August 16, 2012
Beware of false dawns? No need to remind Villa fans of the need for caution and patience as the new Premier League season approaches.
Expectations have been firmly grounded after two bitterly disappointing campaigns – the last of which was just about the most dismal nine months of football many a Villain can remember – and yet there is no denying the welcome feeling of genuine optimism around the club.
June 22, 2012
I've kept a low profile for the past couple of weeks. I haven't been on holiday, I haven't been totally obsessed and engrossed with Euro 2012 - although I am enjoying it - and I haven't forgotten about the Villa.
But here's the thing: I haven't forgotten about Villa, but I have stopped worrying about them.
May 25, 2012
So much for Solskjaer, and a swift conclusion to Villa's latest managerial search. Following the Norwegian's decision to withdraw himself from the running for the position as coach, seemingly before he had even been offered the position, concluded a series of rather bizarre days for Villa.
May 14, 2012
Direct, decisive and damning.
Less than 12 hours after watching the 'highlights' of Villa's final match of the 2011-12 season, scowling at yet more defensive irresponsibility, player indifference and managerial culpability, before skulking off to bed to lie awake and inwardly fume at the sheer incompetence that had rendered the previous nine and a half months the most shambolic and miserable I've ever endured as a fan, news.
April 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?
April 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.
April 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.
March 30, 2012
I was exactly 232 words into this week's Villa column when I heard the news. Stiliyan Petrov, Villa's captain, has been diagnosed with acute leukemia.
March 23, 2012
... and everything feels much better.
It's been almost pleasant being a Villa fan for the past couple of weeks; with this Tuesday's scheduled match against Bolton being postponed, the glow that comes with winning has lasted that little bit longer. There's nothing like a victory to put an extra spring in the step and Villa's 1-0 win over Fulham was perfectly timed; without a home win since the beginning of winter 2011 (November 5, to be precise), this was a first Villa Park three-pointer for four months.
March 9, 2012
There are some not-so-subtle diversionary tactics being deployed around Villa Park; we've only just entered March, but it seems the club has its focus firmly on the 2012-13 season already.
Whether this is excellent forward planning, or a way of trying to ignore the stagnant nature of our current situation, I haven't yet decided.
February 29, 2012
There was a certain atmosphere of sadness in the air as Villa took the field against Wigan last Saturday - sadness because, in 90 minutes time, Villa would be saying farewell to a top-class striker for the remainder of the season.
What wasn't known, as the teams lined up at the DW Stadium, was that, come 5pm or thereabouts, Villa would be facing the reality of losing a second forward player of undoubted quality.
February 23, 2012
I’m not endorsing the sole use of video highlights to judge a footballer’s ability, but, as news broke this week of yet another injury setback for Fabian Delph, I couldn’t resist a viewing reminder of how good the player can be.
Villa fans have never seen Delph anywhere like his best in a claret and blue shirt and the creeping concern now is that we never will.
February 14, 2012
I have to hand it to Alex McLeish - the man is fast becoming a tactical visionary. How else to explain the gift he has, the extraordinary ability to see the potential in the team formations he selects, the tactics he chooses to implement, and the players he picks to follow his instructions?
Against Manchester City on Sunday, not the first time this season, McLeish completely bamboozled me with his starting XI; I felt as if I was on the receiving end of the original Cruyff turn, expecting one thing and then falling victim to something totally different, something leftfield. And this was leftfield, alright. McLeish pulled something pretty special from his locker of strange, dark coaching methodology.
February 10, 2012
It's strange how situations are interpreted. Personally, I've got Villa down as one of the more predictable teams in the Premier League, so it was surprising that certain television highlights coverage of last Sunday's match at Newcastle portrayed us as the complete opposite.
Unpredictable, because of our recent sequence of results? I think not. Inconsistent would be more accurate; occasionally, Villa win a game. More often than not, we don't. Sometimes we draw. All too often, such as at Newcastle, Villa lose. There's a kind of predictability about the team these days: you certainly know what's usually coming.
February 2, 2012
Alex McLeish wasn't bluffing after all.
'Nothing," the Villa manager had said, a week or so ago, when quizzed on what transfer window activity he expected to be involved in. Few doubted the sincerity of his brusque and honest response, though there was perhaps still a fleeting suspicion that McLeish was putting on an absolutely brilliant poker face.
Did the coy old boy have a sneaky deal or two under his sleeve?
January 25, 2012
Can a season turn on a single result?
Villa fans have to believe it can, and after the false start of beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, only to be shown up at home to Swansea two days later, fresh optimism can be felt since last weekend’s pulsating win against Wolves.
January 16, 2012
Wry smiles among the Villa Park faithful last week with the confirmation of Robbie Keane's loan move from LA Galaxy.
Why the wry? Because 'Keane to Villa' has been arguably one of the longest-running transfer sagas in recent club history. Villa have finally got their man - for a few weeks, at least - some 12 or 13 years since first being linked with the striker.
January 5, 2012
What a contrast that was.
From the champagne corks literally popping on New Year's Eve, the day Villa won at Stamford Bridge, to two days later.
The Christmas decorations were taken down at my house on the second day of 2012, and Villa fell to defeat to Swansea City - a fourth consecutive home loss at Villa Park (the previous three coming against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal), and a first away league win of the season for the newly-promoted Welsh club.
December 19, 2011
I have absolutely no doubt that it was an innocent slip from Marc Albrighton, but even so, the Villa winger was probably more accurate with his first tweet following the drab home defeat to Liverpool.
'Tough game!' he messaged. 'At least we only have 3 days to wait until we can't put right!'
Quite, Marc. Although he quickly realised his spelling error and tweeted, 'I did mean 'can' put it right!', Albrighton's unintentionally echoed what many Villa fans are feeling heading into Christmas.
December 7, 2011
And so, with immaculate timing, Martin O'Neill is back in football, emerging from the shadows and pitchside Champions League chit-chat with Roy Keane and Gareth Southgate - two men who know plenty about managing north east clubs - to take over at Sunderland.
His decision to succeed Steve Bruce at the Stadium of Light could not have been more poignantly made in the hearts and minds of Villa fans.
We are approaching Christmas, after all, the traditional time of year to reminisce and indulge in nostalgia, and considering that discussion over O'Neill - his time as Villa manager, the manner of his abrupt departure and the legacy he left behind - has barely been far from the agenda since he walked away from Villa Park in August 2010, it has yet again sparked debate and counter-debate.
November 25, 2011
Of course; great goalkeeper, great signing; in good form, which is probably just as well, as he'll have a busy night.
'Cuellar, Collins, Dunne, Warnock...'
Carlos! Back at right-back, just like the Martin O'Neill days again. Still, Hutton's had an indifferent start and I like Cuellar, even though I prefer him at centre-back. Bit disappointed that James Collins has kept his place again - when is McLeish going to give Ciaran Clark a go?
November 23, 2011
It was the interview Villa fans had been waiting impatiently for; the first public utterances from owner Randy Lerner since the wind of charge swept through Villa Park around 18 months ago.
Perhaps it hasn't been quite that long since Lerner last gave anything approaching an interview, but it certainly feels that way.
November 18, 2011
It's been a typically uneventful week at Villa.
Barry Bannan was charged with driving offences following a motorway crash last month, wild rumours of a club takeover, with owner Randy Lerner selling up, popped up on internet forums, Gary Gardener scored a couple of absolute beauties for England's under-21s, and Emile Heskey's partner burnt a roast pork dinner, prompting a visit from the local fire brigade.
November 8, 2011
I've been forced to ditch the theme of this post, and start all over again. An idea conceived in the days leading up to the Norwich game, an article already half-written. Now it's useless, unfit to publish. And I'm delighted at that.
I had planned to write about how Villa are a side shorn of inspiration, following the summer sale of Ashley Young, a player who - though bafflingly criticised as 'lazy' by some fans - could almost always be relied upon to do something positive with the ball.
October 28, 2011
With his previous employment history, Steve Bruce is never going to earn a warm place in the hearts of Aston Villa fans.
This was the man, remember (actually, who could ever and will ever, forget?) who scored an infamous 97th-minute winner for Manchester United at Sheffield Wednesday, a goal which more or less ended the title hopes of Ron Atkinson's Villa the best part of two decades ago.
And a man who, during his time as boss of Birmingham City, presided over a sequence of six unbeaten derby matches, winning four and drawing two: unbeaten in games against Villa for three seasons running.
October 26, 2011
We are in those twilight days between autumn and winter, and a murky gloom threatens to descend upon all things Villa.
Saturday's home defeat to West Brom - Villa's first reversal against their nearish neighbours since 1979 - simply reinforced the shortcomings of the current squad and manager, and emphasized Villa's fall in stature and standing.
October 21, 2011
I can’t contain myself a moment longer. I accept I’ll almost certainly be opening a huge can of worms with this one, but having read and digested Alex McLeish’s recent comments about Emile Heskey, and pondered them for the best part of a week, I’ve got to let it all it out.
I need to talk about Emile. Perhaps we all do. I think we’d all feel better afterwards.
So, Emile Heskey. Where to start? How about those thoughts from McLeish?
October 12, 2011
Fear. That's the overriding emotion I have when I contemplate Villa's game on Saturday. Why? It's away at Manchester City.
Perhaps fear is too strong. Certainly anxiety. Yes, I'm definitely anxious. Apprehensive. And with good reason: I picture Villa, caught like a startled, stranded rabbit in the headlights of an ongoing light blue-coloured juggernaut, as it smashes headlong into our unbeaten league record. Smashes it, and smashes it into smithereens.
October 8, 2011
Fabio Capello took five strikers to Montenegro for England's 2012 European Championship qualifier, and while Gabriel Agbonlahor was not one of them, the fact that his omission from Capello's squad even merits a discussion at all is testament to the resurgence in form that the Villa man has shown during the first seven weeks of the Premier League season.
Wayne Rooney aside, it would be a reasonably straightforward exercise to demonstrate that Agbonlahor is the in-form English striker in the league at present.
September 29, 2011
Another weekend, another so-called 'winnable' game.
But while hosting Wigan may lazily be deemed one of the more straightforward fixtures of the league season, a word of caution: this is a game Villa haven't actually ever won in the Premier League. A sequence spanning six games since Wigan gatecrashed into the top flight under Paul Jewell in 2005.
September 25, 2011
That was painful, and then a little less painful, to watch. Villa's Sunday afternoon outing at QPR ended badly when Richard Dunne - minutes after justly being named as man of the match - scored the most unfortunate of own goals to give the home side an injury time equaliser and a point.
The manner of the goal will have hurt Villa as well as the timing; three minutes into the allocated five minutes of time added on. But while the second half ended with a nasty sting in the tail, the preceding 45 minutes at least provided a few clues as to how this Villa can move forward.
September 20, 2011
It depends how you choose to interpret the information; look at Villa's start to the season from one particular angle, and the state of play seems encouraging. Take a slightly different angle, and the picture gets a little fuzzier.
Villa: unbeaten in five Premier League games. Or, Villa: one win in five Premier League games. Both statements are entirely true. Which side of the fence you sit on may just boil down to whether you're a glass half full or a glass half empty type. That being the case, I need a refill.
September 17, 2011
Alex McLeish is going to make a change to his team today.
We know this for certain, because Emile Heskey, who has started all four of Villa's league games so far this season, is ruled out of the home clash against Newcastle - and very probably the next couple of matches too - after injuring his hamstring at Everton last week. It will force McLeish to make his first significant change of the campaign; this is the first time the front six of his elected 4-2-3-1 formation has been disrupted. The question is: who is going to benefit from Heskey's absence?
September 14, 2011
It would be fair to say that September didn't start well for Stiliyan Petrov.
Successive defeats in the Euro 2012 qualifying double header against first England, and then Switzerland, ensured Bulgaria won't be playing in the finals next summer, and may yet suffer the ignominy of finishing bottom of Group G. In the fall-out following these defeats, Petrov, Bulgaria's captain no less and most-capped player in the national team's history, was on the receiving end of some harsh criticism from former player Yordan Lechkov.
September 9, 2011
There is always someone worse off than you, so it is said, and Villa don't need to look too far for a shining example of that someone this weekend.
Whatever frustrations have been felt by Villa fans during the last 12 months, a time when the realisation of squad reshaping and ambition downsizing has slowly dawned, those frustrations can be multiplied for those who populate the blue half of Merseyside.
April 18, 2011
It’s a tricky spot to be in, this tenth place. Yet somehow, after everything that’s transpired this season, after the managerial madness, spa punch-ups and generally woeful play, Aston Villa are in tenth place. In the top half of the table, Villa. Somehow.
October 4, 2010
The international break provides a good opportunity for Aston Villa to assess the season so far, to take a step back and plant a flag. It’s been a whirlwind two months at the club, but things are definitely looking up.
August 23, 2010
“Naïve.” It seems to be the word of the moment around Aston Villa. Interim manager Kevin MacDonald used it to describe his team selection after Sunday’s 6-0 drubbing at St. James’ Park, and captain Stiliyan Petrov repeated it when asked to explain the performance. Given the euphoria of Villa fans after the season-opening win against West Ham, “naïve” might apply to them as well.
August 19, 2010
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.
April 26, 2010
Did Aston Villa outplay Birmingham City on Sunday? Absolutely not. Did they deserve the points? Absolutely.
April 14, 2010
Above and beyond a penalty claim and a soggy pitch, Aston Villa’s FA Cup semifinal loss to Chelsea revealed one thing: it’s time to sell Ashley Young. (Bear with me. I’m not as delusional as you think.)
April 5, 2010
Martin O’Neill is liked by the vast majority of Aston Villa fans. But loved? That’s a strong word.
Love suggests a mutual intimacy, the type of shared feelings that draw both partners to pursue a similar fate. The relationship between O’Neill and the club he manages was put under the microscope last week, and for the first time both he and Villa supporters were forced to examine their sentiments for one another. That it was so long in coming is not the least bit surprising.
March 15, 2010
It was a winnable match in a stretch of winnable matches. But in failing to get three points at Stoke on Saturday, Aston Villa fell a further two points behind Tottenham Hotspur in the race for fourth spot in the English Premier League. They also squandered a chance to pull ahead of sixth-place Liverpool. That said, it was a decent result.
February 18, 2010
That Aston Villa have been handed an FA Cup replay just four days before their Carling Cup showdown with Manchester United is "not ideal", according to Martin O’Neill. But the Villa manager has really left the matter at that, and I don’t expect we’ll hear him whinging about it over the next 10 days, either. If Villa are keen to think of themselves a "big" club, this sort of fixture congestion is par for the course.
February 11, 2010
A home draw against Manchester United is hardly a poor result, but Aston Villa would be quite right to think of Wednesday’s 1-1 stalemate as two points dropped rather than a point gained.
February 4, 2010
Twelve months ago, Aston Villa were in a dogfight with Arsenal for fourth spot in the Premier League. Or so it seemed. A 1-0 loss at home to Chelsea in late February was the club’s first since November, but by then the gas had run out. Villa wouldn’t win another match until May, and they took just 11 of the season’s remaining 36 available points. And Gabriel Agbonlahor scored just a single goal.
January 13, 2010
Moustapha Salifou was in the wrong place at the wrong time. So was Group B of the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations.
December 16, 2009
Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light was Aston Villa’s most important result of the season to date. More important than the August 24 win at Anfield; more important than the October 17 win at home to Chelsea. Even more important than Saturday’s victory at Manchester United.
November 28, 2009
Listeners of the ESPN Soccernet Podcast may remember an episode about 18 months ago when producer Adam Williams compared then-Middlesbrough left-winger Stewart Downing to Bayern Munich maestro Franck Ribery. Adam got quite the ribbing over that remark, and his colleagues still give him stick about it when the opportunity presents itself.
November 10, 2009
You're only as good as your best players. It's a saying that coaches come back to time and again, no matter the sport. And it's a mantra that will be giving Martin O'Neill much joy as his top men depart for the international break.
The opening third of the Premier League campaign could not have ended on a finer note for the Aston Villa manager. A convincing win over Bolton Wanderers to remain in fifth place; a comprehensive performance with goals spaced 70 minutes apart. And most encouragingly, another fine performance turned in by James Milner, who scored once and set up a pair of goals en route to the 5-1 victory. The display was enough to earn the 23-year-old another call-up to the England squad.
October 6, 2009
Gareth Barry returned to Villa Park on Monday, but the match between Aston Villa and Manchester City was much more than merely a chance for the locals to spew their vitriol at their former skipper. And not just because he was anonymous for the larger part of 90 minutes.
Gareth Barry returned to Villa Park on Monday, but the match between Aston Villa and Manchester City was much more than merely a chance for the locals to spew their vitriol at their former skipper. And not just because he was anonymous for the larger part of 90 minutes.
September 28, 2009
I met a friend at a local pub on Sunday afternoon to chat about the previous day's football matches. He's a Fulham supporter and thought his side were worth at least a point against Arsenal. I agreed. He also mentioned that Aston Villa were the most difficult side in the Premier League to get a sense of. I agreed with that as well.
Villa didn't turn in a stinker at Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, where they lost 2-1 to a late David Dunn penalty. By and large, the match was watchable, with good attempts being made at either end. And as the visiting team, Villa played a mostly decent away game, and might have deserved a share of the points from their efforts.
September 15, 2009
It wasn’t pretty. You could even make the case that Aston Villa didn’t deserve to win the Birmingham derby. Still, they managed to escape a hostile ground with three points, and that counts for something.
August 26, 2009
Martin O’Neill is on to something. Sort of. It’s actually a replication of the template that vaulted Aston Villa to second-place in the Premier League for a brief spell last season. It’s the 4-5-1 formation (or 4-3-2-1, depending on how you see it).
August 19, 2009
Aston Villa’s season-opening loss to Wigan at Villa Park undid a lot of the good feeling that had built up around the club in pre-season. It was also agonizingly familiar. The 2-0 defeat would have fit right in with Villa’s woeful stretch drive last season.
May 27, 2009
So what’s changed in the last 12 months? Try one win and two points. Improvement? Yes. Measurable improvement? No.
Sure, Aston Villa flirted with Champions’ League football for a few months this season. Maybe even a month longer than last year. And while that might count as progress in some minds, don’t be fooled. Villa could just as easily be scrapping to finish in the top half of the table next semester.
April 10, 2009
It’s about to get very, very dicey. Currently nursing a one-point lead over Everton for fifth-place in the Premier League table, Aston Villa’s winter swoon has become a spring slide that now threatens their place in next season’s Europa League. Whatever their fate, it will probably be decided when the Toffees visit Villa Park on Easter Sunday.
March 24, 2009
This is typically the point where I'd rattle off a list of fixtures and explain exactly what Aston Villa must do in order to achieve the satisfactory results. So here it goes. United-Everton-West Ham-Bolton-Hull City-Fulham-Middlesbrough-Newcastle. There. No more analysis is required.
March 21, 2009
Liverpool Football Club have had a pretty good 10 days. First they ousted Real Madrid from the Champions’ League. Then they walloped Manchester United at Old Trafford. On Wednesday, Rafael Benitez signed a five-year contract extension. On Thursday, Steven Gerrard’s assault charges were dropped. The ducks, as they say, are in a row. And just in time for Aston Villa’s Sunday visit.
March 16, 2009
On Friday, Aston Villa were fourth in the Premier League, three points clear of Arsenal in the race for Champions’ League qualification. When they woke up this morning, they were a fifth-place side in the midst of a seven-match winless skid. Where do they go from here?
In a word, Anfield. Given their deteriorating quality of play, Villa simply don’t have time to take a long, hard look in the mirror. They must only look ahead to the next opponent. No sulking about the fans’ treatment of Gabriel Agbonlahor. No ruing the loss of Martin Laursen. Anything other than total, forward-looking focus is an unnecessary sideshow.
March 14, 2009
And so it comes down to this. Ten matches to break the top four and secure a berth in the Champions’ League. No, it didn’t go exactly as planned. No, the squad was not supposed to tire as it has; and no, Martin Laursen should not have suffered an injury at the most crucial stretch of the schedule.
But Aston Villa are there—nursing a three-point lead over Arsenal for fourth spot in the Premier League. It hasn’t been pretty. Their elimination from the UEFA Cup was pitiful and their recent form has been disappointing. Nevertheless, they remain in control of their destiny. And beginning Sunday against Tottenham Hotspur, they will embark on a three-match series that will define their season, one way or another.
March 7, 2009
Aston Villa’s sojourn in Dubai comes at the perfect time. Having not won a match since early February, getting away from the Premier League pressure cooker will be a relief to manager Martin O’Neill and his charges.
The tired squad will get a good rest and an uplifting bit of sunshine. Here’s hoping they didn’t bring a ball along. Football is the last thing these players should be thinking about this week.
March 3, 2009
Aston Villa and Arsenal have struck up something approaching a rivalry this season. Not that their pair of Premier League encounters were particularly testy. (Villa did, however, take four points from their meetings and beat the Gunners 2-0 at Emirates Stadium in November.) No, this enmity has nothing to do with head-to-head contention and everything to do with the race for fourth spot in the standings and qualification for next season’s Champions’ League.
If recent weeks are any indication, it’s a race that neither club seems interested in winning. If Everton had been in a better position when they embarked on their current streak, they might well have claimed a place in the top-four for themselves. As it stands, they are eight points adrift of Villa and can do no better than fifth this term.
And so it comes down to Villa and Arsenal. Youthful, English backbone versus stylish, cosmopolitan flair. Pity they don’t face each other down the stretch.