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

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Phew! Well, We're Monarchs Of The Birmingham Area

Well, we're through. But I have to say (in trying to look at it from a neutral observer's standpoint) that justice was done in the end.

The Albion - as the 2-legs progressed - seemed to rely more and more on sheer aggression in their effort to force their way through to the Final, and it's a source of wonder that only 2 of their players were sent off in the 2 matches. The referee certainly seemed to let go a lot of very questionable stuff, sometimes not giving fouls and at other times not booking players when they should have been.

The 2-legs were also, of course, of great importance to determine the Monarchy of the Birmingham Area.

However, the Villa should not have had to let it go to a decision by penalty kicks. The main weakness in Villa's play all season has been their finishing, and 24 shots yesterday but only 6 on target is very much par-for-the-course for Villa. And of those 6 on target, it could be said that only 2 or 3 troubled their 'keeper.

But it did have to go to a decision by penalties and Jed Steer (who had saved gloriously early on in the first leg) again showed his true ability by fending out the first two efforts by Albion. Only Albert caused a slight doubt that Villa might lose their advantage when he shot high and wide. Abraham soon settled it with the next Villa kick.

So. The Final. We've gotta win it! Haven't we?


Sunday, 5 May 2019

Look Out Albyun! We're Coming!

Well, resting several first-choice players (including El Ghazi, on the bench) against the champions-elect was not likely to have resulted in a win, but it was nearly good enough to obtain a draw! Least said otherwise about that match which had no real meaning for us except the chance to keep the unbeaten run going.

What worries me somewhat is whether Villa have gone off the boil, for the last three matches have not been played in such a good fashion as those earlier. However, the fact that the play-off semis is against the Albyun should produce a sufficient adrenalin rush for the players to obtain the necessary qualification to the final. The only snag is that the second leg is at the Hawthorns, so we really need a two-goal lead from the first leg in my view to be fairly sure of getting through.

In our match at the Hawthorns earlier this season we should have won but for that late handball that passed as an equaliser. When the Albyun came to VP the Villa were not in a good state injury-wise and caused it to be easier for them than it should have been. But these play-offs will be the real thing, I'm sure, with Villa's extra skill and pressure game surely being good enough so long as we have our defence playing their usual game, and not the one we saw versus Norwich.

I suppose we can think negatively with the thought 'what's to happen if we don't win the play-offs?', but really it's all in the Villa's hands and some positive support from the great support the club has. My goodness, a season's best attendance against Norwich today, the third 41,000+ attendance this season, and an average home attendance of over 36,000! That's amazing for the second tier. 

I do really hope that Villa can break the awful run of the last 9 years and get back to the Premier League; we do not (I'm sure) want to see us lose Jack, and the chance of keeping Mings may also pass us by if we don't go up. 

But, first things first. We have generally upset the Albyun on the occasion of us meeting on meaningful occasions (starting with the FA Cup Final in 1887). Let's make sure that we remain top of the West Midlands after the two upcoming games!


Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Ten Up; Now Let's Get Up!

Ten wins on the trot is a fine achievement no matter at what level of football you are playing, and it also has to be considered a better achievement than the 9 wins accomplished in the top tier in season 1910-11, that was hitherto the club record.

The Villa has had a touch of fortune along the way in decisions that have not gone against us, but we've also had some desperate luck in having suffered the kind of injuries we've had as well as player suspensions. But those enforced absences have shown that we have just enough good players on our books to make the absences affect us in a minimal way. One of the best unforeseen player introductions has been Jed Steer in goal, who has yet to be on a losing side this season. He has not come across as being a great 'keeper (though reasonably competent) but perhaps he has a 'presence' in goal that the defence play up to.

For me I would like to see more of Andre Green. Though I like Albert, his play this season has not been too great, and Green yesterday came on and shone like a beacon with his attempts on goal and his overall commitment. However, perhaps he has not seen more playing time because he generally does show up better coming on as a sub rather than as a match starter. Time for him to make more of his opportunities, I think. As well as Kienan Davis.

As for the whole team, they have become rather classy to watch in their general play, but their ability needs to be matched in the number of goals they score, in my opinion. That lovely dribble by Kodjia put him in a glorious scoring position, but his attempt went wide. As did so many other attempts at scoring when in most cases those attempts should at least have been on target.

But despite all that, 10 successive wins have been achieved, and also the 20th win of the season. Well done the Villa!

Next up it be Leeds, who we cannot catch. Unfortunately. I'd be happy if we get a point from there. There's no need to try too hard with the play-offs looming, for which we have already qualified.

And the play-offs will be a big test, I'm sure, with Leeds and the Albion being amongst the fellow-hopefuls.


Wednesday, 17 April 2019

More About When Aston Villa Started

In Rob Bishop and Frank Holt's book "The Complete Record" (2010), it is stated that the Club's most likely official startup date was in the middle of November, 1874, contrary to the long-accepted assertion that the Club's official start date was March 7, 1874.

Frank Holt (whose research it was) is most certainly correct in most of what he has deduced, as it is known that the Villa played a few matches from at least November, 1874, but nothing has been found before that date. They did not, however, win their first match until March, 1875, the real occasion of the famous 15-a-side match against St. Mary's. This match was formerly believed to have been in March, 1874, but 1875 is now known to be correct.

Hence there seems to be some fabrication that occurred as to when the Villa did start and that seems to be based on a lecture given by one of the co-founders, Jack Hughes, on the occasion of the club's silver jubilee in 1899.

I should mention here that when I was working in the Villa Archives, the diaries of Charles Wheelwright were kept there. Wheelwright wrote as "Brum" in the Athletic News from 1881 right up to its cessation in 1934, and was very close to the Club. His diaries are interesting in that he quotes Villa as having been founded in October, 1874 in his earlier diary, yet by WW1 he is quoting March, 1874 - in response to Jack Hughes' crusade for March, I suspect, or because Hughes had persuaded the Club that March was the date.

Another authority is the respected journalist Sidney Gilbert who says (in his 1893 series of Villa history articles) that Aston Unity were founded in November, 1874 "just after the Villa", and I took it that he meant October as so many other writers of those days quoted October.

Interestingly also, Ian Johnston (in his 1981 book "The Aston Villa Story") intimates that Villa started off proceedings on a Friday evening in October, 1874. From memory, I think that Johnston says that he got that information from a note that was passed to him or handed down to him, or something like that. What they would be doing on a Friday evening in October I don't know, but perhaps they were deciding in a meeting on what they should do before they formed the club. In which case Frank Holt may be spot on as to his mid-November date of official startup: they had decided to do their checks on what football to play etc before they did officially form a club.

Perhaps everyone was quoting "October" back then as that was when the move towards starting a club was initiated, although not yet officially formed.

I'm trying to be conciliatory to Frank Holt here, but the trouble is that it seems we want to reject Jack Hughes' assertions of February/Marc 1874 when things first happened yet by the same token we are willing to accept his account about the Grasshoppers v Handsworth match and other particulars. However, we are lucky that Sidney Gilbert relates the same stories, but is not clear when they happened.

So, at the end of all my writings and gesticulations (!), I remain very open to Frank Holt's findings of mid-November, 1874 when the official foundation took place, but still cannot support it 100% simply because it's so long since the event and not really supported by anything concrete other than logical assertions. Why there should be that attempt to set Villa's foundation so many months earlier still puzzles me somewhat. Perhaps there's something that we don't know about.

The one thing that Jack Hughes says that does ring true is that he was consistently saying that all 15 original members were the founders of the club and not the 4 that met under the gaslamp. It resonates with me particularly because Hughes was himself one of the 4 under the gaslamp, so was clearly not trying to claim special credit.

I blame my grandad, who was living in Lozells near the AV Chapel soon after that time, for this intensive investigation!

(c) 2019 John Lerwill

Saturday, 13 April 2019

It's Good When We're Winning!

Today's win was the Villa's 8th consecutive win on the bounce, which equals the final charge of the 1974-75 season when Villa won their last 8 matches in style to gain promotion that year.

Those 8 wins in the last 8 matches of 1975 will always stand out in my memory, particularly after being at Hillsborough during that run.

Achieving 9 successive wins, though, would not be quite the same thing as the club record of 9 wins in season 1910-11. That 1910-11 side was a really fine team and should have won the championship that year, but was nudged on the post.

But should we get 10 wins on the bounce this season, that would truly be a fine achievement, though, if they can do it.

Nevertheless, we've still got a mountain to climb to get through the play-offs; it's going to be tough, and if they do it (get promotion) they'll be worthy for the Prem.

Actually, seeing that Villa have had quite a lot of misfortune in not having key players available, they have been doing very well these last few games. The team spirit is clearly at a high, and as there's good ability in the team there's no reason to doubt that Villa have a real chance of getting there.


Wednesday, 3 April 2019

I Look To The Owl For Wisdom Here

For Villa to stretch a winning run to 5 games is unusual. And when such a run has transpired before then we usually find that it comes to an end on an away pitch. And this Saturday whose pitch do we play on but that of the Owls, who also have an eye towards reaching the play-offs, and have Steve Bruce as their recently appointed manager.

Added to that, Tammy Abraham has not been putting many away since January and, indeed, has been somewhat profligate with his chances.

If Villa is going to fall, then this fixture has every ingredient for the recipe of such. A draw is the minimum we need to achieve in my view.

But, on the other hand, if Villa win a 6th on the trot then surely it would do everything to raise the confidence of the club and to move on to face another play-off pretender, Bristol City, the next Saturday along. In between, we face a lesser team in the shape of Rotherham, but let's not be fooled into thinking that it's an automatic 3 points. That match is on their ground and they will not want to lose face in front of their own supporters.

And in the last two matches we face the two league leaders.

Let's not be despondent, though! We have won 5 on the trot, and the football Villa is playing is mostly good stuff. The main worry is that we miss too many chances, and if the opposition is tough, then those matches are the ones where we need to take up what's on offer.

At least Villa is in the position it is. A couple of months back it was not so easy to be opti about our chances.


Sunday, 17 March 2019

The 4-Card Trick

Well, there we have it. It must be promotion (mustn't it?) after four straight wins against other promotion hopefuls, with a goal balance of 11-1. And that 11-1 reminds me of a certain match at Villa Park in 1959, but that's another story!

Leastways, we, the club and its supporters, go into another international break in a good mood, with the break also giving a further chance to get more players fit and ready for the resumption. We could soon be in a situation of being spoilt for choice!

Of course, the return of Grealish has helped enormously, but with players like McGinn and Mings contributing as they are, their aggregate play gives a lift for the rest of the team to do better. Sadly we don't have a team of captains, but they do know talent when it's within their midst and the rest of the team have responded in kind. The strange thing, though, is that Abraham's scoring contribution has slowed down since four matches ago! No matter, the other players seem to have found how to hit the back of the net. And the lack of goals conceded of late is heartening.

The one complaint that is still there (for me at least) is that considering the quality of the play and number of chances created, we should be expecting to see a few more goals.

There's credit for this situation to be given to another department: the head coach and his team. Dean Smith's stated preference is for his teams not to hang back but play high and harass the opposition, tactics that clearly produce results.

Well, there's every reason to look forward to the rest of the season. Provided that is that they come back not too relaxed after their two weeks without a match!


Monday, 11 March 2019

The Battle of St. Andrews

People say they look forward to the local 'cup final' as the peak of the season, but yesterday's match had all the marks of a battlefield rather than a sporting arena.

There was certainly nothing sporting about the early scything down of Grealish by a Blues player, followed not long after by the atrocious attack on Grealish by a Blues fan who some described as being a steward at the match. The man's punch was into Grealish's neck near the jaw, so it had plenty of lethality about it.

The way Jack got up - unshaken and unstirred - was to be admired. And after that the game settled down into being a tough encounter but won (of course) by Grealish's 20-yarder. The final justice was done when ex-Villa player Craig Gardner twice missed good chances to equalise.

After it's all said and done, the Villa continue to carry their head high as being the club of quality in the city. But how sad it is that the city's pedestal has fallen so low from the pair of Manchester clubs, and also the Liverpool clubs for that matter.

Still, Villa have gained back-to-back wins for the first time since November, and on Wednesday we travel to Forest to try to get closer to the play-off positions.  The return of McGinn as a second-half sub seemed to add lustre to Villa's game yesterday, so if we
 can get all points at Forest and win the home game against Boro then Villa's recovery would be well under way.

But let's not get our hopes too high! Yet.


Sunday, 3 March 2019

Is The Fog Lifting?

It's as though a script was written, was it not?

Jack returning after so long; 8 points dropped in the last 3 matches; the defence gaining some stability to provide a better base to work from.

The match (particularly in the first half) all spoke of the result of a big frustration building, rather like the larva collecting and stirring at the base of the volcano, I'd say.

No, the result is not just because Jack came back, but everything together made the difference as I see it. It is admitted, though, that Jack's appearance clearly has the effect of lifting the team. Even Conor played well!

I would hate to think though, that we are so dependent on one player to provide the impetus for the team to gel. The character of some of the other players must be lacking, because there are several players with a good level of ability but seem to lack 'push' if left to their own devices.

Job done by h-t, but then we had yet another injury. We can but hope that Chester is available in case he's needed for the 'big one' next week.

Anyway, McGinn will be back.

Let me see, now... How many points are we off the play-offs...?


Monday, 18 February 2019

Ouch: Villa Well and Truly Baggied. But...

Well, we did not beat Albion, did we? I thought we would probably come back from our recent poor downturn and produce the spirit to edge this game, but it was not to be, particularly after Abraham missed his early gilt-edged chance. And Johnstone showing why we liked his alert keeping so much before he came to the end of his loan with us. From then on, after not looking bad for 30 minutes, we seemed to go into a bit of self-doubt and let in the Albyun. The earlier injury to Kalinic probably didn't help and he was replaced at the break.

And, I have to say this, why did we need to go out and bring in all these keepers when we've had Steer all along? Whenever I've seen him play, I haven't seen much to fault him.

So this hiatus in Villa's history (that really started in 2010) seems to go on and on and...

But let's wait awhile. The injury list of Jack, Axel, Chester, Carroll and Lansbury (and also previously to Jedinak, Davis and Green), combined with the perceived unreadiness of O'Hare, Bree and others to really stamp their mark in the first-team (hence why they've been shipped out, to get an experience of real football), is bound to hamper any team's ability to make progress. And now McGinn will be suspended for two matches.

What we're seeing now (and it doesn't need me to state this) is a midfield that is bare of ideas, while the defence looks to be improving with Mings and now Hause settling in, and Elphick doing a good job. What I did notice in the second-half on Saturday was a reluctance of the keeper to hoof the ball from his area and instead was passing the ball out through the defence, thereby retaining possession. And Mings was occasionally also bringing the ball through to the second third of the pitch.

That approach helped, but then we lacked ideas to take the play any further, with Albion content to hang onto their two-goal lead and mainly blocking our progress.

Promotion is almost a forlorn target for this season. But the thing I take hope in - and I know this is difficult to accept for many after nearly 9 years of not making progress and some dire football as well as relegation in that time - is that we probably have a management structure in place at Villa Park that seems willing to take proper football decisions and plan accordingly. We're not seeing the fruits of that right now, but that's partly to do with what went on before. I feel that we shall see some successful developments as a result of activity in the summer break.


Thursday, 14 February 2019

Are We In A Winter Fog?

It doesn't look good, does it? The absence of Jack and Axel - and the injury to Chester - has caused some ramifications.

My whole argument about Axel being missed pretty well as much as Jack was tied with the aftermath of their absence from the team. At that stage we didn’t really see anything else dramatically wrong except the defence, which was an issue not to be sneezed at. And then it became clear that Chester was carrying an injury which has proved to be somewhat more serious than it seemed.

OK, so we’ve had something of a defensive overhaul, and I haven’t got too many complaints about last night’s defence other than Hause being ‘rusty’ and Hutton being strangely indecisive on a couple of occasions.

But the midfield in general seems to me to have become virtually useless, and I don’t choose that word lightly. Even McGiven – probably because he tries to do more than his share – seems to have become less effective, though it’s generally from him anything good occurs. Conor mystifies me – he could be such a good player I feel but undersells himself i.m.o. At least he made one good tackle last night.

And Whelan is there because there’s no-one else who is willing to stand up and be counted in that department. He is getting old and shows it in his lack of movement, but he’s got a good footballer’s brain.

As for the wingers. Well, dear Albert looks low in confidence. And that’s a pity. I do like him, and he showed last season that when he had the chance to pick up responsibility, he did, by scoring so many goals. Now he can barely shoot, or even create. El Ghazi has improved but still short of the needed quality i.m.o. Green must start versus Albion, surely – but he will need to be given several games to get going properly.

Yes, Jack’s return should improve matters, but his absence has revealed that without him (and a forward moving c-b like Axel) we are devoid of imagination in midfield.

Yes, a clear-out has to take place. And some will automatically be going anyway once their contracts are up.

It looks as though we’re still hurting after those years of club mismanagement that started 9 (nine!) years ago. That's a long time for Villa's fans to be suffering, and it really goes back much further - to the time when John Gregory left in 2002.

Still, while there's life, there's hope! It's just that we must beat Albion on Saturday!


Saturday, 9 February 2019

An Aston-ishing result!

Wow! What a comeback. A game of 80 minutes + 10 and added time.

Their second goal was highly dubious. Villa’s keeper didn’t have the ball fully under control … but … in these days when keepers are supposed to be sacrosanct within their own 6-yard box, I don’t think it should have been allowed. A suspicion of offside as well.

But until that point Villa had done little of note. The Jedi’s passing was awful most of the time, but I suppose it’s his first start for a couple of months and was rusty. I suspect Jack will be rusty too when he returns.

Villa at no time looked as though they were disheartened, and they got back for two reasons: (1) because Villa had more tenacity and concentration than the Blades and (2) bringing on Green was just what was needed i.m.o. His support play was a bit all over the place, but his shot produced Villa’s second goal and then he scored himself what was a real striker’s goal.

I also thought Whelan did a good job and was willing Villa to recovery just by himself.

With Mings and Elphick mainly looking solid, it now needs Jack to sort out our midfield issues. But we shouldn’t be dependent on one player.

But for the moment let's recollect that this season we've seen not one but three absolutely amazing score-draws at VP, starting with that 3-3 result vs Preston which we might have won at the death; the 5-5 result versus Forest. And now this.


Sunday, 3 February 2019

I Hope I'm Reading It Correctly!

Well, we didn't lose (against Reading)!

It continues to be disappointing that we're not putting away enough of our chances, last week versus Ipswich being a particular case-in-point, and yesterday also to a more limited degree. However, their keeper did well on two occasions.

Meanwhile there are a lot of comments on certain Villa blogs about how our play has dipped since Jack has been injured, but Axel's non-availability has almost equally affected the flow in my opinion. However, it looks as though the signing of Mings was a good move going by the reports on the quality of his play yesterday, with Elphick also doing well. 

So, January has seen a few turnarounds, with Bolasie (having shown glimmers of promise) not quite measuring up and deciding to go home, yet counter-balanced by the return of Andre Green, who I think could be a great player if handled properly.  With the arrival of Mings and Carroll, as well as Hause, the last 16 games almost demand a renewed attack on the top-6, particularly as we're just 4 points off. 

This all bodes well for the rest of the season: a strong central defence can be the springboard to a big challenge for the play-offs, especially as Jack should be back on board in a week or two.

I feel very hopeful of a good end to the season.


Sunday, 20 January 2019

Rule One : Find Out Where The Goalposts Lie!

Yesterday's match finished with Villa having 18 shots, but only 2 on goal, and we scored from both of those. This kind of on-target shooting ratio has been going on for much of the season.

You always expect to have at least 33% going on goal, no matter how good or not good the chances were. Though I didn’t see the match there were several reported as going high and wide. Not good enough, in my view, particularly from a side that is supposed to be top-6 quality.

We seem not to be creating many quality chances, but it could be down to nerves as we’re not winning these days.

So when I refer to the situation of not putting shots on target what I’m really saying is “hey, get your shots on target and perhaps we’ll score more and win more”. If they were to see that as a way forward then some confidence might return … and with it an improvement in the quality of chances.

There are those that say that it's simply the quality of play that needs to improve in order to create quality chances, and though that view cannot be argued with, when you're in a streak of not winning you sometimes have to draw on reserves of energy to pressure in any way possible in order to create a result and generate confidence for the method to follow.

Footie is not all about just method – it’s attitude too – particularly in putting yourself about enough to cause panic in the opposition.


Monday, 14 January 2019

Help Is Needed - And Quick!

My optimism after that poor Cup performance that both Kodjia and Lansbury would start the next League match was misplaced. Both instead succumbed to injury, so that situation, combined with the bizarre Jordan Lyden situation (he returned from being on loan and immediately got injured for the rest of the season) and various other injuries provides Dean Smith with a near bare cupboard from which to select a team, with the defence continuing to look way below its needed performance level.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Chester is a fair degree below form and indeed may still be carrying an injury. Left-back Taylor, having just returned from injury, looks uninspirational, and Bree is yet to impress at right-back. Whatever people say about Hutton, he is a great trier and I cannot but see any other option than to have him recalled to either full-back spot.

There is always the possibility of reinforcements arriving in this 'window', but if Hause is anything to go by, we should not expect an immediate uplift.

Two successive 0-3 defeats against Championship sides - and the next match being at Villa Park - seems to call for Dean Smith to show his managerial credentials and bring the fire back into the Villa team, despite the injury situation. Failure to do so could create a poisonous atmosphere amongst the Villa fans, and these days it doesn't take too much to generate that attitude.

One thing is certain in my mind, and that is that Jack Grealish's return (when that happens) will not by itself produce better results. The defensive system is the primary area for attention to my mind, but also needed is a general improvement in attitude amongst most of the players.


Wednesday, 9 January 2019

The Scottish Influence At The Villa

On Tuesday I was kindly asked to be interviewed on a Scottish radio sports programme (Rock Sport Radio), ostensibly to talk about George Ramsay as the first Scottish 'Manager' to lead an FA-Cup winning team. Before I went on the show I had a good think, and thus I was reminded just how important the Scots were at the Villa, pre-1890. In 1887 (when the Villa became the first Midlands' club to win the FA Cup), the club's President, Chairman, Manager/Secretary and Captain were all Scots! I was a little shocked even though sub-consciously I was aware of that fact.

That situation quickly changed as the President (the industrialist George Kynoch) resigned the following year and subsequently migrated to South Africa, while the Chairman (William McGregor, who almost single-handedly had steered the Villa from bankruptcy during the 1885-86 season, the first season of professionalism in England) also stood down from the Chairmanship to set up and Chair the new Football League. The Captain (Archie Hunter) had a heart attack while playing at Everton in 1890 and never recovered sufficiently to play again. Although Archie subsequently helped in the administration and team management at the Villa, his health worsened and he died at the age of 34, in 1894. Very poignantly, it is said that Archie asked for his sickbed to be moved nearer to the window so that he could see the crowds streaming to the Villa's ground on a Saturday afternoon.

Archie Hunter's grave has a significant memorial that records just how all those connected with him admired him as the great Captain of Aston Villa. He didn't play for Scotland, but only because at the time he was playing (1878-90) Scotland forbade anyone playing in England from playing in the Scottish team. In the 1990s, he was listed as one of the 100 greatest players to play in the Football League.

In fact, Archie's brother Andy was also a great influence at the Villa as a tactician between 1879 and 1884 before he succumbed to TB, and also died at a young age.

The fourth personality listed in the Villa hierarchy of 1887, the Secretary/Manager George  Ramsay, who had transformed the Villa when he arrived as a player in 1876, retained his post at Villa until he retired in 1926, 40 years after being appointed in that post and 50 years since he arrived as a player. In fact, Ramsay's involvement did not cease in 1926 as he was then made a Vice-President and aided the club in many ways, primarily in public relations, until he died in October, 1935.

There are two more things to quickly add about Ramsay (though he is worthy of a long chapter to tell about his detailed achievements at Villa) in that when he died it was in the course of the season 1935-36, which saw Villa being relegated for the very first time. The Villa were never relegated while he lived!

The second piece to narrate is that the headstone on his grave states "Founder of Aston Villa". That statement is not true, but it illustrates just how much his influence was at the club and the stature he attained, admired by all those connected with the club and many others in the football world. He was a true legend.

Ramsay actually said: "I planted an acorn and an oak tree grew".

It was George Ramsay who brought the dribbling and passing game to the Midlands in 1876, and his trend was ably developed by Archie Hunter. The Villa were also greatly influenced by the all-conquering Queens Park of Glasgow, whose superlative organisation and style persuaded the Villa to move to a system of two full-backs instead of one. 

In the first half of the 1880s, the Villa regularly undertook a tour of Scotland and played the best of the Scottish sides in those days. Those teams, in return, came down to play return fixtures at the Villa's old ground at Perry Barr.

Returning to the Villa's great 1887 FA Cup exploits, in the semi-final the Villa met Glasgow Rangers, which proved to be the last time a Scottish team competed in the FA Cup. The Villa won, playing perhaps their greatest football before World War One, 3-1.

Wonderful Scottish players have been influential at the Villa ever since, particularly James Cowan (a wonderful old-style centre-half, 1889-1902), Johnny Campbell (a marvellous centre-forward, 1895-97), Jimmy Gibson (a 'Wembley Wizard' in 1927 and a member of a grand footballing family), George Cummings (a full-back who invariably kept Stan Matthews and Tom Finney quiet), Alex Massie, Andy Gray, Alex Cropley, Allan Evans and Ken McNaught (centre-backs when Villa won the European Cup in 1982), Des Bremner (also a European Cup winner), Alan McInally, Charlie Aitken (who played the most games for the Villa: 660) and now John McGinn. 

There have been a few others too who have played a useful contribution, including Ron Wylie, who spent a total of about 20 years as a player and coach at the Villa. Ron masterminded Villa's biggest post-war win, an 11-1 beating of Charlton in 1959.

Few know that George Graham started his career with the Villa but was somehow sold to Chelsea for a pittance. And there was also Bruce Rioch (whose father was Scottish!) and brother Neil Rioch, who ran the Aston Villa Former Players' Association for many years. Brian McLair was on Villa's books as a youth player in 1980-81 but went back to Scotland feeling somewhat homesick. Clearly he felt that Manchester United was not too far from Scotland when he signed for them!

Since Ramsay, Scottish managers have not faired  well, however, at the Villa. There have been six such since the first Team Manager was appointed at the Villa in 1934, including Tommy Docherty, Alex McLeish and Paul Lambert. The other three were Jimmy McMullan (skipper of the 1927 'Wembley Wizards' side, manager 1934-35), Alex Massie (1945-49) and George Martin (1950-53).

(c) 2019, John Lerwill

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Oh Dear; The Year Has Barely Started And Already There's Doubt

Oh, dear! You get a feeling that many Villa fans are thinking we're going backwards, and (particularly after yesterday's Cup performance and result) it looks very much like that. But of course ours was a much-changed side - for various reasons, notably injuries - while Swansea played a side close to their normal selection.

Villa's defence looked what it is - four players who have played little together in the formation designated, with Chester given a needed rest. On top of that the ageing Whelan in front of defence. If the Jedi had been available we may have done slightly better - even, maybe, with the Icelander in that slot.

But the team played in a manner that did not give confidence and leaving me with the genuine feeling that despite Hogan's previous scoring record, at Villa he's just not going to hack it. Bringing Kodjia on and then Lansbury lifted the team somewhat and I'd think both of those will appear in the next League match.

However, Villa have not only a depleted defence to be concerned about but also the genuine possibility that Abraham may up and leave for huge PL pay at Wolves for the rest of the season. Though this is not certain at the time of writing, it presents an atmosphere of some uncertainty and especially so with Kodjia not exactly hitting the scoring high spots this year and Davis getting himself back into match fitness. Hogan I've already rejected.

But! It's the January 'window' and there's always the possibility we could be strengthened by new players. Three weeks are still left for us to be uplifted by momentous signings. I wish!


Thursday, 3 January 2019

The Current Villa Squad

Well, the New Year saw two 'new' players in Villa's ranks against QPR in the form of the repatriated keeper Steer and c-b Elphick, with both doing well enough to keep their places, it would seem.

But Steer may well not be a starter in the next teamsheet as Villa have signed a keeper they bought to improve quality in the Villa goal, in the form of Kalinic.

As things stand (with no further signings likely before Saturday) I'd see the following team possibly being tried out against Swansea in the Cup:

Kalinic, Bree, Chester, Elphick, Taylor (if fit), Lansbury (if fit), Whelan, Bjarnasson, Adomah, Hogan, Davis. Subs: Steer, Hutton, Hourihane, Bolassie, El Ghazi, Abraham, Kodjia.

However, though I suggest this team as a possible selection, it would mean that yet again we'd be downgrading the importance of Cup competitions somewhat in bringing in players just back from injury or who have mainly been sitting on the bench. For me, the FA Cup is still a very important competition, particularly as we're not just now in the top flight, and I would like to see us trying very hard to perform well and make progress in it. It's been over 60 years since we last won it! Having said that, of course, the priority is the League, but good progress in the Cup may well help the confidence factor, and some of the players could do with first-team time on the pitch. It's a difficult one.

But as to the squad now available, with the news that Abraham is likely to stay at VP for the rest of the season, we're now in a slightly better condition with Steer and Elphick back and players gradually coming back from injury (Adomah, Taylor, Lansbury) and, hopefully, Grealish in about a month's time. Tuanzebe seems to be out for a much longer period.

Maybe one more player to sign to make a big difference? Or more to ensure better cover in case of injuries.

With the leading pack in the Championship continuing to drop points (Leeds have lost two in a row) the chance for Villa's promotion is still there despite Villa dropping points. But as soon as the League games re-start next week we must start winning a few to get back some lost confidence.

But on that score, our on-going profligacy in front of goal must be corrected. Last match we had 22 attempts but only five on target. Just getting that on-going situation corrected and we stand to actually win matches!