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Aston Villa
Posted by Kevin Hughes on 05/11/2012

I don't personally know any Wigan fans, so I can only guess at how they were feeling over the past weekend.

Triumphant? Jubilant? Proud? I'd guess at all three, and I can understand why. Their team looked doomed just a few short weeks ago, but instead of staring down the abyss and panicking, they galvanised themselves as a unit and propelled their way up the table with a series of impressive results.

Monday night's victory over Blackburn was not, ultimately, required to secure another season of Premier League football, but it added some gloss to a wonderful finale. Survival achieved, and in some style; six wins in their last eight league games. Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle all beaten.

You can guess where I'm going with this. Villa also staved off relegation this weekend, but there can't have been such joy shared among the supporters. In contrast to Wigan, we've scratched our way desperately over the finish line. It's been two months since our last Premier League victory, that late late win over Fulham, and heading into the final match of the campaign, we're still stuck on seven league successes.

Seven. Wigan are on ten. So are QPR. Actually, so are Bolton. Blackburn have won eight. Of course, Blackburn are down, and either QPR and Bolton will drop too, but my point is this: Villa, besides Wolves, have arguably played the least productive football throughout the season. If there were two or three games to go rather than just a single one, I believe we'd be relegated.

As it was, Sunday's combination of results saw us safe - if not strictly mathematically, then realistically, for Bolton would need to win their last game by a cricket score while also needing us to lose at Norwich. But being safe with a game to go owes more to Bolton carelessly throwing away a 2-0 lead at home to West Brom than anything Villa did.

Drawing at home to Spurs: on the face of it, a reasonable result. Unless, of course, you look further than the final score. Unless you consider the balance of play during the 90 minutes, the manner in which Villa failed - yet again - to attempt to even control the game.

Consider the match facts, taken from the Guardian's report. Shots on target for Villa: one. That's right - that would have been Ciaran Clark's goal, deflected as it was off William Gallas; at least there was one Villa player willing to have a go at goal.

Possession? A paltry 38%. At home! It's pretty rare to see a team's collective possession around the 45% mark, let alone fall under 40%, but 38%? That's pitiful. And there's more: attempts on goal - Villa four, Spurs 22. Corners: Villa four, Spurs 19.

Boiled down to more simplistic terms, Villa scored first, and then settled back into retreat mode to try and see the game out. From the 35th minute onwards. Against ten men from the 50th minute. Limited ambition in the extreme, especially considering that the players should have been well aware (if instructions were being passed on from the touchline) that Bolton were beating West Brom until the closing minutes, and that a single point wouldn't have been enough.

Had - and I'm well aware it's all immaterial now - Bolton held on for another few seconds, they'd sit a point behind Villa going into the final match of the season. That Villa lacked the encouragement, the direction, the nous, the instruction, to play any other way than in backs-to-the-wall defensive mode with so much at stake, is both baffling and deeply disturbing.

Hence the lack of satisfaction, and the deepening of disquiet. A job well done? No.
A job half done - the other half has yet to completed. As soon as the final whistle blows at Carrow Road on Sunday, signalling a welcome end to this most desperate, disillusional of seasons, the focus will be firmly on the future of the manager, Alex McLeish.

As it should. McLeish's position must surely be untenable; he's amazingly managed to succeed in underperforming during a season which always carried very low expectations. I've read articles in the past couple of weeks warning that Villa risk falling into mediocrity, should McLeish stay on. Mediocrity? We should wish. That suggests Villa face a future of simply being average. As it stands right now, we're falling short of that standard.

The last two months have revealed much about McLeish. Put under the microscope, he has shrivelled. His body language has been appalling, akin to shrugging his shoulders in a 'nothing to do with me' gesture; he's been utterly helpless as Villa's form went into freefall (this will ring bells with Birmingham fans, recalling the final few weeks of their 2010-11 relegation season - Blues, of course, went down on 39 points; Villa with a game to go, have 38).

Not only that, in the last couple of games, he's even been difficult to detect during games, deploying a tactic of staying in the dugout, for fear of antagonising supporters. Surely, Villa cannot persist with him in charge? And yet, there remains the concern that, weary of yet another managerial interview process, the Villa board may stick with him.

The outcome isn't certain, in my opinion. McLeish has, of late, been talking about his plans for the new season, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he's just presided over Villa's worst ever league campaign. He appears especially deluded, recently seemingly suggesting he's actually done a good job because Sir Alex Ferguson (his former manager at Aberdeen, remember, and the man whose glowing reference did much to convince Villa owner Randy Lerner to hire him in the first place) apparently reassured him that there are clubs with stronger squads below Villa in the Premier League table.

For that assertion alone, McLeish deserves to have dismissed immediately. For the sake of Villa's supporters, the future direction of the club, 2012-13 season ticket sales and just about everything else, let's hope the board make the correct decision, and make it quickly.


Posted by Eddy on 05/12/2012

100% agree, gave McLeish a chance but the negative style of play, poor team selection, poor results even prior to the loss of key players, Mr Lerner has to put his hand on heart and regardless of what Sir Alex thinks, this is Villa not Man Utd, Alex McLeish has not delivered results of entreating football and needs to GO ...

Posted by Paul Jinks on 05/13/2012

Fire McLeish now! How about we hire Paul Scholes as player manager?

Posted by Gene Seymour on 05/14/2012

QPR can fight until injury time with ten men , Bolton was unlucky to give away the lead. Villa is the only team to surrender in the first half without a will to fight. It'ss a disgrace to Aston Villa. It is clear that McLeish is not in control of the Villa dressing room any more. He does not have the support from the players, Randy Lerner, wake up and do something, or sell the club to someone who knows about football.

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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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