The James Milner saga reached an anticlimactic conclusion this week as the England midfielder completed a long-awaited move to Manchester City. It was a predictable—albeit disappointing—transaction, and brought Aston Villa fans back down to earth after the excitement of Saturday’s 3-0 thrashing of West Ham. So goes the emotional roller coaster at Villa Park this summer.
Still, there is reason to take heart. Considering what’s gone on at the club this month, the West Ham result was as refreshing as it was comprehensive. Kevin MacDonald can take some credit for that—perhaps a lot of credit.
The reserve coach-come-Martin O’Neill replacement drew up a very effective 4-2-3-1 formation, with John Carew at the fulcrum and Stewart Downing, Ashley Young and Marc Albrighton in support. MacDonald’s selection of Albrighton was particularly inspired, as the 20-year-old England Under-21 winger had a direct hand in two Villa goals.
Ciaran Clark was also handed a starting assignment and slotted in nicely alongside Richard Dunne. Like Albrighton, the 6-foot-2 centre-back was part of a Villa reserve side that won the Southern Championship in each of the past two seasons. MacDonald managed that side, and he seems intent on bringing some of those young players through to the senior ranks this term.
He should be given the chance. One of O’Neill’s failings was his reluctance to use the young players at his disposal. Albrighton barely got a sniff while O’Neill was in charge, and Clark made just a handful of appearances. Ditto Nathan Delfouneso and Fabian Delph.
Under MacDonald, all four can expect to see significantly enhanced playing time, and 19-year-old striker Andreas Weimann will get a few looks as well. This can only be good for the club, especially if they’re unable to spend money on new players.