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

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!