match. Counteracting that is the fact that Wolves' away form has been quite good this season, while their home form (6 defeats, 3 wins, 3 draws) is not at all good. But neither is Villa's away form! Those considerations, plus the fact that Villa are light in the strike department and not so strong in midfield, seems to point to a draw as the outcome.

The frustration would be that extracting just one point from Wolves is not enough if Villa are to make real headway to the play-offs. Such a result may come to prove that Villa's project in the Championship is a two term affair after all, particularly as we need to get a bit more than 2 points a match in the remainder of the season to get to the play-offs. 

However, as Villa fans we have learnt not to expect much having known every frustration during the course of the last 20 years, and perhaps - just perhaps - we are now at the point where we need to mark time in anticipation that all will come together for a big launch next season.

Even so, not to win at Wolves would be disappointing and a slight dent in our aspirations. And we surely do not relish the thought of any sign of contentment from their manager if they manage to take anything from this match!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

vs Spurs (in the FA Cup)

People will probably think there’s only going to be one team in this contest, but they thought that, too, in 1971, when Villa were still in the old Third Division!
Inevitably, I suppose, the thoughts of the older ones will drift back to that big occasion at Wembley in 1971 – 45 years ago – when Villa took on one of the very much better Spurs sides in the League Cup Final.
For around three-quarters of the match it looked far more likely that Villa would carry the day, and if the score could have been worked out on chances missed Villa would have won about 2-0 at that point in the game. Then Freddie Turnbull, Villa’s local lad at centre-half, lost concentration and allowed the skilful Martin Chivers into the game. We were one down. A few minutes later a similar situation. 0-2.
No matter said Villa’s magnificent fans as they had enjoyed a wonderful time seeing their favourites keep Spurs pegged back for so long, and when the final whistle went those fans cheered and cheered for many minutes. It made the neutrals wonder who had won.
Well, if we lose tomorrow, let’s go down fighting as we did back then!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Capital Opportunities To Make Headway?

A warm New Year's greeting to all prior to the first game of 2017, a year in which we hope to see Villa return to the top-flight! And there's every chance we can reach the play-offs: I do not see it being that difficult to achieve that part. The biggest challenge in my view will be to beat the other teams in the play-offs. But let's take it one step at a time.

Well, right now we have another War-nock game to face, and we probably remember the clattering that Jack got just a few weeks ago in the corresponding fixture at Villa Park, a 3-1 win for Villa. On their patch it will be more difficult despite Cardiff's lowly league position: Cardiff have won 45%, drawn 20% and lost 35% of their last 20 home games, but in their last 20 home games against teams positioned in the top half of the table, it would seem that Cardiff have won 9, drawn 8 and lost 3 of these matches. 

So this match is no pushover, especially as pretty well every team in the Championship other than Newcastle sees a match against Villa as their Cup Final opportunity, and Villa are not aided by the fact that Kodjia may not be available for this match. But as he will be away for the best part of a month anyway we might as well get used to the fact that we have to do without him for now. And he without us as he lies in wait to grab his tenth goal of the season for Villa. 

While Kodjia and Ayew are away, and with Gestede apparently on his way out, I would hazard a guess that we'll see McCormack and Gabby as being the main hopes as strikers with RHM on the bench, though we well know that Gabby's ability to score has been pretty well absent this past couple of years. But Mac might at last come awake to put a few in the net, following his lively half-match display against Leeds. In these upcoming matches I would hope he will be better aided and abetted by Jack, who will have more responsibility placed on his shoulders to make up for the absentees. And in Adomah, Bacuna and Amavi dare I hope that our forwards might get some decent wing service? I really love Adomah's play: he is not the world's best, but he has offered a degree of trickiness and tenacity that has been long missing on Villa's flanks, and has translated that good work into assists for his team-mates. And, going forward, Amavi often offers thrust as well. In fact, due to his defensive weaknesses, I feel he'd provide the drive we've lacked in midfield or (perhaps better) specifically the left-wing slot! The question is, who would you then put at left-back!

This is certainly not going to be an easy month, with the next league match being played at a slightly resurgent Wolves, but followed by home games against PNE and Bristol City, both of whom beat us on their pitch. If we can get 7 points from those 3 matches with the players we have currently available, I'd think we'll be doing well.

But first things first as we now face matches in the Welsh and English capital cities. Firstly we have the match at Cardiff, followed by a chance to remind ourselves about Premier League life when we visit Spurs this coming week-end in the FA Cup. Well, it's just a chance for a day out in London, isn't it? We surely don't expect to beat Spurs ... do we?!