Writer: J P Fear
Date:Wednesday May 16 2007
Who, come that day in the summer when the players returned from holiday to report for training would have thought we'd end with a finish of 9 games unbeaten and 11th in the Prem.
Most predicted relegation as the evil O'Leary had lost the plot and the backing of Ellis.
No one would have predicted the 'new' players Agathe,Sutton, Petrov, Young, Carew, Bardsley and Maloney. Few would have predicted Barry, Sorensen, Mellberg, Baros and others would still be in the squad, that Davis would have had such a poor season, that Hendrie would not have shown at all.
Some of us had heard rumours of a takeover and the suggestion that O'Neill was part of the package, nice idea, never happen though, even though most suspected O'Leary was only still manager because Ellis was unsure a takeover was going to happen. If it did he didn't want to have to pay off O'Leary he wanted the new owners too.
Whatever happened, is beyond me still, but I surmise O'Leary decided he had no chance to stay long term so engineered his own demise. When he did all the worms came out of the cupboard and seemingly most of the top professionals were off to pastures new, where would we have been with a squad of 9 players I've no clue at all.
Then came the bigger shock Martin O'Neill joined as manager. Bigger still was the news Ellis appointed him, and he wanted to come.
Why everyone asked. Well he was met at the gates not on a donkey but out of a big black car, the Messiah, the media said had arrived and thankfully so did a huge amount of common sense, and a few hidden promises and players decided to give it another season at least, well most did.
As a result, Gareth Barry improved again. I couldn't see how he could, he did playing every position except goal this season, seemingly, and scored 9 goals, including some beauties. Could it be he has finished the season in his best position, I hope so, still just 26 too, in any other club he'd be worth 20 million.
Another who improved hugely, and made many a Villa fan eat their words was Bouma. Overcoming his past injuries he just got better and showed everyone the limitations with Samuel, surely now off to pastures new, his motivation left long ago, his talent never blossomed.Mind you when he leaves who cover for Bouma, Barry again, I hope not.
On the other flank Hughes disappointed again, until returning in the last few games, why does he play so well for his Country, could it be his manager there, could he be joining him.
Bardsley joined to replace him and although he didn't set the world alight, he gave a consistent performance never great, never poor, never a Villa player for the future though.
Centre back has been the poisoned chalice at Villa since the days of Ehugio and Southgate. Mellberg lost the captaincy, only given him to keep him at the club to get around the wage restrictions its said, but kept the main centre back position, mostly. He did a decent enough job, but as the years have passed his limitations have become more evident.
Alongside him Ridgewell and then Cahill have been adequate helpers for two seasons, but most likely the main reason for the inconsistent performance, the silly goals conceded as well.
Laursen when he plays shows just how good a CB can be, as he's gained confidence he's improved, Mellberg improves, the defence has improved and the results have improved along with the goals against. Great buy O'Leary, pity he's so injury prone, we need Big Sam's medical team and thinking to look after him methinks, or a top replacement. Superb when played, I just hope its more like 30 starts than 13 next season.
Even so the defence still has been one of the best statistically, in the Prem, even with a keeper many fans expect and want to be replaced. Keeper has been another poisoned chalice at Villa for years, especially amongst the fans. Whilst I thought Gregory did some clever business to swap James for the Big Man and money to buy players he was a decent keeper who went on to do even better and remains one of the top 2 English keepers even today. He was often picked on by the fans, and in my view made more mistakes than Tommy, but when he left the best we could find was Enkleman, like Sorensen or not, to replace him is going to cost and lots, is there anyone so much better available ?
end of part one. Part two will be posted at 1pm.
Date:Wednesday May 16 2007
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