On the 14th August, at 3pm, Aston Villa were managerless. The boardroom were penniless and the team were pointless.
Hopeless? Not in a month of Sundays.
Because on the 14th August, at 4.50pm, the “club in decline”, the “inharmonious dressing room”, the “shipwrecked” mission ignored all the off-field uncertainty at Villa Park and produced a devastating display which had us believing that MacDonald was Shankly, that new signings were irrelevant and more importantly; a performance which delivered all 3 points.
Of course, the team was set up identically to O’Neill’s preseason campaign so in a way, we are indebted to the Ulster man. However, whatever our newly-beloved caretaker manager said in the dressing room on Saturday, whatever words he advised in his players’ ears during the week, and whichever style he adopted worked terrific wonders as The Villains ran rampant against their claret rivals and secured a minimum winning margin of 3 goals – a feat we could only replicate three times in all last year throughout the entire league crusade.
It’s the cliché of the weekend, but the team were free to express themselves and had a refreshing fearlessness which banished the old policy of over-respect for the opposition – instead, going straight for their jugular with merciless havoc. Again, I wouldn’t downplay our former manager’s involvement in this as Kevin MacDonald has had just 5 days to work with the team – but to be honest, I don’t care who was responsible for Villa’s very own brand of Total Football, I’m just delighted to have witnessed it.
When our 20 year old, mostly untested, winger Marc Albrighton produces two direct assists from each wing (as well as a key-goal-involvement for the other), when 3 midfielders grab all the goals from shots within 18 yards of the nets (when Stan crosses the halfway line for that matter), when Aston Villa and Ashley Young are praised by one of the best footballers ever as playing exciting football and having a blinder ( http://twitter.com/officialmessi ), respectively, the shackles have certainly come off haven’t they?
Maybe it was planned throughout the entire preseason period, maybe it wasn’t. But rarely in the past 4 years have we ever dominated possession against any team and broke opponents down with such ease and assurance. Last year, we were caught out. Teams were ready for our counterattacking prowess and set up to spoil a spoiling team. Our predictability was all too apparent in the bemusing 52 league goals recorded by the biggest club in the Midlands. But we were aided by a mean defence.
This year (so far), we are opening up. Yes, there is a chance that this could prove to be a two-edged-sword and the step away from the old, cautious approach might well prove costly at times – particularly in cup competitions. But last season was the absolute last time we could have continued with our expected humdrum brand of football and the change is very welcome – and necessary.
And now the groans of Villa Park, echoed from uninspiring past results against Wigan, West Ham, Wolves, Sunderland and Blackburn, have all but disintegrated in place of mouthwatering content for the pure attack-minded regeneration.
Yes, the Hammers were meek opponents but 17 shots (12 on goal) and a hatful of spurned gilt-edged chances (mostly from Big John), speaks volumes for our domination and suggests that nothing would have deterred a hungry Aston Villa outfit from getting the job done on Saturday – no matter who stood in the way.
After hearing Petrov proclaim his desire to have MacDonald appointed as fulltime manager, I must admit that it got me thinking. I would in no way base this judgement on one fine result but more in the consideration that he has the players playing for him, he has introduced fresh faces to the action and it would be a smooth and simple transition from the MON era. I wanted the big name to take charge and continue to uphold the attraction of the club – but then I realised that this is Aston Villa; and drought or no drought, this speaks for itself. Mr Lerner and his boardroom contingent now have a massive conundrum in their hands: appoint Sven or Jol (which I’m all for) and risk drastic change, jeopardise more days like Saturday this year; or keep the faith with MacDonald and endanger our top 6 status through the guidance of an untried football manager. And the kicker is that this decision must be made immediately before the close of the summer transfer window. But what I will say is that only positive (extremely positive) reports have emerged from the Villa camp regarding the temporary boss.
Thankfully, I have no say in such matters and can simply look forward to Thursday with renewed optimism. Whatever MacDonald does next, he will always be remembered as the man who lifted the blues of last Monday, and allowed us to hope – yet again. He will be associated with the beautiful reminder that managers come and go – but Aston Villa is for life.
And as a supporter of the club first, I can bask in the glory that Marc Albrighton tops the Premier League assists charts; that two further youth team products, Andreas Weimann and Barry Bannan, have been successfully brought through the ranks; that every time Ciaran Clark plays a league match, Villa keep a clean sheet; that Marlon Harewood has finally produced the goods (oh, wait…); and I can be exceptionally proud to say that I am a peer of the thousands of fans who bid the ever-professional James Milner an emotional and deserving potential farewell. I can be proud to say that I am an Aston Villa man (God, the start of the season is magnificent!).
And do you know what else? It’s been a long, long time since a 3-0 home result at Villa Park flattered the opponents. Long may it continue.