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Aston Villa
Posted by Kevin Hughes on 04/20/2012

So, welcome back, Martin.

We knew you'd return one day, although, if we're honest, it was something of a mild surprise that you're back with Sunderland; thought you'd have kept on eye on events at Chelsea and Spurs, maybe even the England national team, played the waiting game, stalling for a bigger prize.

Still, we're hardly in a position to judge, so forgive us if we've come across as a bit sour. We still are, you see: sour, sore and slightly jealous. You might feel some of those emotions coming from us on Saturday.

Anyway, thought it might be useful to give you a few pointers so you don't feel totally bewildered when you set foot back at Villa Park.

You won't find the place exactly as you left it - there are several thousand less supporters in the stadium these days. Those empty seats are par for the course, we're afraid, and don't be totally surprised if they multiply in number from the 70th minute onwards.

Those seats that are filled are usually done so by those carrying expressions of frustration mixed with nausea, despair and stultifying boredom. Funny to think that two or three years ago you'd see those same people full of anticipation and excitement. Those were the days, eh? Back then, of course, those fans knew their team always had a chance of beating anyone at home. Things have changed a bit now.

Don't spend too long scanning the field of play for familiar faces, either. Most of the lads you signed and worked with have gone: Ashley, Stewart, James - apologies, we shouldn't have mentioned James, we've just remembered the trouble it caused last time.

Brad's gone too; he went off to Tottenham, has probably been goalkeeper of the season, actually. Even little Nigel's gone. You and he had your differences at times and he wasn't always appreciated, but we could have done with him on occasions this season.

One or two of your old boys are still around. The big Irishman bust his shoulder a couple of months back, so you can forget about telling Sessegnon to spend the afternoon making him run around, though you might spot Gabby. You loved Gabby, didn't you? We all do. Make sure you don't miss him though - he'll be the one with his shoulders slumped and his head dropping; doesn't cut a happy figure much these days.

Of course! You'll see Emile on Saturday. Quite where, we're not sure - he could be right midfield, left midfield, centre-forward, even centre-back; stop laughing, it has been mentioned as a possibility by your Villa Park successor, though we haven't got that desperate. Yet. Actually, that reminds us - Emile's contract expires soon, so he's on the lookout for a new club. You might want to stick your chequebook into your tracksuit trouser pocket...

You may notice a rather forlorn chap in a rumpled suit and tie a few yards down the touchline from you on Saturday - he'll be the one looking lost and confused while you're remonstrating with the officials and urging your players on. Ring any bells? It should do. He's been our manager all season, apparently. The two of you go way back: Old Firm clashes with Celtic and Rangers, and Second City derbies when he was just down the road at St Andrews and you, of course, were sitting pretty with us. You'll no doubt remember the time your Villa side hammered his Birmingham team 5-1. Bet you never thought that one day Alex would be treading where you once did, as manager of AVFC.

No, neither did we.

But spare a thought for the man. In many ways, you are his nemesis. Wherever he goes, whatever he does, you have never been far away; a constant reminder, if you like. And while he's not exactly covering himself in glory this season, he's operating in very different times than you were. Long gone are the days of a Villa manager being able to spend millions on players to go straight on to the substitutes bench.

So welcome back, Martin. Your Sunderland team may be in the middle of an indifferent run of form - that being the case, this is almost the perfect fixture for you. We've been lousy at home all season. But we need the points more than you, so if you could ease off the pedal a bit, we'd appreciate it. All things considered, you probably owe us that.


Posted by sammyvilla on 04/20/2012

He owes Villa more than three points tomorrow.

The guy should shoulder a large portion of the blame for us being in the predicament we are now.

Lerner invested a huge amount of faith in O'Neill and gave him plenty of money to spend. Once we were up in the top six, he had three seasons to push us one step forward which he failed to do.

And then, when Lerner had to tighten the purse strings, he pretty much stuck his finger up at us, threw his toys out of the pram and walked off.

Doing that is bad enough, but doing it five days before the start of the season is, in my opinion, unforgivable! I wish nothing but failure for O'Neill.

I have no issues with Sunderland, but I do not want to see him doing that stupid little jump at Villa Park on Saturday!

I'll boo him the moment he steps out of that tunnel.

Posted by Stefan on 04/21/2012

By literary criteria, this might well be the most elegant piece you've written so far, Kevin. In these times of Villa apathy, we're at least fortunate to have your column to brighten the grey days.

Posted by Gene Seymour on 04/25/2012

I have predicted in November we would go down, too bad that our billion dollar chairman and million pound Villa management team do not do anything to save us. Villa fans, you are right, look after your pockets, just like Lerner is looking after his pocket.

But he'll probably get his calculation wrong, he has to sell the club cheaply because we would be in Championship next season.
Nothing can change now, the only way is down, down, down...

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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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