Aston Villa fans have been looking at the Premier League fixture list with trepidation over the last month, with the prospect of travelling to take on Wigan in a winner-takes-all clash at the DW Stadium on the last day of the campaign an ominous prospect. The Latics have become renowned as being relegation escapees over the last number of seasons, however Roberto Martinez’s men’s luck ran out this week.
Villa can go into the last game of the season resting easy, with Wigan already relegated after their 4-1 defeat to Arsenal on Tuesday night. Villa were relegation candidates with Unibet in April, however positive results against Stoke, Sunderland and Norwich have assured the Birmingham-based side’s safety turned the odds in their favour.
In years gone by, a visit by the 17th place team would be an automatic 3 points for Aston Villa, and a chance to close the gap between themselves and a European spot.
Not any more, not by a long shot. The Villa project under Lambert is admirable for it’s courage and long-term vision, but not for it’s results. Football has changed. Partly it was because of Mourinho’s arrival that changed the culture of the league, where every defeat could cost you, and partly it’s because of the money involved in the game where success on the pitch makes a big difference on success off the pitch.
5 points from 8 games is a damning statistic for any manager. Projected over the course of the season, that’s less than 25 points. It’s relegation form, plain and simple, and Villa are stuck in a rut because of it.
Aston Villa fans were forced to endure a frustrating and at times relegation-threatened campaign in 2011-12, but the club maintained their Premier League status and are in the process of rebuilding for a more productive 2012-13. Alex McLeish has been shown the door after failing to win over the Villa Park faithful, with energetic and ambitious coach Paul Lambert his replacement. Despite an opening-day defeat to West Ham, there is seemingly more of an air of confidence around the club this term.
To say the last couple of seasons have been miserable ones for Aston Villa and their fans would be putting it mildly as, beginning with then-manager Martin O’Neill’s decision to resign days before the 2010/11 season began, the club has fallen from challenging for Europe and honours, to fighting simply to stay in the league. However this coming season brings a new hope for fans of the Birmingham club, as new manager Paul Lambert looks to get the club back on the right track.
To say that 2011-12 was a blow-par season for Aston Villa is something of an understatement. The Midlands club avoided the relegation places by two points, struggled to score goals (despite Agbonlahor’s fancy new soccer cleats), and with the lowly total of seven wins all season, the Villa Park faithful suffered at the hands of mediocre performances for the bulk of the campaign. However with Alex McLeish being shown the door, what does 2012-13 hold in store for Villa?
Villa’s season seemed doomed from day one, as ex-Birmingham City boss McLeish’s appointment was treated with contempt from the fans, a lack of money was spent in last summer’s transfer market and main creators Stewart Downing and Ashley Young left the club. Despite a plucky start, the club quickly spiraled into lacklustre performances, too many draws and not enough goals.
Aston Villa will be primed to re-launch their flailing Premier League campaign this season after the international break starting with Tottenham Hotspur, then facing Swansea City and finally coming up against Manchester United in a busy few weeks for the midlands club.
After a summer of cutting costs and cutting corners, Aston Villa are unexpectedly in a position to do well this season. Currently in 7th place in the league, They have every reason to contemplate a top-six given that Newcastle will invariably suffer some loss in form and Arsenal, currently out of the top seven, may never recover enough to move ahead of the Villains.
It may be wishful thinking this early in the season but without any domestic or European cup football to contend with for a while, Villa will be able to ensure that their first team does their best going into every game. And how Villa play in their next three Premier League games will be a big indicator on where their season is heading.
Aston Villa fans will not have enjoyed watching England international wingers Ashley Young and Stewart Downing leave the club to move to Manchester United and Liverpool this summer, and Alex McLeish will be slightly worried about his side’s lack of width in their absence. Although difficult and expensive to replace, the new man at the helm at Villa Park will be mightily relieved that he has the pace, versatility and quality of Marc Albrighton to call upon.
With Charles N’Zogbia’s impending transfer to the club from Wigan, Villa have replaced like for like, and the France international will harbour the responsibility of recreating some of Downing’s exploits down the left. The ex-Newcastle player contributed valuable goals to the Latics successful relegation escape last term, and like Downing likes to drift in-field and provide support to the strikers.