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

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Here's Hoping That Villa Stay Sharp Against The Blades!

Well, we wait ... and we wait ... to see what materialises this 'window' in terms of any incoming names. But the surprise to me is that Leicester City striker Leonardo Ulloa is still being talked about as a loan. Though the availability of 'just' Hogan and Davis might lead to the thought we're a bit vulnerable if they're both injured, I do wonder whether Ulloa could slot in immediately, and be productive. I suppose there's only one way to find out, but I can't see him being very happy with having to sit on the bench for 75% of the time if our key strikers remain fit.

Meanwhile, we've collected 10 goals in a 4-match winning streak so far this year, and we've seen both Grealish and Hogan ratching up their game, greatly helped by Snoddy. Albert, having apparently decided to suspend his temporary striker's role, makes sure that the opposition defence doesn't think the threat comes from just one wing and is possibly doing just enough to keep out Green, who is sparkling for the reserves. And now we have Birkir showing that he has something substantial to contribute from midfield.

Meanwhile, we have become aware that the main coaching credit for Villa's new-found potency up front lies essentially with Steve Agnew, who has latterly filled the much-needed gap in the coaching team to give some added sparkle to the attack-minded players. But there's clearly room for a touch of nervousness for the fans as the way Villa have played out their match-leading position for 70 minutes in each of the last two matches. It has to be said, though, that the Villa defence is good enough to keep most teams out most of the time. And perhaps Villa fans are getting used to being on tenterhooks; perhaps it helps to create character in the Villa supporter.

It does seem to me that having had such a confidence-boosting winning run, the upcoming match against the Blades increases the level of expectation against our promotion rivals. Villa has the advantage of having got their game together since their previous encounter (at VP), when Villa's injury list was quite long. That encounter saw Villa go into a fairly quick two-goal lead but the Blades pegged Villa back to take a point from the match.

I seem to recall that over 60 years Villa's encounters against the Blades were never easy. Even in Villa's promotion season of 1959-60 Villa only lost one home match, but the team that won that one was our upcoming opponent. In fact, Villa oldies will remember a certain 'Doc' Pace who was sold to United to enable the signing of Gerry Hitchens in 1958 (yes, Villa were short of cash again!), but whenever Villa met the Blades, the 'Doc' gave us a lot of trouble. In that 1959-60 VP encounter he scored all three in their 3-1 win, and scored a number of goals against us in subsequent fixtures during his long service at Bramall Lane.

Returning to the present, the reason why we meet the Blades on a Tuesday evening is because they're playing in the Cup this Saturday. Now, which match is more important to them, and will the extra time without playing benefit the Villa? It will be interesting to see what transpires, but I have to say that bearing in mind the karma that exists between these clubs (and has done for more than 120 years, though with a few gaps in time) I suspect a draw may well be the result.

We wait to see, as indeed we wait for news of a new incoming player or two.



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.."

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The New Year Seems To Bring Hope

We hoped for a Happy New Year, and that's what's been delivered - so far at least.

Yes, there's nothing like a defeat or two for the gnashing of teeth to re-commence, but when a win or two materialises either all goes quiet or some other reason for dissatisfaction is often found by the fans. It's Villa, isn't it? The fans are fickle, aren't they? Well, not so fickle that despite all the vicissitudes and false promises of the last few years, they still go down to VP in quite large numbers. And that's how it's always been, except when matters were really dire in the Autumn of 1968 and the odd occasion at other times.

The Chairman made it clear that promotion had to be achieved within two years of his arrival, and targeted major achievements within five years, but a softening of stance on this issue has been detected of late. That perhaps indicates that his initial enthusiasm and willingness to spend-spend was perhaps a bit lop-sided away from reality. But what the chairman has done that impresses me is that early on he focused on the need to change the low sense of self-esteem that seemed to exist within the club when he took over, and the rigorous yet progressive re-organisation of the club's management and coaching that's needed to bring the Club back to its real home - the top tier. As a true field-marshall, the chairman even stopped by to give his troops a morale-boosting talk before Christmas.

On the pitch the play may not be "Total Football" but it's a system that's been honed to wear the opposition down and to secure as many points as possible in order to get back to the top as quickly as possible. In fourth place and being just five points behind an automatic promotion place, and with 19 games to go to build up a storming finish, the Villa are well-placed. We're not there yet, but perhaps the New Year indicators symbolise that this is a new era that's being brought together as we watch.

Before the New year we had a daunting injury list, with Kodjia, Terry, Hogan, Jedinak and Green being perhaps the most honourable members of that sick band, but though we're probably going to be without 'Codger' for the rest of the season, the fighting wounded have otherwise returned (or are returning) to the fray. Added to that, the arrival of coach Steve Agnew appears to have brought an improvement out of Hogan (and others), and perhaps Hogan is now shaping up to be the goalscoring power that he was supposed to be when he signed. It's just as well: after all, the chairman is no longer able to shell out twelve-million pound purchase fees for misfiring pea-shooters!

The turnabout in attitude amongst the players since the summer of 2016 is quite startling in my view, but has been achieved mostly by the disposing of quite a few players introduced by previous managers, in the process. Of late, the kind of silly errors that were still occurring a few months ago has virtually been eradicated. Apart from Grealish and Hutton, there is no semblance of the side that existed before the current chairman arrived, and both the players named in fact now seem to have 'upped' their game.

Some 2 or 3 years ago I talked about leadership needing to come from the top, with Lerner being distant right to the time of his exit. The new ownership seems, indeed, to be made of something both more durable and more communicative. And able to keep Bruce on his toes. In contrast to what went before there's no hint of the Villa being a plaything for Dr. Xia!


Wednesday, 3 January 2018

‘Posh’ Though The Visitors May Be, the Villa Should Not Stand On Ceremony

Well, after a win on New Year's Day that must surely have prompted delusions of grandeur amongst Villa fans, the visit of a mid-table third-tier side this Saturday should present little difficulty, right? Well, let caution prevail: once upon a time Peterborough made themselves into a team to be respected; even 'Posh'. They were named 'Posh', it is said, because their first-ever team manager is quoted as saying "I am looking for posh players to play for a posh new club!"

More will be revealed about Posh in the following narrative.

The older ones amongst us will recall a time when big crowds at VP were almost a normality. And when I speak of 'big' I'm referring to the pre-1975 terrace days when the ground capacity was 75,000-plus. Though very big crowds (50,000-plus) became more of a rarity after the early-1950s, they still occurred, usually on big 'derby' days against the Blews or Wolves or Albion. And a few other occasions too, until 1970.

If the question were to be asked, "When was the last 60,000-plus attendance?", it may not be too much of a surprise to be reminded that it was on the occasion of that grand mid-week evening match in the second leg of the Football League Cup semi against Manchester United in December 1970, 47 years ago. Yes, it was a mid-week match, and Villa - then in the old Third Division - gloriously beat a United team containing all the big names, including Best, Charlton and Law, and got to the Final. 62,500 were there to see it.

But by the 1960s, 60,000-plus gates became restricted mainly to Cup matches, and in season 1960-61 there were two such mammoth Cup gates. The next (and last) one was the 1970 match detailed above.

So (you may ask) "which were those two 1960-61 opponents that attracted so much attention?". The first of them was against a side in the old Fourth Division: Peterborough United! The Posh! Our Cup opponents this coming Saturday. In fact, this will be the first time the Villa have played the Posh in the FA Cup since that momentous occasion of February 1st, 1961.

Just how could a fourth tier side attract such numbers at Villa Park when Villa was in the top tier? Well, the Posh were then a sensation; they had entered the Football League for the first time that season (1960-61) and were galloping towards promotion in their first year. They in fact succeeded. They had a striker by the name of Terry Bly who scored 81 goals in 88 appearances for them between 1960 and 1962 before moving to Coventry, where he scored 25 in 32 in the one season he was there. In short, the Posh were filling grounds wherever they went and had beaten second-tier Portsmouth away from home in the Third Round of the FA Cup. When the Villa went to Peterborough's ground on January 28th to fulfil their FA Cup Fourth Round obligations, all Villa could achieve was a 1-1 draw, and Villa's goal was owed to an own-goal at that! A replay was therefore required.

The Villa's team in those two matches was: Fred Potter; John Neal, Stan Lynn; Vic Crowe, Jimmy Dugdale, Bobby Thomson; Jimmy MacEwan, Alan O'Neill, Gerry Hitchens, Ron Wylie, Peter McParland. This was virtually the same side that had beaten Charlton 11-1 the previous season, and (apart from Potter) identical to the team that beat the Blews 6-2 earlier in 1960-61. By then, Gerry Hitchens was firmly established as a scoring sensation. Villa also had Supermac.

Having beaten Portsmouth away in the FA Cup Third Round, and then achieving an initial draw against Villa with a very promising display, many Posh fans - perhaps as many as 10,000 - came to Villa Park in the belief they could beat the Villa, or at least spur them on to give Villa a headache. A total of 64,531 (I was the '1'!) turned up to watch that mid-week replay and until the end the Posh were in with a real chance; it was 0-0 at half-time. The second half was ding-dong as well, but goals did come, with Peter McParland providing his normal FA Cup heroics by scoring both Villa's goals in a 2-1 win. But it was close, and the Posh went on to gain promotion at their first attempt.

Football historians will know that Tottenham Hotspur won 'the double' that season (the first team to do so since Villa in 1896-97), playing superlative football and prompted by their skipper, ex-Villan Danny Blanchflower. And it was the Spurs that Villa faced in the next (5th) round of the FA Cup. And yet another 60,000 crowd attended (nearly 70,000 in fact): 69,972. I was there for that match too as Villa were shown no quarter in losing 2-0. Spurs were dominant in defence and clinical in attack. While Spurs won the two major titles that year, Villa just had the slightly dubious honour of winning the first-ever Football League Cup, which very few top-tier clubs entered for the first few years of its existence.

So that was virtually the end of 60,000-plus crowds at Villa Park, apart from the 1970 'miracle' win against Man United - and one other match. The 'other' match was also against Spurs, and in the League at the start of the 1962-63 season, when they were still in their hey-day and by then had Jimmy Greaves in their line-up. 64,751 turned up to see Villa beat the magnificent Spurs that day, 2-1, with the mercurial Derek Dougan scoring both Villa's goals. At that time Villa fans were expecting great things as at the end of the previous season Villa had won four of their last eight matches 5-4 (at Arsenal), 3-0, 8-3 and 5-1. Dougan was making a name for himself. Alas, although Villa lay in 6th place by Christmas (1962-63), it all fell apart in tandem with the 'big freeze' that winter, and led to Villa's record spell of matches without a win. That lengthy non-winning record lasted until the dreadful season of 2015-16.



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'".