Writer: Custard Cream
Date:Tuesday April 28 2009
In Pursuit of Happiness (a trophy would be nice)
And hey, I’m not so blind
That I can’t see where we’re all going
And it’s no fault of mine
If humankind reaps what it is sowing.
What an awful year 2009 has been so far. The ongoing threat of terrorism, a global recession and now if you believe the newspapers (which luckily, I don’t) we’ll all be sneezing our way to an early grave.
Oh, and Villa haven’t won since early February.
It’s been interesting to read some of the posts and articles on this website searching for explanations and solutions – and I’m sure Martin O’Neill wishes it was as easy as turning back the time or going to a previous formation.
The problem as I see it was that this fall from grace was always going to happen. There were too many weak links in the squad in terms of both player quality and the way that the team relied on set pieces to score goals - so - if your mind was open enough to seeing the possibility of it happening then it looked very likely.
The decline started well before the manager threw away the UEFA Cup participation. Between December and January the performances the team were putting in were becoming stodgy and relying on getting on the right side of refereeing decisions (Hull, Sunderland, Portsmouth and West Brom all come to mind) – we struggled to beat Gillingham and had to take the Doncaster cup game to a replay.
It was a similar situation to the first season that Martin O’Neill had taken charge in. The team had started well, but began to falter (much worse than this time – we were still winning games this time), and O’Neill managed to bolster the squad with some decent attacking players who added to the game that we played and we finished the season much stronger.
This time, we bought Emile Heskey.
That’s not me having a go at Heskey. I thought Emile would be a fantastic player for us, and still think that given the time and when the team stops lumping the ball up to him then he will still come good. But signing Heskey did nothing to change our faltering game in the way that Young and to a smaller extent Carew did after they had signed.
Looking back at this period, to me it seems like we began to stand still when it came to December, but began falling in January and February.
The transfer window gave us a chance to bring in players who could not only rejuvenate a squad which still had a top four place, a UEFA Cup and an FA Cup to chase and allow us to continue to chase silverware, but it would have given fans and players alike a lift to show that our ambitions were genuine.
It didn’t happen, and we’ve seen what has happened since, unfortunately.
What has been really disappointing is the reaction we’ve seen since. Rather than a reflection on those actions in January and February by the manager and an admittance that perhaps it wasn’t the right thing to do (hindsight is a lovely thing) – or admitting the odd mistake (trying to defend a lead against Manchester United at Old Trafford!) we’ve seen a complaints about referees after games and an insistence that people enjoy watching Aston Villa play.
Sorry Martin. I don’t enjoy watching Villa lose. I’d rather watch us grind out a game like Hull or West Ham away than the Manchester United capitulation – despite how more thrilling it might be for the television cameras.
Watching Aston Villa lose isn’t entertaining or enjoyable for me. And the fact we’ve only won five home games this season is on top of a 12 game winless run is simply unacceptable. And whilst I’m not saying that the manager should be dismissed or any of that nonsense, managers have been sacked before for much less of a winless run – never mind two in three years.
One of our current issues appears to be the defence. Panic and confusion mixed with a lack of confidence. The problem is Martin spent over £20million on the defence last summer and that money spent can hardly be described as much of a success. That’s on top of over £10million being spent on Curtis Davies – another defender who has looked rather shaky at times. What are we going to do? Just keep throwing money until we strike it lucky?
I think now we have a new issue. Our players now have nothing to play for. We put all our eggs into one basket and now we have no European competition and fifth place to take part in a cup competition next year that we deemed not big enough for us this season. So the 110% effort that we witnessed in the Hull, Everton away, Arsenal home and West Ham games where we ground things out when things weren’t going our way isn’t seen as being needed. What’s the point?
So that’s why I’m hoping with Everton now snapping at our heels for sixth it might just wake up some of the underperforming players. If you look at the fixture list left – Hull, Middlesbrough, Fulham and Newcastle – I’d hope that Martin O’Neill was now focusing the team on an unbeaten final month of the season. It’s a tricky couple of games – three teams fighting to stay up and Fulham who have been marvelous at home this season (perhaps ask Roy Hodgson how he’s done it, Martin!) But when you look at the teams, and you look how we know Villa can play – every single one of those games are winnable.
So go out and win them.
Please. Because a decent end to the season like that may manage to make forgetting these past three months much easier.
Date:Tuesday April 28 2009
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