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Aston Villa
Posted by Kevin Hughes on 04/26/2012

Maybe now it's beginning to feel real. Villa could get relegated.

I've been poor wind-up value over the last couple of months. Friends and colleagues - smug grins on their faces - have been falling over themselves to get the Villa jibes in; things aren't looking good, eh? Starting to struggle, aren't you? Reckon you'll get sucked into the battle at the bottom?

I have answered every single one of them in the same way. Yes, actually; we're in an awful state, our form is dreadful, I don't see where our next win is coming from, and if we do stay up, it will be because not enough of the teams below us will achieve enough points to send us over the cliff and into the Championship.

As I said, poor wind-up value. Not much of a reaction for rival fans to gleefully feed off. There is, after all, little fun to be had in baiting someone who refuses to take the bait. And while I cannot speak for every single Villa fan, I'll happily make a reasoned assumption that a good many have adopted my attitude for much of the season: braced for failure. The situation the club now finds itself in is entirely predictable. Villa relegated? I saw the possibility months ago. I can't have been alone.

The past few days have been near-disastrous for Villa. A 0-0 draw at home to Sunderland - a fortuitous draw, as it turned out, with a clearly onside Niclas Bendtner scoring and then being flagged - may have earned us another point in our inch-by-inch battle for survival, but with QPR and Blackburn both winning, it was actually a backward step; two rivals gaining two points on our total. Wigan may have fallen to Fulham but that didn't make a significant difference. Those Rangers and Rovers victories served to have a concertina effect on the table with points gaps tightening. The very last thing Villa wanted.

On to Tuesday night, and the visit of Bolton - six points behind Villa but with two games in hand. Quickly christened a 'must-win' match, and of course it was that. A home victory would have just confirmed Villa's survival. But what it was, beyond anything else, was a 'must not lose' match. We had to ensure Bolton used up one of their precious games in hand, and not take all three points.

We didn't do that. Instead, inexplicably, from taking the lead just after the hour, Villa caved in, conceding two goals in the ensuing two minutes and losing the match. Bolton have now closed to within three points of us, with a game in hand, while QPR and Wigan remain two points behind us.

Even writing Blackburn off now - which is unfair and inadvisable - the reality of the situation is that Villa need one of those three teams breathing down our necks to stumble. Villa's form is so dire - one win in 13 league games, just two league wins in 2012 - that it is difficult to see where the next win is coming from.

Away at near neighbours West Brom on Saturday? At home - where Villa have won just four times in the league this season, and only once since November - to Spurs? Away at Norwich, on the final day of the season? It's impossible to view any of these fixtures with confidence.

The three teams directly below us all have a reasonable amount of momentum, so while they have tough matches coming up, they have shown enough to suggest they are capable of points. After all, who would have predicted Wigan beating Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United in recent weeks, or QPR defeating Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs?

Not many, and yet in these fixtures both Wigan and QPR defied expectations to win. They played the game, not the occasion, and came out on top. Something that Villa, led by a manager who all too often has trotted out the, ''they' have a different agenda to us' in deference to the opposition, have failed to do all season.

It's only now, with three games to go, that the wider footballing world is waking up to Villa's plight. Ah - maybe those so-called bitter and ungrateful Villa fans who rallied against McLeish's appointment initially were basing their opinions on something with more foundation than the fact he moved across from Birmingham City, after all? Perhaps they weren't behaving like spoiled children? Perhaps they had a point, based on McLeish's track record of results, style of play, and approach to the game? Perhaps they saw all this coming?

The signs have been here for most of the campaign. The feeble, meek capitulation at Spurs, the damage-limitation exercises at home to Liverpool and Manchester United. The lame draws at Wigan and Blackburn, settling for a single point when the bigger prize was there for the taking. McLeish celebrating a home point against Stoke on Easter Monday with a clenched fist salute, believing that was enough. It wasn't, not when we could all see teams below us pushing themselves to the next level.

It's almost a relief to be here, now. The state of Aston Villa is no longer a secret. It's out in the open, dirty linen and all. Now the manager talks of rallying the troops, every game being a battle; as if worn-out cliches alone can save us. Regardless of the outcome - and I do feel we will stay up, even if it's by a single point - Villa shouldn't be anywhere near this position.

It was observed and reported that, after the Bolton game, owner Randy Lerner and chief executive Paul Faulkner were on hand after the hand to console and encourage McLeish. Their responsibilities extend quite a bit further than that.

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Posted by Brian on 04/26/2012

I can't agree more. I am sick and tired of reading about how the Villa faithful are protesting McLeish because of his Birmingham ties. We want him gone because he is taking an easily top half team down to the Championship, all while playing the most boring football imaginable.

Posted by AnArsenalFan on 04/26/2012

McLeish is a dangerous and pitiful man. His philosophy is easy to impose on a team but hard to remove (that's what makes him dangerous). His way of seeing draws as victories and the avoidance of disaster as success (that's what makes him pitiful) is ruinous.

People were tempted by his "success" with Birmingham, but one wonders whether a better man with a more determined character might not have achieved just as much if not more with that team.

And let's not brandish the League Cup about here.
I don't see that as some kind of proof of his strengths. If anything, it was proof of his vulture mentality and approach to the game, which entails the picking of other teams' carcasses on the field after they make mistakes.

But when the other teams don't make mistakes, McLeish's strategy is worthless.

Posted by Christian Brazier on 04/26/2012

I can't agree more with this article. All season I have said to friends, 'you mark my words - this could be the season we go down'... 'Nah - you'll be alright. There are worse teams than you.' Is there? Is there really?

I understand that available managers were thin on the ground at the start of the season (and I would have wept claret and blue tears had McClaren been appointed) but was McLeish really the best move out there? Birmingham got relegated. RELEGATED! Did they just ignore that fact? He managed them to the Championship! I don't care about League Cup wins.

Faulkner and Lerner are business men who want to make money who love the club. Surely that means Rule 1: STAY IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE AT ALL COSTS. His track record is not befitting of a Premier League manager, whether it be Villa or Wigan. Middlesbrough...probably, but not villa. I've run out of characters, thank god, otherwise I'd be here all night. I believe in the villa youth. I believe you have what it takes. Up the Villa.

Posted by Ritchie on 04/27/2012

Guardiola wants a break from football.....come to the Villa, we haven't been playing anything I recognise as football all season!

I still believe we will stay up in spite of ourselves, but that will come with the price of Big Eck staying on as manager no doubt. What's worse, Big Eck and Premier League, or new manager and Championship.....hey, it worked for Newcastle?

I said at the turn of the year that everyone would be best served supporting the players (and yes the manager) this year to ensure we stay up.....that should still be the case, let's get a really good crowd out for the Spurs game and see if we can't take three points at home for once !!

Posted by Gunnertaj on 04/27/2012

It's sad to see a club of Villa's stature looking so mediocre year after year. I was there at Highbury in 1981 when they won the title. After seeing them a few times this season, particularly home against Liverpool, I thought to myself "this team is absolutely awful" and marveled at how they were avoiding the bottom three. No manager is more deserving of the sack this season than AM.

Posted by kevbrunton on 04/27/2012

Honestly, I think Villa are safe. I think you are right to want McLeish gone, but I don't think you are going to go down. For that to happen, you'd have to have 3 of the following happen - QPR takes 3 points, Wigan takes 3 points, Bolton takes 4 and/or Blackburn takes 6. The schedule is:

QPR - @ Chelsea, v. Stoke and @ Man City
Wigan - v. Newcastle, @ Blackburn, v. Wolves
Bolton - @ Sunderland, v. Spurs, v. West Brom, @ Stoke
Blackburn - @ Spurs, v. Wigan, @ Chelsea

No way Blackburn takes 6 points from the games left. Wigan could easily take 3. QPR might take 3 from Stoke, but Stoke is always a tough game. Bolton could take 3 from West Brom, but that 4th point is going to be tough.

I just don't see all that falling into place. Of course, if Villa can take a single point from their remaining games, then that makes it near impossible for 3 of those 4 teams to pass them. They'll be in the PL next year.

Posted by Adam on 04/27/2012

It would be one thing if his strategy actually worked, but I'd love to see a statistic on which team have given up the most leads in the last 25 or so minutes of a game this year. My money is on the Villa. If you are going to score a goal and run scared, at least run effectively

Posted by pat on 04/27/2012

We are going down... it will be a blessing in disguise.

McFail will flee, Lerner may as well, and well honestly, with the exception of Given and Bent, we have been trotting out Championship calibre players anyway.
We have a load of youth that always dominate the reserve league.

If we go down this season, we can be back up in a year, hopefully with a fresh mind at the helm, and some deeper pockets...

We fans have every right to look away. It's gonna be ugly.

Posted by Charlie on 04/27/2012

Sing along..

The Wolves are going down,
We'll all go down together
We'll come back up and win the cup and kick f-k out the Villa!

Or maybe you are coming down with us?

Can't believe McLeish was actually in a better position at this stage last year and Blue went down..

Depressing for the West Mids.

Posted by Donnie on 04/28/2012

It is hard enough to watch a Villa game in America already while they are in the Premier League, now I'll never see them play in the Championship.

It's clear that McLeish doesn't have the players playing inspired football as say Lambert has his Canaries playing. I understand injuries have played a part, but if Lambert can have a group of mostly non-Premier players winning games and scoring goals then I hope Villa spend their budget in the right place.

McLeish at least should have these good young prospects playing good enough football to be 10 to 15 points above relegation. I believe we have a good back four and an amazing goalie, so maybe a coach with an offensive minded gameplan can get us back to challenging for a Europa spot.

I am probably getting ahead of myself with that one, but whether we get demoted or not I will ride or die with Villa.

Posted by Chris White on 04/28/2012

How is this team easily top half? Most of the current team of youngsters would struggle to hold a place in most top half Championship teams.

Posted by mac on 04/28/2012

If you take into account the entire roster, ignoring injuries, illness, etc., then the Villa are easily a top half club. Now, when you factor in the injuries and the like, then they are a top 15 at best type of club.

There is enough raw talent left in the side to perform at a higher level than they currently are. They were playing dire football with the roster fully fit and they're obviously even worse now.

It comes down to the manager. As his career PL record indicates, he's inept. By appointing him Lerner and Co. deserve everything that's happening to them. Can they fix this mess? Not if Lerner continues to be more concerned with the wage bill than results.

Posted by Mick on 04/29/2012

Must say I felt exactly the same in regards to Kevin's comment 'it's almost a relief to be here, now.'

It's been so frustrating watching this happen. It really felt like the only way McLeish was going to be exposed was if we were fully embroiled in the relegation battle.

It's too close for comfort, but part of me feels that at least this way Lerner will surely have to confront his mistake.

Posted by Rob on 04/29/2012

Despite a number of tonkings, we didn't look all that likely to go down back in 1967, but we came with a late run of abysmal form and clinched relegation. With an expert in these matters such as Alex McLeish steering the ship, I have for some time felt relegation was a certainty. I would love to be proved wrong, even if it means McLeish staying on and having another crack at sinking the ship next season.

Posted by Izzani on 04/30/2012

Spot on..ask any football fans around and they will say that we are the most boring team in the PL this campaign with a noticeable lack of creativity and flair. Clearly a route one tactic is a no-no at this level and yet that is what we've been given by McLeish all season long.. although it's hard to see another win coming, I do believe we will survive, just..

Posted by sean on 04/30/2012

Preach brother preach. Maybe the owner Randy Lerner and chief executive Paul Faulkner may hear us when we ain't chanting loud and rudely in the stands but when we give easy and simple and obvious explanations to our cause."WAKE UP GENTS!"

Really why would they not see or feel as we did at the beginning of the season that hiring someone who'd just relegated another team would be a problem, don't care where he came from!

I am a villa fan from Zimbabwe living in Cape Town and in the 20 years I've been following Aston Villa this has been the most pitiful campaign we've had ever. My favourite part: Kevin buddy, comrade in arms in Feb after our loss to Newcastle, then Man city, then draw with Wigan I declared the season done and prayed only to stay in the league. You were not alone!

Posted by Dan on 04/30/2012

I agree, Lerner hopefully 'learns' his lesson.

I didn't care AM was at Brum, I cared that he got relegated, his past record and the fact that he was the most defensive manager in the league. He said recently he doesn't keep the boys from going forward. What crap, he has played one up top most of the year.

Lerner is getting what he deserves. His ego won't let him get rid of Alex because then he has to admit his mistake. Sitting back and bunkering has never won anything anywhere, who really thinks it works?

Posted by SUPA1878 on 05/01/2012

When O'Neil left I said at the time on these pages that the writing is on the wall for Villa as MON had left them with a crippling salary bill and a bunch of crocks.

None of you Villans would listen at the time, seems like a few are now starting to wake up now that relegation looms.

Posted by Alex on 05/01/2012

Not even a Villa fan, I saw their form months ago... I got a 12-1 bet on them to go down!

Posted by Madman With A Box on 05/08/2012

It could be worse, you could be stuck watching Lerner's *OTHER* football team!

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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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