ESPN Soccernet - Correspondents - Aston Villa
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Aston Villa
Posted by Kevin Hughes on 04/12/2012

There's no substitute for winning matches.

That's the lesson Villa need to learn after the threat of relegation was put firmly back on the agenda. It can still happen, if we don't wake up to the danger and actually approach a match with the intention of winning it.

It had looked like a successful weekend - purely in statistical terms, at least. Two points from two games, against Liverpool and Stoke, may have done nothing to cheer us increasingly gloomy fans, but with Wigan, QPR, Blackburn and Bolton all losing matches and failing to gain ground, it at least nudged us a little clearer of the chasing pack.

A five-point advantage of 18th-placed Blackburn became seven points. Slowly, excruciatingly slowly, Villa were edging to safety. But that was until Wednesday night, until Wigan stunned Manchester United by winning 1-0 at the DW Stadium, and QPR beat Swansea 3-0.

Suddenly, both Wigan and QPR are within touching distance of Villa. We're on 35 points, they're both on 31. Bolton, who we host in a couple of weeks, are on 29; Blackburn 28. Only Wolves, stranded on 22, are too far behind us. And while Wigan and QPR have played a game more than us (and indeed, so have Blackburn) and have only five to play while we have six, they both have things we do not.

They have recent victories, they have momentum, they have belief. And they have the necessary spirit to drive themselves out of trouble.

Wigan have won three of their last four - they've beaten Liverpool at Anfield, and Stoke at home; that's six points from the same two fixtures Villa scrabbled two from. Plus, that big win over United. And of course, they really should have got a point from their match at Chelsea.

QPR? Three wins from their last five. As well as Swansea, they beat Arsenal 2-1 at Loftus Road, and Liverpool, in that amazing 3-2 comeback win. Games they perhaps wouldn't have been expected to win, but they did.

It's a timely reminder, for Villa, of why the job is not yet done. While we're almost sleepwalking over the finish line, still seemingly intent on trying not to lose matches, the teams in and around us are trying to win games.

Against both Liverpool and Stoke, Villa led early on, and then withdrew onto the back foot. And eventually conceded. It's rare that we take the lead, and when we do, we cannot protect it, because Alex McLeish does not know how to; he defaults to sitting back, to backs-to-the-wall defending.

Hurriedly clearing the ball from danger, rather than constructively keeping possession and doing something productive with the ball - Stoke (Stoke!) had a larger share of the ball against us on Monday. Sitting back and hoping doesn't work. It never really has.

Villa have drawn 14 of 32 league matches this season. That's four more than any other team in the division. We've won just seven games - 22%. Barely one in five. Only Wolves have won less. Two other teams have also won seven - Blackburn and Wigan.

Villa's performances have been so far below expectation, it's frightening. Personally, from the moment McLeish was appointed, I hastily revised my predictions. From memory, I think I expected anywhere from 12th to 16th, but made the prediction with a lot of negativity, and anticipated nearer to 12th. Now we're 15th, and with a very real threat of the drop. Performances are sterile, results are poor, attendances are down (officially 30,100 against Stoke but rumours that the true figure was closer to 23,000).

And the revision of expectation from around the club has been little short of scandalous. From the pre-season rallying cry of going for 4th - sorry 5th, a slip of the finger on the keypad there - (from the now former board member General Krulak), to targeting a place in Europe (chief executive Paul Faulkner), to aiming to emulate last season's 9th-placed finish (McLeish). Now we're sweating on retaining our place in the Premier League, and I suppose if (for it is now an if, not a when) we manage that, we'll be expected to celebrate.

Forgive me if I don't join in.

Up next for Villa is Manchester United, at Old Trafford, on Sunday. McLeish has spoken this week of causing an upset, citing an occasion when his Motherwell team beat Rangers once. The likelihood is that United, stung by losing at Wigan, will unleash all sorts of frustration out on us. My belief is that we'll stay up this season, owing more to the chances of not enough of the teams below us garnering sufficient points to send us down.


Posted by brendan ryan on 04/12/2012

I can not see the Villa picking up any more points. Another great football club will leave the Premier League and never come back.

Posted by Bill on 04/12/2012

Anyone recall last year when AM drew his way to the Championship for Birmingham? This was my concern with AM....loves the draw.

That being said, think Villa will scratch enough and survive. But BETTER beat Bolton....

....ahhh, love all of you who kept saying how lousy MON was. Just as lousy now at Sunderland.
At least AM is playing the kids, though he has to with the injuries. Something MON hardly ever did.

Posted by Ritchie on 04/13/2012

The prospect of staying up because of the short comings of others has been on the cards since November. We had a stupidly easy opening to the season, and we managed to garner little more than draws from games we really should have been winning - I cite Wolves at home as being the classic example.

One home win since November and a meagre total of seven all season speaks volumes - this is Birmingham's 2010-11 season all over again, god forbid if we go into the last couple of games still needing results. The lack of ambition in games show by this manager has been evident since his appointment, at times he as actually sought to limit the extent of defeats rather than seek out equalisers.

We will stay up, I've said it repeatedly, but it will only result in our pain being drawn out into next season..... when I'd expect McLeish to be sacked in November, right about the time we'll be in the bottom five again and with no hope of getting a decent replacement in.

Posted by Bruce Savage on 04/16/2012

I've been a Villa supporter for over 60 years and wonder what has happened to the team this season.

The pluses:
- Playing the younger players. It would seem that the team's future lies in the likes of Albrighton, Bannan, Clark, Lichaj and Weimann. Hanging on to them is another matter.

The minuses:
- Lack of goalscoring. When is AM going to realise that Heskey is history? The team needs two out and out strikers, one of whom can score with his head as well as his feet as with Withe, Hateley and Lockhead in past years.

- Lack of possession. It has been rare that Villa has enjoyed over 50% possession in a match. Without possession the team cannot score goals. Without goals no wins.

- Management including the owner who are more concerned with salary caps than keeping quality players. One has to ask the question: 'Where is the ambition for the team?'

- The dead beats. I've not been impressed by the presence of Heskey, Ireland, Warnock or Hutton in the team. Get rid of them.

Posted by donnie on 04/17/2012

Is Albrighton and Weimann really Villa's future? Gabby has been under producing compared to a few years ago, but the departures of Young and Downing makes that more understandable.

Bent was supposed to be the answer but we got about as much production out of him as Chelsea did of Torres (that's an exaggeration of course). Even if we make it through the year without relegation, without some good transfer signings I fear the same for next year.

I think we need more creativity from the outside, but feel free to fire my comments up as I am an American who just recently started seriously following the Premier League.

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Kevin Hughes Kevin Hughes spent the best part of ten years working and writing for the football magazine Match; once (sort of) inspiring David Beckham to copy his shaved-hair look, getting lost in Paris after the 1998 France v Croatia World Cup semi-final and other such nonsense. As Deputy Editor, he launched and established Sport, the London-based free weekly magazine, before moving on to become a consumer magazine publisher, a position he holds today. Introduced to Villa by his father and grandfather, he attended his first ever match at Villa Park as a seven-year-old in 1982… and has suffered almost constant disappointment since. You can follow him on twitter @KevHughesie

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