Something For The Weekend (300)
Kevin MacDonald's stint as gaffer may be over but his time at the helm of the good ship Villa has been quite instructive. The results have not been brilliant, but that may have more to do with the absence of James Milner, than Kev's modus operandi, or his football nouse.
From all the hugging and kissing on the touchline between the players and Kevin, (in a manly sort of way, of course) it seems safe to assume that Kevin is very popular with the lads, and it seems likely that his masterplan was to give the players what they wanted and preside over a period of peace and contentment, until the new headmaster arrived.
He's done very well and brought peace to the camp, in a period of uncertainty and transition.
I have little doubt that Martin O'Neill micro-managed every player's function in the team, just as Brian Clough might have done so, and certainly as Brian Little was seen to do in his time at the Villa helm. This meant that Ashley Young was stuck out on the wing and told to put in as many crosses he could manage, while other players were expected to play specific but narrow functions within the team. I am sure this could be very frustrating for the players, even if it did make Villa a very solid and disciplined unit.
Kevin has obviously given the players rather more freedom.
So, no doubt, with Ashley fancying himself as a bit of a striker, he dropped enough hints to Kevin, to put him in the middle, which had the added bonus of allowing the manager to put his boy Albrighton in the team, and show the
world what he knew already; that his lad was a Premiership-quality player.
Job well done - Ashley is Villa's top scorer and Marc has been attracting the plaudits and admiration on all fronts.
This must be brilliant for Ashley too, as knocking in a few goals will not do his England prospects any harm and prove that he is not just a one trick pony. With Gabby still dealing with his niggling calf and Carew temporarily off-target (we hope), Ashley's goals have been vital for Villa.
Villa's problems seem to arise when they don't have the ball, and even on paper, the recent midfield combinations seemed to have lacked the sort of players likely to win the ball back. Kevin's more fluid formation seems to create problems for itself in defensive situations, as players positional discipline seemed less obvious, and of course the absence of Milner's turf-covering motor from the team, just has to be missed, when Villa find themselves under the cosh.
So bearing in mind the absence of James Milner's substantial contribution, I think it is fair to say that had Kevin been handed the manager's job and given the opportunity to bring an Ian Taylor-type of player to the club, then it looked likely that Kev's game-plan could have worked quite well.
Given the opportunity to strengthen the squad in terms of defensive and holding midfielders, I am sure Kevin could have done a very decent job for Villa. But have no doubt, I am sure Kevin Mac will make a vital contribution to the club, in his 'new' role.
So thanks Kevin, you did yourself and the club proud.
The Houllier reign now starts at Villa and even if I wasn't quite convinced that he played any part in inspiring Villa's splendid win against Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday night, I am sure he will prove to be equally as formidable as O'Neill was, when it comes to managing the feelings and sensibilities of the players. I suspect things won't be quite as much fun for the lads, as it was under Kevin MacDonald.
It might be like that episode in Porridge when Fletcher was so glad to see the back of Mr Mackay, until they got his replacement.
For the Villa fans, it seems to be a simple case of wait and see, as they deal with the confusion and uncertainty which has arisen since the departure of Maestro Martin and his staff. Houllier's welcome was rather subdued and the crowd of 18 000 seemed to indicate that not many fans were so excited by his appointment, that they were going to dash down Villa Park, to take up the offer of cheap seats, and give Monsieur Hulot their hearty welcome.
I guess he'll always be seen as a Liverpool manager, and Nicolas Anelka's life coach until he does something special for Villa.
For those who did take up the offer of a cheap seat, they at least had the pleasure of seeing Emile Heskey turn a game Villa had looked second best in, right up until a surprisingly sprightly Ivanhoe crashed a precise left-foot shot into the Blackburn net, within a minute of coming on for a disappointing Carew.
Even a churlish Sam Allardyce could not find fault with his defenders for Villa's second, as Ashley Young's deft header looked unplayable, from Nathan Delfouneso's accurate cross. Within a minute, it was bye, bye Blackburn (remember when we used to sing that?), as Heskey and Young's power, pace and accuracy made it three, for Villa.
Here's one for the old farts - its finger-clicking good.
Just like Heskey's debut goal against Portsmouth (Jan '09) the Villa fans were left wondering why Emile can't do it more often but nothing will stop them hoping he can return to the 1 in 4 ratio he managed in his better seasons, of yore.
Of course the arrival of Houllier and the presence of Heskey, means that the rumour merchants and fiction writers of the sports press can't help but link Villa with Michael Owen, Emile's erstwhile successful strike-partner at Liverpool.
Villa can't afford him and what with his age, wage and fitness, Man United looks like the perfect place for him to play his twenty games a season, between stints on the treatment table.
Anyway, Houllier's assertion that its going to be evolution rather than revolution at Villa, means we can assume that he will be working with the current squad for the foreseeable future.
We can still have our sweet dreams though.
Keep the faith!