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

Saturday, 29 December 2018

2018 Ends and Another Year Begins

Well, it's pretty clear that without Jack the Villa have lost a fair amount of rhythm these past few matches, and today's showing against Preston appears to have been mostly ragged.

But I think we ought to take encouragement from today’s Championship results. Norwich looked as though they were going to shade it 3-2 after leading 2-0 early on, and then Derby scored two late goals for them to win 4-3! As for leaders Leeds they significantly lost at home, 0-2.

With Albion dropping 2 points at home (as did Small Heath) we’re not in a bad position.

It’s clear that the top-6 teams are no great shakes – any of them – while Villa stand to improve over the next two months once we get a new couple of players in during January (we already have Elphick back) and Jack returns (in another 3 matches I understand) and gets back into a rhythm.

If those other clubs are going to continue to drop points as they did today we will undoubtedly take full use of that as I see it, and come back far more strongly than I thought we could after our Leeds defeat.

There's hope, even in the jaws of defeat. We cannot - and should not - take it for granted that other clubs will falter, but for some reason I see this point in the season as being the bottom of the valley, with a not-too-steep climb in front of us.


Later news is that Chester is carrying an injury and is one of the reasons why Elphick has been recalled.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Against The Albion

The Albion match - in my view - should have ended-up as a neatly packaged 4-2 win with the footballers earning their rewards for a calm display against some rough play … even Barry, from whom we should have gained a penalty.

Albion are a useful side, but the potential Premiership side in that match was clearly the Villa i.m.o. Yep, I’m biased.

But who would have thought that Abe would miss all 4 such chances he had? That absolute sitter in front of goal was actually quite amusing to me because you could see he was getting excited about receiving just the right ball for an easy goal. Unfortunately the ball was ever so slightly behind him, but clearly controllable for him to tuck away.

Well, next match he might score 6.

Nevertheless, it was those missed chances and the non-gained penalty that caused us to drop 2 points. Their last-fling equaliser – hugely flawed that it was – can’t be blamed for a non-win.

Perhaps this is equivalent to a ball-over-the-line situation and video evidence called for?

In this case I don’t blame the officials too much. They were not situated in a good enough position to decide and therefore video evidence is key.

Otherwise I believe in the old adage that you gain some, lose some. Constant analysis does tend to distract from the enjoyment of the game for me and we frankly should have been 2 or 3 goals ahead by then and not be worrying about what would have been a consolation freak to Albion.

Never mind. On paper it is a good result.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

It's Looking Bright! Isn't it?

It's looking as though there's good reason for optimism, doesn't it?

Against Boro, Villa’s play (particularly in the first 20 minutes, and in other periods) was compulsive viewing, without doubt. The play was forceful and during that first 20 minutes the home side looked mesmerised.

But Boro’s strength has been their defensive ‘quality’: they have only scored 22 in 20 games and yet are ‘up there’ in the table. And when the defence backstop (the keeper) demolishes the best of Pulis’s plans then Boro didn’t have a lot left to worry Villa – except on two notable occasions.

The first (when Villa were 1-0 up) was when Downing hit a piledriver that sadly for him hit his own player, who was given offside. That shot would at least have tested Nyland as it was very much on target. The second time was when a smart shot was tipped onto the bar by Nyland at a fairly critical juncture, even though we were 2-0 up. 2-1 at that point and anything might have happened – such is the way in which Pulis works.

But to feel happy with Villa’s general play is wholly justified. We just know that the defence can buckle from time to time (viz 5 against us vs Forest – but that may have been because of Chester not being 100% fit).

While we have forwards of the ilk of Abraham, Kodjia, Bolasie, El Ghazi and Albert, ably supported by the midfield, anything appears (now) to be ‘on’. And I do give credit to Smith’s work in such a short space of time.

But … let’s just see how the upcoming matches vs the likes of Albyun and Leeds pan out before we start believing we are going to win the division! If we do manage to get into the top 2 it will be a tremendous achievement after such a stuttering start to the season.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Do We See Villa Bouncing Back?

Anyone who is a born Aston Villa supporter and a believer in attacking football is likely to be welcomed with open arms by Villa fans, and those are exactly the qualifications that Dean Smith brought with him to Villa Park, as the new team coach.

His first three games were not highly productive and, indeed, they included two (away) defeats, but it has to be said that those games were quick-fire matches played in the course of one week, giving the new coach little time to orchestrate a plan of action and training sessions with his new charges.

Then came the home win over Bolton which showed glimmers of hope and a sure sign that Villa were being asked to play more positively, and in a pressing upfield manner. However, there were still defensive frailties and dithering to be observed, and they were again twice highlighted in the first half in Smith's fifth match at Derby, who had gone six games undefeated, including a 3-1 thumping of Birmingham the previous week. There was also a tendency to not get shots on target. Hence, despite some 16 shots Villa targeted towards the Derby goal, only one of those had actually been on target. Until, that is, the 74th minute, when Bolasie's powerful run and wonderfully accurate cross found the head (of all people) McGinn who headed it in as though he had been doing that sort of thing all his playing life!

And two further goals came, both excellent in their execution.

So, it was in the last 16 minutes Villa won the match, although since bringing on Elmohammedy as a full-back replacement for Taylor after half-time, Villa had looked more sprightly and created several chances before McGinn's header went in. Bringing on both Elmohammedy and Bolasie (70 minutes) seemed to make the necessary difference for Villa to win the match in such powerful fashion.

We go into the next match (versus our auld rivals Small Heath) in two weeks, after another international break, with some hope of seeing Villa's improved attacking play - well - improving!


Sunday, 7 October 2018

Bruce’s Playing Record This Season

Just thought I’d trawl through the BBC stats to see how Bruce’s record looked.

These are some conclusions covering the 10 league matches before the PNE game:
  1. Villa had 55.4% possession on average and the only 2 games when Villa had less than 50% were in the two opening games (49% and 48%)- which we won! 
  2. Villa had an average of 14.2 shots per game, with an average of 5 on target. 
  3. In the heavy defeat against the Blades, we actually had 61% possession and sent in the same number of shots as United (9) – but they put 6 on target to our 2. 
  4. In the 2 successive home draws against Brentford and Reading we had 57% and 59% possession and 17 and 21 shots, compared to their 13 and 10. In both cases we had 8 shots on target compared to their 7. 
  5. In each of the 3 away draws against Ipswich, Blackburn and Bristol each time we had substantially more possession and more shots, including shots on goal. 
  6. In the home defeat against Wednesday we had 54% possession and 18 shots compared to their 13, but 4 shots on target to their 5. 
Bruce’s failure in results seems to hang mainly on those 5 draws (items 4 and 5) when it clearly shows we should have won them all.

Why didn’t we win ’em? I put it down to (a) inaccurate shooting and (b) defensive errors.

Therefore the *main* reason for lack of success: the players, as KMac suggests.

We would have had 10 more points if we had won those games which, based on stats, we should have won. We’d have been top of the division with those points.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Bruce's First Name Is Certainly Not Robert

Another manager bites the dust. Having said that, Bruce has had an extended run compared to those four or five before him. But was this the correct answer to the situation?

From the owners' point of view it was probably the kindest thing they could have done to Bruce as the relationship between he and the fans was going sour. But how unfortunate was he? 2-0 up at half-time last night, Villa perhaps should have finished 4 or 5 goals to the good, but the fans took the view that Villa came out second-half to just hold what they had, and then a mini-disaster hit Villa as their skipper got sent off for being the last man in a clear penalty decision. A foolish act on the skipper's part as the keeper may well have saved the forward's attempt. But the penalty was easily converted and that left Villa with ten men and with two relatively inexperienced centre-backs to face the music.

If Villa had lost - as appeared to be case as Villa entered injury time - then opposition to Bruce from the fans would have been a logical outcome. But they didn't lose as an equaliser came after Villa belatedly pulled themselves together and fought back. And then Villa might have won it at the death with a penalty kick, but it was saved. Preston would rightly have felt robbed if Villa had won.

Bruce - to my mind - is desperately unlucky. Yes, some of his decisions in terms of player selection have seemed strange, but, hey, he was the manager and was just trying to find the right permutation. Sometimes it worked - last season at least.

Not the perfect manager at Villa, but given the state of things as they were in 2016, he was not a bad answer to the Villa's needs. He wasn't that far away from succeeding in my opinion and he certainly turned around a bad attitude in the dressing room when he arrived.

Now, the question is clearly who will be appointed now? The next question is: will he last as long as Bruce?

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Some Tinkering To Be Done Still...

Well it's clearly going to take more than the "2 weeks" I claimed it would take to get it right in my last post! And with 3 new players arriving and having to 'bed in' I shouldn't be surprised really.

But it's not just that. Clearly the centre-back situation is none too clever with Chester and the Jedi being made to look like disjointed twins by Wednesday. And Jack Grealish, I'm afraid, has been sussed. They claim he would be a great player if put on the Premier League stage, but I doubt this view very much. His style is tricky and nice to watch on occasion, but is too powder-puff in my opinion. In yesterday's match he did virtually nothing of significance. He, Kodjia and Abraham were well out-thought and out-muscled by a good defence.

McGinn's goal was wonderful, and Conor's subsequent goal-bound shot was luckily turned away for a corner, but apart from that Villa didn't offer that much by way of a threat against Wednesday, who, in Fletcher, had a very good foil and might have had a hat-trick. And wee Barry Bannan was not bad at all.

I'm now going to say something that a lot of Villa fans will not like, but until Jack gets his modus operandi sorted, he's better out of the team in my view. I would keep a creative midfield pair of McGinn and Conor and bring the Jedi forward as the defensive piece in midfield, with Tuanzebe back at c-b.

However, as Villa are in the throes of setting Jack up with a new contract, I can't in reality see him being left out. Conor may be the fall-guy, perhaps.

But I believe Villa do need a strong figure at the back of midfield and I think that person is the Jedi. 

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Two Weeks To Get It Right

It's 'tuff' being a Villa supporter isn't it?! Just when you think that the season might be about to get started then this (4-1 defeat at the Blades) happens.

Mind you, it would seem that Jack, McGinn and Kodjia were not really fit, but that doesn't excuse the defensive frailty.

I had the doubt - as, clearly, other fans did - about the defence. Last year people moaned about the defensive basis from which Villa played, and now Bruce has put more emphasis on attacking play, the defence has gone backwards.

Letting Steer and Elphick go for a new goalie and the Jedi instead seems daft now, and I seriously wonder how Bruce is going to deal with the c-b problem - for I think there really is a problem there.  Bruce this week commented that he thought Bree might fit, but why not Tuanzebe, who is supposed to be a better c-b?

It could be that Tuanzebe or Bree might be the answer but I would also see the Jedi put back into the holding position in front of defence. However, that's still worrying to me as I feel that age has caught up with him.

There are not many options, though, are there? It could be Bruce's big mistake of the season in not ensuring that we had proper cover after Terry's departure.

Well, Wolves lost 4-1 against us last season so there's room for hope still. 

We have the two weeks of the international break to get the problem sorted on the training ground.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Cylinders Misfiring?

Oh dear. We're still undefeated and yet it's not looking that rosy. 

I'm sorry to say that Villa are not delivering anything that great just now, as a team, though McGinn and Jack have shown up well. The new keeper and the Jedi between them nearly gave a goal away last week too, so it's not been too impressive in defence. So far we've played weaker sides so our position may be a little over-inflated.

I'm far from being convinced that the Jedi is the answer as a c-b, and yet we've just let the u-23 c-b (Suliman) out on loan! Perhaps Bruce expects to get 2 or 3 players in on loan to cover the cracks, but new players often take time to settle in.

At least Codger has scored! Perhaps that may take a strain off him. But Albert's looking out of sorts and I really do think that Green has to be preferred.

Unless something changes and one or two players buck up their ideas, this season may be more of a grind than anything. All we can do is live in hope that McGinn, Jack and Codger can do the job on their own! Aided, perhaps, by a Green, who could be a match-winner if he can step up a level or so.


Saturday, 4 August 2018

Hey Up, Here We Go Again!

The new season seems to have crept up on us. I've still not fully recovered from the finale to last season, followed immediately by the huge financial crisis and then, suddenly, stability again. A new footballing season has suddenly appeared when we've barely recovered from the situations just stated.

And the question is, "How will Villa fare?". I just don't know really. There are questions to be answered even though the squad still remains a strong one, especially with Chester being strongly committed and providing inspiration. But who will partner him? Perhaps Elphick as hopefully he's adjusted to Villa Park now, but will he be reliable? 

Jack would appear to be staying for some time yet, and in which case his continued presence still leaves us with a big query about the striker spot, with Kodjia often showing detachment from his colleagues in pre-season matches and various strikers remaining out of action through injury.

At the bottom of it all I remain opti, but opti with caution. The plus side is that we kick off the season with a stronger team than that which started last season, when Jack was injured and Gabby had to be called up for duty, and scored his last Villa goal. As per last season we need additions to the squad, and the return of Snodgrass is mooted. Well, if he does return he comes already tuned-up for life at Villa Park, so that would be one hurdle overcome.

But I really do hope that this season we see Green becoming a permanent fixture, and other youngsters besides.  They've earnt the right to be up there for selection.


Sunday, 29 July 2018

Fresh Green Shoots

The game (at Dresden) seemed not to be going Villa's way, and then suddenly up pops Green to send in a bending missile which was craftily placed. Within 30 seconds and Hutton hops down the wing like a 2-year-old, skilfully evading two tackles, and pops the ball onto Green's head for what was a 'sitter'. Game over.

Dresden, in truth, wasted opportunities to at least draw the match, but Villa showed enough composure to win through.

But it's in the last two pre-season matches that Green has showed that he has the hunger to show 'em how, scoring 3 goals from about 4 or 5 opportunities, and generally showing good skill, though overdoing it sometimes. He looks as though he really wants to banish last season's enforced absence out of his mind and get cracking in a new season. He must surely be in the line-up at the start of the first match of the season, at Hull.

In the last two games, however, Villa's defence has not looked tremendously strong, and that could be Villa's Achilles' Heel. But in most other positions there appear to be signs that the newcomers of the last 18 months or so have now settled down and are playing as a team. I expect the oldsters Whelan and Jedinak to share the burden as the main rock in midfield, with Hourihane and Lansbury prompting hard. However, there certainly are youngsters capable of providing flair and energy in that department. And even Jack might get through another season with us, but I'm not counting on that. A £25m+ fee will surely purchase his services, and he wants his career to get going as well.

The only other real concern is the main striking role, with a lot of dependency falling on Kodjia's shoulders. Can Kodjia dovetail properly? Will he repeat his scoring form of the season before last? I wonder. And I'm not feeling positive about Hogan ever coming good.

I feel that that the squad lacks a couple of players - in defence and in the attack - for me to feel supremely confident about this season's outcome, but I still think it's a season that we should enjoy.

Well, we'll soon find out!


Thursday, 26 July 2018

A Breath Of Fresh Air!

Well, I can say that I can breathe more easily now that I've learnt that Steve "The Imperfect but Experienced" Bruce stays as Villa's managerial leader into the future. And also because Edens, one of the two new big investors, has stated: 
“We want to see Aston Villa restored to the highest levels of English football and do everything we can do to be good stewards of that.
“We think that nothing happens overnight. that was my experience with the Bucks and I think it'll be consistent with what it is here.
“We have very lofty goals for the club, the organisation and the fans and we want to be the best partners possible for that.”
Last night's run-out against West Ham showed that there's a distinct gulf between Vila's level and that of a Premiership club, but it was encouraging to see the later subs coming on and showing more urgency and a little more potency, with Green scoring a peach of a goal late on.

So, here we are. A new season about to open and every possibility that we'll be happier at the end of this 46-game season. It's by no means a certainty Villa will get promotion this time around, but so long as we're a bit more fortunate on the injuries stakes and so long as we'll find an adequate replacement for Grealish (for surely he'll still go), there's every reason to feel upbeat about the possibilities.

The two new investors clearly have a realistic attitude and now I feel a lot more confident about the club's ability to get there.

But, proof of what's on offer is only found in the eating!


Friday, 20 July 2018

Let's Hope For Brains at VP - As Well As Some Cash!

News that Dr. Xia seems to be at an "advanced" stage of negotiations with a Middle East consortium fills me with mixed feelings. The main one being that this would be the third takeover by a non-UK concern and, frankly, the club has not progressed since the days of the "Ellis OUT!" banners. The warning I issued then - all those years ago - was to be careful for what you wish for, and that fear, unfortunately, transformed into a reality.

One of the concerns for me now is that I understand that one of the groups interested in taking over at Villa Park, and which has effectively been rejected, is UK-based and includes people that are Villa supporters. Despite any shortcomings they might have, my feeling is that route would be preferable to another overseas takeover. But, of course, it's Xia that's in the seller's driving seat and can do what he wishes. Unfortunately.

But as someone has blogged or tweeted: "It's not billions [money] that's required but football brains!" Well, the reality is these days that you need plenty of cash as well to be even a reasonable success in football, but "brains" clearly have been in short supply at Villa Park this last 10 years or so.

So, we are left with a cloudy future no matter what happens now. All we can hope for is that the future shows at least a few sunny spells.


Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Money Worries Put Aside At Walsall

Amidst the financial chaos at Villa Park football is still being played. Only against fairly low minnows, mind you, but footie nevertheless and last night it was a 4-1 win at Walsall, with Villa utilising what appeared to be virtually the first choice team in the first 60 minutes barring those not yet back from World Cup duty. Albeit that Grealish may now have played his last game, and strong rumours of Chester leaving as well. To add to that there is the possibility of players like Jedinak, Bjarnasson, Albert and Kodjia also going to bring in some much-needed 'readies'.

So was last night's team performance anything much to go by? The main thing that caught my eye was that Villa were playing good purposeful football and along the ground. That was good to see, and players like Hourihane (hat-trick hero but two of 'em were somewhat lucky!), Lansbury and Whelan looked pretty much on song.

But I was looking a lot at Jack Grealish. He is a well-balanced footballer without a doubt, and with some skill, but against a team like Walsall he should have taken them apart and yet he seemed short of pace and shooting accuracy with which to do so. Though he would suit Villa well in the upcoming couple of years, my feeling is that if Villa can get £20m-plus for him then it would be money well earned. That's not to say I don't want him, it's just that I do not see him as being a great player: but perhaps life at Spurs may improve Jack. I think Villa can make progress without him, especially as others are coming through the ranks.

Kodjia, I have to say, is disappointing me. He seems out of sorts with the rest of the team. By now I would have expected him to come bursting onto the scene again, but against lowly Walsall he hardly had a meaningful touch.

And that's the real story I think. That despite all the talk of major players going, there remains a residue of experienced and young talent that can still make strides. For me the main worry is the centre-forward spot and whether that can be filled properly.


Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Maybe There Is A Future?

Well, having regained a little composure after the trauma of recent weeks, a little cogitation causes me to be calmer. No, I am not now full of hope exactly but at least I'm not feeling the worst is about to happen to Aston Villa.

We seem to have had an assurance that the Doctor is staying; he's not selling-up. How he intends to run the club and whether he's dispensing with a separate CEO person is not clear right now; this remains a concerning aspect. Bruce is also staying. So, in terms of club management, there are some matters to be resolved that we can't read into just now, especially with regard to the finances. And selling the best of the players to help deal with this matter, including Grealish, seems to be the way that's needed. That, therefore, leaves the players we have left and the potential this forthcoming season.

For those who have argued that we should build from youth, this must surely be the time of striking when the iron is hot - to get those promising youngsters into action, combined with some of the more experienced players that remain. It is to Hutton's credit that he has wanted to stay after proving that, at this level at least, he has a lot to offer after all. And we appear to continue to have players like El Mohammedy and probably also Jedinak and Hourihane to put out on the field. It would be nice if a fully recovered Kodjia is available.

So, with an admixture of the younger players, the future cannot be so bad. My main concern is in the centre-back department and if Chester goes, as he might. That would be an important slot to fill properly. 

As for the possibility of promotion this season, well, it could be - but maybe not. It could well be there are a couple of seasons to go before we can talk more confidently about that. Until then, let's enjoy seeing the growth of some youngsters.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Hasn't Villa Been Just A Business Pawn To Its Overseas Owners?

We’ve got away from the main topic. Bruce is an area of discussion but that’s not where the real focus should be i.m.o.

No matter how Lerner or Xia have trumpeted their connection as fans to the club, they have both failed to understand that to be such a fan means more than treating the Club just as pure business.

Both owners seem to have singularly failed to make the connection as ‘real’ supporters. I cannot but refer back to Fred Rinder and how he would have gone about things. Rather differently, and rather better, I would think.

Yes, different times now to when he was around, but that’s part of the point. The basics now seem to have been dispensed with. And at what cost?

Now, with the added dimension of Keith Wyness having been slung out (apparently for the temerity to speak his mind), the club is in a right pickle. How Xia’s idea of an “investment” is to work is somewhat mind-boggling to me: who on Earth wants to invest £30m with no big say in how the club is run? Is Xia promising big financial returns? He must be, unless the investors are showing interest out of pure love.

Unless Wyness is replaced by someone equally as good – or better – and unless leadership at the club gets back to basics, the future of Aston Villa is now in jeopardy in my view. And allied to all the uncertainty is the threat that all the tradition that we have held dear (like the ground being called “Villa Park”) will go through the window. After all, it’s business … innit?

When that horrible guy (?) Doug Ellis and his cortege arrived in 1968, one of the first things they did was to officially make the name of the ground “Villa Park”. Since 1897 it had been registered as “Aston Villa Lower Grounds”, but the regime of 1968 wanted populism to ring out through the club.

That approach didn’t last too many years, of course, but at least there was some attempt and fans seemed to think they mattered at that time, and that they had a big right to have their say. The fact that Doug worked his bedsocks off to keep the fans in their place caused all kinds of sour reaction. Doug was (gladly) ousted, and now the fans have no real say at all. Except over relatively minor issues.

The club had its spots changed some time ago in reality. The Supporters Trust is a joke, really.

We – in reality – are not fans but ‘customers’ so far as the owner is concerned, despite his cosy chats. We haven’t mentally taken that in yet.

I watch developments in fear. But if Germany can get ousted from the World Cup so soon, perhaps anything is possible!

Thursday, 7 June 2018

What Is Villa's Future?

Following the very recent and unwelcome gleanings concerning finances at Aston Villa, I have to say that it was completely absurd that the chairman should take the financial and managerial gamble he did over the last 2 years. The only excuse he has is that it's his club, but if he'd had a clue about the sufferings Villa fans have had over the past 50 to 70 years (with a few highs, but not too many), it's a route he should have bypassed.

What should have happened, of course, is what many have wanted all along: the appointment of a manager that could have developed the younger players into a promotion outfit and as a true investment for the future.

However, not realising at the time that Xia was taking his so-risky gamble, I thought the appointment of Bruce was a sound one (a good option 2 if you like), and in view of the performances from December to May he was very unlucky not to steal promotion.

But the fact remains that at Xia's outset the policy should have been based on youth development with the very minimum of purchases. A big problem would still have been the dressing room issue, but with what I'd call a "proper manager" installed that could still have been dealt with.

In the light of the recent financial disclosures, a big question hangs as to how Xia intends to meet the future, even if his money becomes available. Or maybe he's intelligent enough to have learnt from all this.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Villa's State of Affairs Right Now

Wow, what a pickle Villa are in.

What I read into the financial situation is that:
  1. The economic situation in China prevents the Chairman from shipping funds directly from there to deal with the upcoming financial challenges (i.e. bills, including Tax, Wages and FFP).
  2. It is alleged that CEO Keith Wyness had a big fall-out with the Chairman after it was discovered that Wyness had taken certain actions of his own to seek a remedy for the financial state of affairs. It seems to be the case that Wyness was suspended because of that and it would appear he's now left the club.
  3. Trevor Birch (a football accountant and heavily involved in the transitions of Everton, Chelsea, Bolton, Portsmouth and Leeds in the past) is advising Aston Villa.
SkySportsNews (SSN) further states:
Members of the executive board will meet on Wednesday to consider how to solve the club's financial crisis and discuss how to raise the funds needed to pay the £2m outstanding tax bill, which could prompt a winding-up order within days.
Of potentially greater concern, however, is the prospect of paying a series of bills due to be settled on June 23 including wages for players and staff, which is thought to total in excess of £8m.
Despite the club's motto being 'Prepared', few could have predicted the speed with which Dr Xia's gamble to reach the Premier League would appear to have come unstuck.
SSN understands the Midlands club have been taking insolvency advice for more than a week, with insolvency expert and former Chelsea CEO Trevor Birch continuing to advise the club.
The question Villa fans will have is whether Dr Xia has the resolve - and the resources - to continue funding a club that is believed to be costing him around £6m a month to run.
After suspending chief executive Keith Wyness for, according to the club, issues unrelated to the HMRC notice, it was announced that Dr Xia would take over the day-to-day running, but SSN understands he remains in Beijing and the meeting will be chaired by his assistant Rongtian Ho - known at Villa Park as 'Mr.Ho'.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

The Potential For Season 2018-19 - As It Stands

The Birmingham Mail reveals that the following players are either gone, going or could be on their way soon or by June 2019.

Loans: Sam Johnstone, Josh Onomah, Robert Snodgrass, Lewis Grabban, Axel Tuanzebe. All almost certainly not to return. 
For some reason, Snodgrass is missing in the list, but he is surely gone.

Contracts expiring (this month): Gabby Agbonlahor, Alan Hutton, Mark Bunn, John Terry, Chris Samba.

  • Gabby is certainly gone.
  • There's the tiny possibility of Terry being here for another season.
  • Hutton may have his contract re-newed.
  • There's no clue as to the situation with Samba.

Contracts expiring next summer (June 2019): Jed Steer, Micah Richards, Ritchie De Laet, Mile Jedinak, Glenn Whelan, Jordan Lyden, Easah Suliman, Carles Gil, Oscar Borg, Mitch Clark.
  • Ritchie de Laet is on loan but appears to have left permanently.
  • Carles Gil appears to be a confirmed transfer after a loan period.
  • I would think that either Jedinak and Whelan might be retained (but both may go because of age) and Jed Steer may prove himself to be the answer to Johnstone this coming season. I see no point in selling Jedinak or Whelan before the start of 2018-19 as they would not fetch a lot on the open market, but Villa may be forced to sell to save on wages.
  • The others may well obtain new contracts.
Looking further, big questions have been raised about the future of both Grealish and Chester, but my feeling is that every effort will be made to retain the crown jewels.

Of the above players that have played significant parts in the 2017-18 campaign, I would expect the following to be available and in the front rank for team selection come the start of 2018-19:

Jed Steer, Alan Hutton, Oscar Bog, Chris Samba, Mitch Clark, Chester, Easah Suliman, Mile Jedinak, Jack Grealish.

Other players that had significant input to the 2017-18 season and which I still see as being potentially available for 2018-19 include:

  • El Mohammedy, Taylor, Bree (though maybe one of those three will be sold);
  • Bjarnasson, Hourihane, Lansbury (though maybe one of those three will be sold);
  • Adomah, Green, Davis, Kodjia (I would think that all these will be retained).

I don't really see a future for Hogan at Villa Park, but his sale may not raise much. And we have the on-going saga of McCormack. Two strikers who have cost Villa dearly.

Any gaps will surely be filled from further promising young players in the reserve squad, and some of those may well make good.

If it transpires that the departure of Chester and/or Grealish takes place then the task this season will be quite difficult. However, rather than worrying about whether we will have enough star individuals, the game is mostly about teamwork as well as the quality of football.

Season 2018-19 is still full of potential!

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Steve Bruce

The fact is there are a number of Villa fans that will find a reason to want Bruce out no matter what. Unfortunately.

I can remember clearly that in the days coming up to the home match vs Wolves everyone was saying that Wolves were going to wipe the floor with us. And this was Villa fans talking!

The saving grace for the anti-Bruce brigade was that we disappointed badly in the two matches after Wolves. If that hadn’t happened there would have been a lot of red faces for the rest of the season!

But these stats make for interesting reading. In the 21 matches played (inclusive) fro 30/12/17 to 28/4/18 – i.e. excludng the last match, which made no difference, the playing stats were:

P 21 W 14 D 3 L4 = 45 points. That rate if throughout the season would have got us automatic promotion.

Goals-wise, we scored 40 (in 21 matches) – as near as damnit to 2 per match.

In addition, the fact is that we scored 4 or more in 6 games this past season. And they include wins over Bristol (then thought promotion candidates) and Wolves. Also another 5 matches scoring 3 goals.

Boring, predictable Bruce? Well, with those stats, keep it up Steve!

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Let's Not Forget That Defeat Can Be Turned Into Something Better

Perhaps it's all a blessing in disguise. No promotion, of course, but I think the club now has the big opportunity to re-assess what it's about, confirm what's good and reject the bad.

We must not forget, for example, that a massive attempt has been made to turn the old club around since Dr. Xia's arrival. Clearly, attitudes in the dressing room were far from ideal, and the Doc's first managerial appointment didn't seem to have an idea on how to deal with it. Hence the arrival of Bruce with a lot of experience and achievement at this level, though a trifle fixed in his ways. But, no matter how we might criticise his approach, I believe that it was mainly down to pressure from above as the Doc wanted promotion as of this day. We came close, and - it could be argued - that we lost it, not that Fulham won it. Lost it because we had our fair share of chances but our attempts were weak and out of sorts.

And before Fulham scored, if Snodgrass had been more aware he would have made better attempts at putting Albert through. Three times, not just once. And, sad to say, Snodgrass was profligate throughout the match apart from one free kick that was nicely fed to Jack. Snodgrass is a wholehearted trier, but of late his actual achievements on the pitch seem to have been lacking to my eyes.

And now - surely - we will have seen the last of Snodgrass, Johnstone, Grabban and Onomah. And Hogan, I'd hope. I'm not deterred by those departures as I feel that Jack Steer can do the job in goal and, as for the outfield players, surely we will now see more of the younger men. Even if we lose Hutton then I think we have a good supply at full-back, and with Davis and Green already well tried, we have (Albert and Kodjia still being here I'd hope) a good supply in the striker and wing departments. We should still have Hourihane, though I'm not mightily convinced by him, but - with the addition of Jack (who will surely stay) - other midfield places should start to be made available to the young ones.

The main concern just now must be with the centre back spots. Will Chester and Terry stay? I'd hope at least Chester will.

Frustrating though it might be that we're not now back in the top-flight, I feel as though it will be third time lucky this coming season. I believe that Bruce and all did everything they could, but it was just not achievable: the time seems not to have been ripe. That is all: in my opinion the current situation is a measure of how the character of the club had slipped before the Doc took over. The last missing chinks can now be plugged in.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

You Need Two Legs To Stand On!

I've not written anything for awhile. I'm just one of those who likes to stand back and see how things are shaping up - the objective view I suppose, but some would say it's a strange thing to do about an emotive subject!

Anyhow, the end of the prescribed season has taken place. We finished 4th (and we knew that's how it would be before today) so therefore there should not have been any great expectation about today's match. Today was more about protecting regular players from injury and giving squad players a run-out in case they're needed during the play-offs, which is the real deal.

Boro is not going to be a straight-forward proposition, but at least we have the second leg at Villa Park. Even so, we should come away from their ground with at least a one-goal lead to create an expectant buzz at VP on the return. So long as we don't lose the first leg, that's the important bit.

So, let's concentrate on this coming next two legs and then think about the next step. We can only take one step at a time.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Time Is A Killer

One of the reasons why we needed a win on Saturday was to restore some confidence ahead of the international break. Instead, we again lost and have to face 2 weeks before the next challenge, at Hull. And what a sad defeat at Bolton it was, with the Icelander not appearing to be too happy with the Icelandic playing conditions. Albert seemed to get iced up as the game wore on in somewhat different playing conditions to those in Africa, I'm sure!

For me, it was not so much that we played badly but that Bolton seemed to adapt to the conditions rather better, with their defence settling down to give our favourites few opportunities. However, the opportunities we did have, if converted, would have been sufficient to have handsomely carried the match. There were two very good opportunities in the first half (Albert put wide a header from Grabban's excellent centre, and then Grabban getting a save out of their keeper (when he would have been expected to bulge the back of the net). On top of that, Jack tried a wonderful speculative half-volley which required the keeper to tip over. The second half saw substitute Hogan forcing a fortunate clearance when, again, it really should perhaps have been in the back of the net. And then, at the death, James Bree with a fine diving header that their keeper somehow kept out. RHM might have done better with the one opportunity he did have, but c'est la vie.

Apart from their goal (handed to them by a frozen Villa defence) Bolton only had (I believe) one other real chance, a second-half opportunity which went wide.

So, after two successive defeats, and the top two looking somewhat adrift from us now, what chance do we have for automatic promotion?

What I will say is that if Bruce gets his best motivational theories into operation, the Villa will be out there and striving hard in these last eight matches. But to turn effort into triumphs our midfield has to be more dominant than they've shown of late.

To try to raise my own spirits (not only yours!), here's my forecast for our remaining matches:

30-03-2018 Away Hull City Forecast: 3 points
03-04-2018 Home Reading: Forecast: 3 points
07-04-2018 Away Norwich City: Forecast: 1 point
10-04-2018 Home Cardiff City: Forecast: 3 points (or maybe 1 point)
13-04-2018 Home Leeds United: Forecast: 3 points
21-04-2018 Away Ipswich Town: Forecast: 3 points
28-04-2018 Home Derby County: Forecast: 3 points
06-05-2018 Away Millwall: Forecast: 3 points (or maybe 1 point)

It would be nice to finish with eight straight wins as we did in 1974-75, but I feel that would be hoping for too much.

So, the prediction shows a final points tally prediction (worst scenario): 69 + 18 = 87. That might gain an auto-promotion slot but is probably likely to fall shy, hence our probable fate is likely to be determined in the playoffs, where, frankly, Fulham will be a hard act to crack. If we do beat Cardiff, though, the final league placings could be very close.


Friday, 16 March 2018

The Bounce-back Starts ... Now!

Whoops! Well, this is the Villa isn't it? We were lured into a sense of us becoming ready for automatic promotion but, clearly, the Wolves triumph must have launched the Villa players into such a state of well-being that they could not come down to reality by Tuesday. And Bruce has admitted that he was at fault for not making changes in the starting selection, to give some a rest.

How long has it been since we had a positive feeling that success was really in our grasp? Now we're off to play the Trotters away from home in an attempt to re-coup lost morale and to give most of the VP attendees a rest from the see-saw feeling.

We know that one team change has to be made - an enforced one at left-back, meaning that James Bree will be playing his first league match for some 6 months. But will Birkir get his chance in place of the Jedi? Will Conor have to give way to Lansbury? Will Jack score a hat-trick? It would be nice if anyone could score a hat-trick! Er, a Villa player of course!

The Trotters have made some recovery of late and must not be treated as a team to be rolled-over. As Tuesday proved, every match can be a 'banana skin' and only maximum concentration (as achieved in the Wolves match) will do.

A win is vital before we enter the international break, and we should be able to do it. Perhaps we needed that Tuesday shock to take away all sense of complacency. It truly is 9 cup finals to be played, and with Cardiff still to face Wolves and ourselves, auto-promotion can still be achieved for Villa. But we have to do our part and get back on the winning trail. Anything can still happen ... except we're safe from relegation!

Many of us have been "through it" before such as the day Sheff Utd came to VP in that promotion year of 1959-60 and stuffed us 3-1 (thanks to old Villan Doc Pace), so I'm hoping that Tuesday's result was a blip as that was.

I want to see nothing less than 100% commitment against Bolton combined with a high shooting accuracy; I suggest nothing else will be acceptable.


Monday, 12 March 2018

Onwards We Go ... And Upwards?

Well, what a week-end, and what a match that was. I've already put it up on my website as one of the best matches seen at Villa Park, and I believe it was, as a spectacle and not just for the outcome of it. When I last posted an article a couple of weeks ago, I said: "it would be good to replicate those thrilling promotion seasons of 1938 (though I wasn't around then!), 1960, 1972 and 1975 and finish in some style." Well, since then we've had that win at Sunderland, which was followed by the victory over Wolves. And over the last three games 11 goals have been scored by Villa, 7 away from home and 4 at home against the league leaders. I do believe the 2018 half of the season has indeed evolved into being another promotion thriller.

But while Saturday's result keeps us firmly in contention (and must cause a worry or two at Cardiff), the season is still far from finished. From now on in it's going to be a series of pitched battles, and battles in which we cannot afford to have any wounded, walking or otherwise. It is difficult to imagine what might happen if any of Grealish, Adomah or Snodgrass were to be out for any of those matches, but particularly those versus Cardiff and Derby.

We have ten games to go and, only three days since the last, yet another match is upon us at Villa Park. Will Bruce play the successful Saturday team against QPR, or will he rest one or two as we have another game coming up on Saturday? The Mail thinks that Birkir will come in for the Jedi, and I would agree with that option against QPR. To me it makes sense, and Birkir made it skilfully clear on Saturday that he wants to be part of the action. But what other changes might be a good idea? Perhaps Snodgrass is due a rest? Putting Hourihane into Snoddy's position might make sense perhaps, as he has some of Snoddy's left-foot skills, and that would give a chance for Lansbury to start. Though that's probably not part of Bruce's vision, in my view some care has to be taken: the old 'uns should not play too much.

While waiting for the QPR match to start, we can still derive nectar from the Wolves' match. For me that match put us firmly back to the old state of pride that we had nearly ten years ago. Then we were hoping for Champions League football but instead had to settle for the Championship! Similar titles, but a world apart in status. But what is crucial now is that we can see a Villa side that is not short of determination to succeed. It may have some fallibilities, but they look like a team and a team to contend with. With the results we have picked up, our forthcoming opponents may well be a little nervous. However, so long as we don't get over-confident then the future does - at last - look bright! Who knows, though it is a bit unlikely, the top two promotion teams could be Villa and Cardiff - the same pair as in season 1959-60. 

As for Steve Bruce himself, then his record at Villa Park should speak volumes. Do you remember that before he came we were usually losing our matches at home? Well, I am told that since he has been at Villa, the record reads: Played 36, won 22, drawn 10, lost 4.


Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Big Push

Last weekend Villa gained what looked like an unlikely win at Wednesday's ground and thereby got some suitable payback. It seems an age since Wednesday came to Villa Park and gave us some pre-bonfire night fireworks with their early and explosive goal. That and Barry Bannan's smooth display and the enforced retirement of John Terry (whose services we lost for several games as a result) are the main memories I have of that day. With both sides ravaged by injury (though our opponents' state was somewhat worse) the game this time seemed to be drifting towards a draw. It was hardly a game where we deserved to win: the result seemed to be obtained as though it was Villa's destiny. A 7500-To-The-Holte article decided that Villa "are proving that it doesn’t end when you’re knocked to the canvas - just that you’re not the last body on the floor. When you’re hit hard with a bone-breaking riposte, you’ve got to push those weary muscles once more and rise - not because it’s your job, and that you should do it, but because it’s what you deserve." Well, I suppose if the phoenix is determined to re-birth itself then we shouldn't complain!

In the VP match I also remember Chris Samba giving us a 90th-minute sense of "all is not lost" respectability. Chris Samba (like Micah Richards) is just not talked of anymore. After Samba's knock all went quiet and perhaps Axel's loan signing says it all. Who remembers that it was Samba that got sent off when playing for Blackburn against us in the League Cup semi second-leg at VP in 2010? We were losing 2-0 after 25 minutes and then pulled it back to 2-1. It was Samba that then pulled Gabby down in the penalty area (boy was Gabby a livewire in those days!), a result of which Samba was sent off and the Milner penalty kick meant we went in at the break 2-2. We won 6-4 (7-4 aggregate)! Memories, memories.

Back to the present! It only takes a slip or two to produce a call for the manager to change his policies with cries of "How does Whelan get selected?" (before Whelan scored and put in a useful shift versus Wednesday) and the question is raised of why he and the Jedi get the nod over the Iceman. And the big one - why no O'Hare? On that perhaps I have some sympathy as he would surely offer more than Onomah, whose slipshod play seems to have annoyed at least one of his colleagues. Onomah seems to be equipped with good skills, but when it's mainly application that's required his heart doesn't seem to be in it.

Whether you agree with his approach or not, overall you can surely see the logic that Steve Bruce applies to Villa's situation and their need (nay, their historical and size-related right) to return to the Premiership. In a tough division in which he has experienced and achieved much, and knows how to do it his way, he wants to include players who have the experience, physicality and character to succeed as the primary requisites. But that makes Onomah's selection all the more puzzling. I can only conclude there's something in the loan arrangement with Spurs that enforces an obligation on Bruce. Well, when Jack's fit Bruce can't keep Onomah in, can he?

But it did seem to me that the other nine outfield players each had to put in proportionately extra work against Wednesday to make up for Onomah's lack of worthwhile contribution. But at least another loanee - Grabban - shows he wants to be part of the action (Grabban's goal grabbin' ability is noted!), as, of course, does Snoddy with ten assists already and a few goals up his sleeve as well. And to help keep the wheels on track we have Axel.

Looking at Villa's overall league stats (according to the 'Who Scored' website) Villa have achieved a pass accuracy of 75.1% and 12.1 shots per game. 'Not bad', I thought, but I then checked the stats for Cardiff and Fulham and found they both have better stats. It is possible that Villa's stats since December have been much improved (we're certainly scoring more), so it would probably be more accurate to compare the clubs over that specific period. Nevertheless, those two teams are putting their game together well for the run-in and it emphasises even more how much Villa have to keep on winning to secure that second place. Fulham's victory over Wolves and Cardiff's late win this week against Bristol City confirms that they both have the tenacity to take the fight to the wire. The home games Villa have to come against Wolves, Cardiff and then Derby take on a more important hue. And these are the kind of games that will call for the full experience and togetherness of Villa's squad despite any shortcomings they may have individually. The remaining matches are not the time to try the blooding of youngsters in my view; whatever momentum has been obtained needs to be preserved.

In fact (as someone has said) it's a series of cup finals to be faced; a whole dozen of 'em. At least this upcoming weekend we face QPR and we might fancifully imagine that we can score six or seven against them after Forest's result last week. But Bruce - I'm sure - will be just as happy if we win-win by one goal. And by the same margin in all the other 11 matches. Sounds boring, but if it gets the Brucie points...? However, it would be good to replicate those thrilling promotion seasons of 1938 (though I wasn't around then!), 1960, 1972 and 1975 and finish in some style. Come on Villa!



I know you will enjoy my latest book, "The Villa Way - 1874-1944". Please look into my bookshop (click here) and purchase a copy. 

Michael of Herne Bay says: "Being a villa fan, I thoroughly enjoyed John Lerwill's latest publication on my club. I have all of John's publications to date, and they take pride of place in my 'Villa Library'".

Alan says: “The Villa Way 1874-1944 is just the thing for Villa supporters of all ages and I can’t wait for a sequel, if there is one..”

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

We Probably Mustn't Get Too Complacent, But...

It's at the Tesco supermarket in a no-mans-land area of Brum that you'll find the wisdom source of how things are in this city. One of our favourite check-out ladies at the local store is an indifferent follower of football but is married to a Small Heath supporter. Well, 'indifferent' or not, just before the derby on Sunday she predicted "2-0 win to Villa". He said: "Bet yer." She won £5. Obviously, it pays to be detached from the strife of it all!

But there was clearly a chasm in ability between the two sides in a game that Villa should probably have won 4 or 5-1. I thought that at times we looked a bit profligate, particularly in the first 20 minutes or so of the first half. And if Aguero had been in Hogan's position when apparently clear in the second half, Aguero would no doubt have spotted the two Villa players totally clear to his left and passed to one of them before he got closed down. But Hogan is not, of course, Aguero. Perhaps Grabban might offer more? For me he physically looked more keen and able when he came on for Hogan; pity he's already seen 30 years.

Now it's a case that, having gained the second spot in the table, Villa must work even harder and keep the opposition at bay. Not just Villa but the Midlands needs a morale boost, and if the Albyun is to be relegated, the Premiership would be welcoming back two great Midlands clubs in Wolves and Villa to replace them. And why not Derby as well? As for Albyun, they were not such a good choice for Barry, were they? But it's not all over yet, and if we can have Albyun, Wolves and Villa in the Premiership next season, all the better. I actually have fond memories of Albyun and their quality of football back in the 50s and 60s when I sometimes used to watch them on alternate weeks with the Villa. Small Heath I rarely visited, but I did have a sneaking admiration for Jimmy Bloomfield, whose younger brother Ray promised at Villa for a time. And Bertie Auld, who went back to Celtic and was a member of the first British European Cup-winning side. Then Small Heath became the retirement home for old Villans like Stan Lynn, Bobby Thomson, Ron Wylie and Slogger: bless 'em all. I found out this week that Ron Wylie is ailing, by the way.

Wylie was another Scot who helped to raise Villa's profile and served Villa in a number of ways for a very long time, did Ron. He was Eric Houghton's last signing for Villa, in 1958, having played as a youth under Eric at Notts County until 1953. I remember he seemed to be at the end of his days at Villa when, suddenly, he was picked at wing-half in the 1964-65 season having played nearly always at inside-left before. He was a revelation and played a great game for the rest of the season in that position. He even won the coveted Terrace Trophy for his play and commitment and yet the Villa management then decided that they had enough good midfielders, and so (by then in his 30s) he went to Small Heath. That may have been a reason why Villa got relegated two years later. He came back, of course, to be assistant to Vic Crowe in 1970, and after that era finished (and after some time spent as a manager himself, latterly at Albyun) he returned to Villa once again as a coach, where he was involved at different levels right up to 2000.

Back to the present, Fulham, just like most of the teams Villa have beaten in their 7-game winning run, have ability and ambition to test the Villans, but even though the occasional blip still manifests itself in the Villa defence, Villa will surely have the solidity at the back and enough spark in midfield to create a win. The way the season is going reminds me more and more of the wonderful finish to the 1974-75 promotion season when the young Brian Little (just as Jack is now doing) stepped up to the mark and made the main difference. It would be nice if Jack could start scoring a few more himself, but he has been very close several times.

Thinking back further on 1974-75, Ron Saunders seemed to think that experience with a touch of youth was a good idea. In the latter stages of the season, the veteran Charlie Aitken was still at left-back with John Robson as his partner from top-tier Derby. Wing-half and skipper Ian Ross had been signed from Liverpool two years before (where he played well in European football), with big Chris Nicholl and the tough Leighton Phillips forming the centre-back pairing. Forward there was 'Chico' Hamilton, who had been with Villa nearly six years at that point, signed by Tommy Docherty. There was also Ray Graydon (the scoring winger) and Frank Carrodus, with Keith Leonard (from non-league football) the spearhead. Mainly a very experienced bunch, with Little being the only youngster who really made his mark at that time, though John Gidman's firework injury had been the main reason for his exclusion at first. But by then there was a successful youth development programme and some youth were played in 1974-75.

It seems to me that youth must be the way forward. Some have already made the point that a number of the experienced members of the current squad are unlikely to meet Villa's need to stabilise in the club's first season back. In fact, I can only think of Chester and Grealish as being automatic selections, with Terry and Hutton unlikely to be here after the current season, and Johnstone uncertain, though I'm happy about Steer. Of the remainder, Albert and Snoddy might last a little while, as might Kodjia and Hogan. Birkir I'm unsure about. The rest? Mmmmm.

I recall 1975-76 being a testing time in our first year back then, but then a certain Andy Gray and Dennis Mortimer arrived. And more youth also took a bow and became stars, as I suspect will be the case after this season.



I know you will enjoy my latest book, "The Villa Way - 1874-1944". Please look into my bookshop (click here) and purchase a copy. 

Michael of Herne Bay says: "Being a villa fan, I thoroughly enjoyed John Lerwill's latest publication on my club. I have all of John's publications to date, and they take pride of place in my 'Villa Library'".

Alan says: "The Villa Way 1874-1944 is just the thing for Villa supporters of all ages and I can't wait for a sequel, if there is one.."

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Warming Up For Small Heath's Attendance

Back in the nervous days of autumn a number were asking the question "how on earth can we get promotion [with Bruce in charge]?", but I thought that as the season progressed it would all come together and in time we would see the play improve substantially. I thought that the negative and devolutionary days that had accumulated until Bruce arrived, and had affected attitudes and well-being at the club, were over; that it would all come good in time, and in not that long a period of time either.

My views were treated with disbelief and the anti-Bruce comments continued, especially when a reasonably good run got punctuated by a defeat, as all good runs do! Fans are fickle, and the expectation (as Bruce said) at the Club was (and is) high.

Now, fast-forward to February and people have actually expressed dismay that the team has lately shown an ability to pass the ball around in an impressive way. No, it's still not the finished article, but by comparison with 4 to 6 months before, it's great footie!

Now, just why has this transformation unfolded? The person of Jack Grealish must be one of the first to be acknowledged as showing the way to the team. His inter-linking with Snoddy, Onomah, Albert and Hourihane has been noted and it could be said that perhaps Jack is the fulcrum on which the transformation has occurred. But, of course, that's as it was always intended (wasn't it?) as Bruce said that he wanted to fashion his team around Jack at the start of the season. But Jack's damaged body had other ideas and we didn't see him for quite awhile, and he then took a few weeks to fully rehabilitate. But he's not just rehabilitated: he has clearly gained physical strength and has at last been seen to be the player that his potential seemed to suggest. Not one normally given to having dreams about footie, I even had a dream this week that he would take the ball from defence and dribble his way through the middle to score the goal of the season. Will it be the winner against Blews?

Other player developments have been seen. We were lucky when Albert filled in for the otherwise absent strikers for awhile and is still our leading scorer at 12 goals. But then Hogan, at last, found his ability to score for Villa. Then there's "The Icelander" who seems to have been the missing link in the middle of the park. And, not least, Snoddy, who is another whose ability to score the odd goal and create a few have been of particular note since December. And the two full-backs have often been a revelation going forward, with Hutton surprising everyone at left-back and has done very well in attacking forays. But he still occasionally drifts off in defence: witness Burton's second goal last weekend.

So, onwards and upwards! We hope. And the fact that there is such a thing as 'hope' should evoke that other emotive word: 'luck'. Yes, perhaps Brucie has had some luck, but if he carries good luck then all the more reason (for me) that he should be feted as a success - even for just bringing that commodity into the Club! After the previous 6 years, a touch of good luck is to be welcomed i.m.o.

But it's that occasional defensive lapse that worries, isn't it? Having got close to sorting out the creative side of the team, the defence can still do strange things. Witness both Burton's goals at the weekend.

The upcoming Small Heath has become resurgent in recent weeks, and have been seen to have acquired 'staying' ability, a point that our defenders will do well to take heed of. Unless we're winning 5-0 at half-time, of course! I can't see that happening, but if Villa's creative bunch get their act together, it could be a sound and heartwarming 7th win on the trot.

I suspect a 3-1 or 4-2 Villa victory.


The remaining fixtures after Small Heath:

17-02-2018 Away Fulham
20-02-2018 Home Preston North End
24-02-2018 Away Sheffield Wednesday
03-03-2018 Home Queens Park Rangers
06-03-2018 Away Sunderland
10-03-2018 Home Wolverhampton
17-03-2018 Away Bolton Wanderers
30-03-2018 Away Hull City
03-04-2018 Home Reading
07-04-2018 Away Norwich City
10-04-2018 Home Cardiff City
14-04-2018 Home Leeds United
21-04-2018 Away Ipswich Town
28-04-2018 Home Derby County
06-05-2018 Away Millwall


I know you will enjoy my latest book, "The Villa Way - 1874-1944". Please look into my bookshop (click here) and purchase a copy. 

Michael of Herne Bay says: "Being a villa fan, I thoroughly enjoyed John Lerwill's latest publication on my club. I have all of John's publications to date, and they take pride of place in my 'Villa Library'".

Alan says: "The Villa Way 1874-1944 is just the thing for Villa supporters of all ages and I can't wait for a sequel, if there is one.."