Then and Now At Villa (8)
Having gone through poor form, Villa were a revelation at Liverpool and that was followed by the 'stormer' against the Baggies on Wednesday. After all that I was quite prepared for something like a 4-4 scoreline at Goodison.
Four goals? Villa couldn't even find 4 shots! One shot on goal the whole game, with Everton and Gareth Barry showing the so-called Villa youngsters a thing or two in patience and build-up. A Gabby-less Villa seems to mean that defend and hoof is the only answer.
Well, we've gone through nearly three seasons of major ups-and-downs and many barren matches, and I'm beginning to wonder whether something basic is being missed by Villa's management - like commonsense. And to illustrate that I'm going to turn the clock back to the first season after World War One (as we're this year remembering the start of that same war), when Villa's stalwarts returned from the front line to get back into some sense of normal life.
In the opening game of 1919-20 at Sunderland, Villa's team was (age in brackets, showing an average of 29 years):
Hardy(age 36); Blackburn(27), Weston(29); York(20), Harrop(35), Moss(24); Wallace(34), Stephenson(29), Hampton(34), Humphries(25), Edgley(27).
Just a couple of youngsters, note (both of whom later became 'greats'), but this side didn't work. Bad results continued apace, and the selection committee (as it was then) changed the team around to no avail. In fact, the Villa were bottom of the First Division and had suffered 8 defeats in 10 games when they decided 'enough was enough'. Giving up on trying to prematurely bring through youngsters, they went out and bought a couple. And the couple they bought were not big names - they were simply assessed as having the right go-ahead qualities.
The two players they bought that made such a difference were inside-forward Billy Kirton and the player who later became regarded as one of the greatest players ever to done a claret and blue jersey - centre-half Frank Barson. The rest is history. Villa won 10 games out of the next 11 and at the end of the season they finished a safe 9th in the league and not only that but had the FA Cup in their hands, partly thanks to a new young player (called Billy Walker) being introduced midway through the season.
So that was the formula in those days. Try youth for as long as was safe, and if that didn't work then go and buy players that would make the difference while bringing on the youth at a safe pace. That approach served Villa well from the time the league started (1888) until 1928, when the new Villa management decided that the cheque book was always the best approach - an approach that had an ill-fated end. The reverse (relying essentially on inexperienced youngsters of not-great talent) has proved not to work either. And do we have to keep buying good centre-backs (like Laursen and Vlaar) that are injury-prone?
Doesn't it tell us that some commonsense and flexibility to heed changing needs has been lost down the years?
Up the Villa!
For more history and stats , why not visit John's history site: www.lerwill-life.org.uk/astonvilla/. Further, why not enjoy an in-depth read of Villa's history? Click here for more info.