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

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.."