Monthly Archives: October 2010

Gerard Can Bridge the Gap

Before the appointment of our new manager, all seemed lost. The last minute defeat at the Britannia Stadium was, for me, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Villa had destroyed Stoke for 45 minutes; they scented blood; we wore them down. Come the second half, we were once again praying for the final whistle: the team sank deeper and deeper and another away loss was not a matter of how – it was simply a matter of time. There are very few things in this world which are much worse than the feeling of inevitability – the expectancy of your team to lose. World poverty… “Justified” war… Slavery… sure, they are bad – but losing faith in your football team is right up there.

And for me, in my over-analytical self, it’s dangerous when your club becomes uninspiring. I need something to hope in, something to believe, something to look forward to – but assessing the team just six weeks ago, there was nothing evident but an abundance of apathy. The difference between The Villains and the higher realms of the Premier League were all-too-apparent, and this realisation unfortunately spawned frustration on my part towards some of my beloved players – even Friedel.

I love Brad, he’s one of the best Goalkeepers ever in the Premier League, but in the midst of my criticizing-crusade, he was not spared. The reason? As petty as it is, he was failing to clear the ball effectively from back passes. Instead of taking a touch, he was rushing these kicks and merely serving to slice the ball out of play or find an opposition player and inviting consistent attacks on our defence.

Our defence? Boy, were they getting up my nose. Luke Young, in fairness, was playing some good stuff but his flat feet and lack of pace was being exposed way too much down our right side (he would look good in a better team who could keep possession better, but he was not the man we needed when under so much pressure). And speaking of pressure, James Collins… a lionheart for sure, but his inability to play football and over-willingness to play safe all the time invites unneccessary pressure and contributes to the eventual buckling of our back line. Ironically, if only Richard Dunne could have taken a few leaves out of James’ book – because his constant ignorance to clearing the ball at the right time is not healthy for any supporters’ heart. And Warnock’s rash challenges ensured that he matched the achievements of our other back 4 in securing the record for how many opportunities a football team could hand to their opponents in a 90 minute period.

Of course, the defence was not the only problem. I’m not sure if we were playing anyone at centre midfield in the first 6 weeks of the season. And passes you can see which should be made, were taking 3 or 4 exchanges before the ball got to where it should have in one. We were relying too heavily on a good cross to the box, or a moment of magic from Ashley – the rest of the team would not have been worthy of a place in any of last year’s top four – by some distance (with the exception of Brad in Arsenal’s team of course). No one was making a difference; doing something which left the opposition at a disadvantage – and it all had me thinking what I have just written in the last two paragraphs.

Thankfully, along came Houllier. And whilst a lot of the problems with individual players still exist, they are not as prevalent as they once were – everything’s easier when your tales are up. Moreover, we’re playing some footie. Petrov is getting involved (at times), Reo Coker is a hero, and Heskey is bullying the opponents. We’re going toe-to-toe with Champions League teams like Spurs and Chelsea, and the increasing possession, the increasing confidence, the increasing goalscoring chances has the French man’s increasing stamp written all over it. All this in the space of 6 weeks.

What is most impressive, is that we are doing this with the same sqaud of players. Whatever’s happening behind closed doors is delivering a response in front of the TV cameras. The players know their jobs more precisely; their flaws are less of an issue and we are once again a feared force. I wonder what will be in another 6 weeks time… and another 6 weeks after that (the transfer window). More hearteningly, I wonder what will happen at the Stadium of Light tomorrow afternoon.

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Filed under 10/11 Season, Gerard Houllier, Uncategorized

Hero of the Month (September)

This is not a retraction. This is certainly not an apology. This is just a fair analysis of which Aston Villa member deserves to be accredited with the recognition of having performed the most heroics for the club this past month.

Yet again, young Albrighton has been sniffing about. The 20 year old never ceases to give 100% for his West-Midlands club and sits level with Ashley Young on top of our assists chart (having played one game less). I think it’s also important to remember that this season is the first time Marc was starting on an Aston Villa league line up; and with only 6 premiership games under his belt, it’s heartening that Albrighton is already contributing more than should be expected.

Ashley Young… last month’s hero didn’t let up this time around as the current stats show the number 7 on top of both our assists and goalscoring tallies. He will probably feel hard-done-by to miss out on such a prestigious accolade for a second successive month.

September proved to be a so-so time for an Aston Villa fan. With just one player chipping in with 5 minutes worth at Wembley, we followed a last minute heartbreak at Stoke up with an uninspiring deadlock at home to Bolton. Then, we found a remedy… temporarily at least.

"Where are you?"

I’ve probably been Emile’s biggest critic, consistently – and I am not about to go back on all I have criticized him for. But hey, credit where credit is due. Aston Villa competed 4 times last month. They won twice – the games where big Hess featured. After a sterling contribution to our League Cup victory, I joked that maybe we could forgive and give him yet another chance. In response, Dan from http://astonvillacentral.com/ correctly remarked, “One swallow doesn’t make a summer…”

But for me, two swallows make for a sunny September.

Having succumbed to Sam Alardyce’s cosmic football at Ewood Park, Gerard Houllier introduced his old guard 58 minutes into the cup tie. Lo-and-behold, one minute later, parity was restored as Heskey raced onto a Young through ball, bore down on goal and fired across the keeper with his left foot in rather unfamiliar fashion.

His ball from the right wing, to seal that game’s fate, 18 minutes later was delicious, perfect, Albrighton-esc. And after 30 minutes under his old Liverpool boss, the number 18 had turned the game around and we had a rejuvenated Emile Heskey.

People have said that his 120 minutes of decent football are down to the belief injected in him by Villa’s new French man. But O’Neill’s relentless selection of Heskey was hardly damaging to his confidence. However, at the risk of branding myself a knee-jerk reporter, I believe that there could be some form of substance, for Emile, to Houllier’s arrival.

Think of the best manager you’ve worked under. The man (or woman) who had you playing above yourself. The boss you could relate to, who could relate to you. The one you loved training with. I know, from my own experiences, that if my favourite manager arrived at the club or college where I was currently playing football, despite whatever relationship I have with the current manager and teammates, something would change. It wouldn’t be a conscious change, it wouldn’t be a physical one. But I’d be excited, buzzing, and I would probably once again automatically play above myself, just at the mere sight of my old gaffer. So I can sympathise with Emile’s new esteem.

Of course, as I said, he has only been involved in two games in September, 120 minutes. But when he wasn’t playing this month, we lost to Stoke, drew with Bolton and were down to Blackburn. When he did play, we overturned Rovers (emphatically) and beat Wolves – Houllier secured a 100% record.

The Villa banged in 7 goals in September. When The Mule played, they scored 5. His outstanding header at Mollineaux not only silenced the opposition critics, but it shut me up, and of course sent us on our way to another derby day victory. It meant that Heskey was two from two under the new French regime, and after his Key Goal Contribution to our first goal (his first touch and dangerous, direct run which drew defenders meant that his involvement in Downing’s goal couldn’t go unnoticed) that day, and following his beautiful assist at Ewood Park, Emile ensured that Villa were indebted to him for 4 of our 5 goals throughout his time on the pitch – yes, 80%.

It’s difficult for me to praise the lad so much, because he is still a third choice striker in my Villa team. Nonetheless, responsible for the vast majority of what was good about our September, it was too hard to overlook him this time; and for once, I take my hat off to him, and award September’s Hero of the Month to Emile Heskey.

Thanks for the memories, Emile.

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Filed under 10/11 Season, Hero of the Month, Players, Uncategorized