Aston Villa…. The end of a torrid campaign

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Connect in the back of the net
Taken from Aston Villa’s official site

Somewhere in the madness of the Premier League final day in which the clubs fighting at the top and bottom of the table were tossed up and down through a kaleidoscope of emotion, Aston Villa’s season trickled out in the mundane nature that has been befitted to a disastrous campaign. 

They would have had to experience a 17 goal swing in order to fall into the Championship and that they avoided, but as Villa fans have become sadly used to this season, they suffered a tenth successive game without a win and yet another defeat, their fourteenth of the season. Relegation has been avoided by just 2 points and Aston Villa have finished in the ignominy of 16th.

It has been a sharp decline since the two successive sixth placed finishes Villa experienced under Martin O’Neil and even the 9th place they achieved under Gerard Houllier’s temporary hand in the aftermath of O’Neil’s premature departure on the eve of last season. 

With a bid to avoid any similar disruption this time round, Randy Lerner was quick to make an appointment in June of last year in order to give his new man enough time to implement his ideas throughout the pre-season programme. 

A long, extensive interviewing process was carried out, Roberto Martinez and Rafael Benitez turned the post down, Steve McLaren was frozen out after a gauging of negative public reaction in light of his shambolic reign as England boss. 

In a move that seemed short of logic from the very start, Lerner went across the second city and persuaded Alex McLeish to spearhead a new era.

It was a new era indeed, one of financial austerity and vast reduction to the budget at Villa Park. A long away since Martin O’Neill was afforded over £100 million over the span of his four years in charge as he drafted in the likes of Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and James Milner, all of whom have since left for double figure fees in order to balance the books, or even Darren Bent who was signed for £18 million in the short-lived Houllier spell. 

In McLeish’s first reaches of business in the claret half of the Midlands, he had to contend with Downing and Young leaving for a combined £35 million total. Coming the other way were the less inspired captures of Charles N’Zogbia, Shay Given and Alan Hutton for a rather paltry tally of £14 million. With the impending threat of Financial Fair Play, Lerner had to put the brakes on the lavish spending that was a feature of O’Neill’s years and this coincided with McLeish’s appointment. 

To bring in the former manager of the club’s fiercest rivals and one who had just taken them to the second tier at that, the Scotsman’s second Premier League relegation at St Andrews incidentally, and factor in the forced utilisation of untested youth players (Gary Gardner and Nathan Baker) and desperate loans (Robbie Keane), it was clear McLeish’s inaugural year wasn’t going to be an easy ride. 

Some apologists made a case for his Carling Cup triumph in his final year with the Blues, but there was no deviating away from his wretched Premier League record of two relegations in three years for those deeply entrenched in the anti-McLeish camp from day one. 

As of now, after presiding over 42 matches at Villa Park, the former Scotland boss has won just 9 to boast a win percentage of 21.43% after what has been a season blighted by a long list of setbacks.

It had all started so positively, McLeish oversaw the first seven games unbeaten, admittedly a run which included 5 draws and disappointing goalless home draws with Wolves and Fulham. It was only matter of time before their first defeat, coming to a thrashing by Manchester City to open the floodgates on an odious run of form that has seen Villa win just 5 times in 31 matches. 

McLeish hasn’t been able to loosen the “negative” tag he has been marred with either, as those 17 draws, by far the most in the league, is enough to suggest the Scotsman is too willing to settle for a point. 

Dismal statistics of only 1.03 goals per game and failing to score in just under 40% of Premier League matches have been illustrative enough of the dull experience of what has been following Aston Villa this season. 

Heartless defeats from the now perished Bolton and most latterly Norwich City have pushed McLeish right to the brink and his stewardship reached a nadir with an unsavoury incident involving three players and a drunken brawl outside a night-club. Supporters have been forced to place an advert in the local paper, at a cost of £600, to call for McLeish’s head such is the animosity towards the former Rangers boss.

Taken from The Guardian

It remains to be seen if Lerner will buckle to the fans’ demands and rid McLeish of his duties at such an early stage, or even more conveniently for the club, the manager installs some truth to the ever-burgeoning rumours that he will stand down from his position. 

There is no doubt that serious issues need to be addressed at Villa Park; a gaping hole in the centre of midfield needs to be plugged after Stiliyan Petrov’s fight with Leukaemia induced his absence, so tragically, away from the game. Darren Bent is to return from a long injury, Stephen Ireland has been anonymous, and the form of Marc Albrighton and Gabriel Agbonlahor has declined whilst the likes of Barry Bannan, Chris Herd and Ciaran Clark have all been found lacking in experience when called upon. 

The 20 year old Austrian Andreas Weimann has stepped up with a vital winner over Fulham and a goal to secure a draw with Stoke, but he remains relatively inexperienced, far too young to carry the goal-scoring responsibility of a Premier League side in the absence of Bent. 

Lerner faces a massive decision to see if he can entrust a summer of such transition to his under-fire manager or even the transfer fans to help him do it. 

There have been Villa fans in the supporter’s group MOMS who have been against McLeish from the first moment and it is unlikely that they will spectate over a summer marshalled by a man who has just produced 8 months of footballing ineptitude both on and off the field. 

The final day of the league season was a strange one for Villa; they lost, they are staying up, but with tonnes of hard work still to be done.

Written by Adam Gray
Follow me on Twitter @AdamGray1250
Check out his wonderful blog, The Football Brain

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