Tag Archives: Heskey

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

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

Do Villa Play Their Best Football With Heskey?

No… they don’t (it’s as simple as that).

Should anyone feel that they do not need to read such an unnecessary blog post to decide their answer for the above question, then please be my guest and click the ‘x’ button at the top right corner of your screen. If you choose to continue, below is what sparked a post I never thought I would have to write.

Whenever Villa played their best football it was with Emile Heskey…

I’m not a fan of negative writing. I know I have been guilty of this in the past but I like to think that any criticism I have of Aston Villa is largely constructive and contributes to the greater good of improving the club (or at least ways in which it could be improved). Of course, I am bias, but I don’t think that any of my opinions are unreasonable. I try to support a lot of my writing with facts; although I recognise that subjectivity is the fuel of football debate and the beauty of the one, true international language. Nevertheless, sometimes, we have to be critical.

But I will not, for example, downplay the obvious effect our 23 year old Agbonlahor has on the team because of his inability to win the Golden Boot (like some ignoramus writers). I will not ridicule someone’s view that Milner should play on the right for England, and then later argue that this is his best position and the reason why he is actually not so important for his club (like some hypocritical, and inaccurate bloggers). I like to research the unarguable datum and undergo essential performance analyses of both the players and the staff (some people obliviously dismiss this as unimportant, yet it is the same mode of work in which all Premier League clubs will officially recognise as means of progression). Of course, sometimes I just like writing. I like presenting my ideas and I occasionally like to reflect football in a poetic light. However, how could I ignore a sentence such as that which is quoted above? How could I accept an unsupported argument suggesting that Emile Heskey is pivotal to the best football of Aston Villa?

Well, I couldn’t accept this.

On the 5th March, I wrote a damning crtitique (https://myavfc.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/emile-heskey-conman-extraordinaire-2/) of Heskey’s performances for the club I love so well; but after his through ball to Steven Gerrard against the USA earlier in the summer, the myth that he brings other players into the game was once again vibrant – despite the fact that apart from the goal, he was responsible for just 2 more final balls in the game, and these were two unsuccessful flick ons (he also won one shootable free kick).

At the time of that post, Emile had notched up 3 goals (the same as Richard Dunne) and 1 assist. He then finished the season with 3 goals (the same as Richard Dunne) and 2 assists. And with 2 further League Cup goals, the former England international finished the season with a tally of one goal for every eight games played (5 goals in 40 appearances). Obviously, he didn’t start all of these matches (although he started the majority of them), but what was more interesting was to find that similar to his England career, 4 of The Mule’s 5 goals came in a comfortable winning margin of at least two goals for his club (all of his competitive international goals came when England won by at least three goals).

Furthermore, Heskey did not contribute to the squad with even one forced own goal or by being awarded at least one penalty. Villa banged in 80 goals in all domestic competitions last season – Heskey had a hand in just 10% of these (making him non-existent for 9 out of every 10 AVFC goals).

Despite his clear ineffectiveness for the cause, and his inability to properly bring other players into the game, maybe we do play our best football when Emile Heskey is on the field.

However, going right back to the second game of the season, the fluid 4-5-1 we adopt was once again proved popular as a ‘Heskeyless’ Aston Villa not only grabbed 3 at Anfield, but completely outplayed, and outsmarted, the league runners-up in their own backyard. Heskey was introduced for the last 10 uneventful minutes.

The following game, Villa recorded probably their most comfortable, and pleasing, victory of the season at home to Fulham (who had finished just one place below us) in the absence of the all-important-Heskey. The return fixture was equally as pleasing (although not as attractive) and the big man did feature – marking his performance with the game’s most fouls.

Thankfully, Heskey was missing for the arrival of Bolton Wanderers at Villa Park as the home side enjoyed a rare 60% of possession; not to mention their 19 recorded shots, and of course, 5 goals.

Villa also completed dominating performances away to Hull and Birmingham without the “services” of EH and they turned over eventual league champions, Chelsea, with the Carew-Gabby partnership. However, the memorable Old Trafford success (as unconvincing as it was) included Emile and he was also a member of the team which knocked 5 past Championship outfit Burnley. But it is ridiculously clear that, compared to Gabby and Big John, Heskey’s contribution to Villa’s season was extremely minimal. He was either excluded or had a limited involvement in my favourite league performances this year, and it’s not as if he has a great effect record to fall back on (meanwhile Agbonlahor has had a direct responsibility in 43% of the possible goals he could have this year; whilst Carew made one more appearance than Heskey – yet still managed to knock in 16 goals, grab 5 assists, and win 4 penalties). Heskey also played either a bitpart role or a second string duty in the FA Cup run which saw his centre forward competitor (JC) grab the competition’s golden boot.

Prolific

Both Villa’s success, and at times, their best football this year has not taken place “with” Emile Heskey by any means. In actual fact, it took place in spite of Emile Heskey, who if anything, did his best to hinder our performances. I could continue to decipher his appaling form; his apparent need to fall over at the sight of any ball; his inability to hold the ball up and the lack of success from his flick ons; I could simply point to the fact that John Carew was responsible for 20 more goals (in the same amount of games) as his clubmate; or even conduct a survey of who has been the most frustrating Villa player of the past 10 years. But I don’t need to. It would be an insult to our players, and to our fans, if I did. In actuality, it is already an insult that even one “fan” declared that Heskey is associated with our best football – particularly with zilch signs of backing up such a ludicrous statement with any kind of reasoning.

As I say, I don’t like to be negative – but sometimes, black has to be separated from white in the reckless free-for-all that an unjustified grey area grants. A grey area derived from such conjecture as the quote which started this piece. I don’t like to pick on players (which I am doing with Emile) and consistently single them out for crticism, but I am adamant that I am a fair man who is simply looking to start the season in a positive manner – and who has his own specific idea of how to achieve this. Firstly, I just hope that Neil Lennon falls for the charm of the World Cup hero and ships him north of the border so I can finally put Heskey-gate behind me for good.

2 Comments

Filed under Players, Uncategorized

World Cup 2010: England’s 30

New regime?

With just 19 days separating today and the start of the world’s biggest football competition, and with the rugged German and Italian champions flying the flag for the elite of club soccer tonight, it is safe to say that all English men and women are quite happy to buy into the hype of World Cup fever and hope that the international distraction will get them through the summer (and indeed, through another 44 years).

But as my own South African dreams were bitten and broken by the venom of Thierry Henry’s very own Hand of God, I have been able to adopt a more cynical analysis of the would-be-delight of the promises of June/July.

And as the other home nations once again prepare for yet another Summer in absentia, I have found myself falling into the trap of reluctant support for the England campaign – but grow increasingly disillusioned as a “fan”.

Don’t get me wrong, Fabio Capello is doing a great job, and when England shot out of their qualifying blocks with 24 points from 8 games, I was thinking that 2010 could be their year. Not only that, but the Italian masterminded 2 victories over Croatia (their biggest threat to qualification) by a goal difference of +7; and having succeeded in winning a place in the finals with 2 games to spare, I wasn’t worried about the defeat to a Ukraine outfit who desperately needed the points.

Maybe though, it would have suited the St. George’s men a lot better had the World Cup actually taken place a lot closer to October (their final group game), when their momentum was unstoppable. Because as the weeks and months drag on; the air of invincibility within the England camp grows thinner and thinner, the nation begins to analyze any detail of every player, and the threat of rival countries becomes all too apparent as doubt begins to gnaw into championship ambitions.

The time between October and June has also allowed me to reconsider throwing my money at the 7/1 (3rd favourite) odds I could get for Capello’s men to reign supreme in Capetown come the 11th July.

The time between then and now has made me realise that this current England squad are no different to any of the other 21st century outfits. These crop of players aren’t disimilar to the team that failed to reach the group stages of Euro 2008. Yes, they are more organised and certainly more focused and have what would appear to be a lot more self belief. But should they be so confident? Should the odds be so short for England to break their 44 year trophy draught?

It’s easy to argue that they have destroyed Croatia (their supposedly only test to date) with two ruthless masacres… but when the dust settled, Croatia failed to reach the World Cup finals – in fact, they acquired an inferior points tally than the Ukraine did (who would later be knocked out by Greece). In truth, Capello has faced just 5 decent opponents and of these, has won just one of them (Germany way back in 2008). And, of course, the likes of Holland, Spain, Brazil and France are frightening opposition (although having been outplayed be the Republic of Ireland, I would question the latter’s inclusion), but this is the genus of quality that England will have to overcome if they are to prevail from Africa with a winner’s medal come July. And unfortunately, these are the standard of teams who not only I can’t see England overcoming, but the type of nation in which Capello has struggled to gain a result against in the past. Therefore, I have seen nothing of Fabio’s England that would suggest that they can improve on their customary average of a quarter final defeat.

Really?

However, if the past teaches us nothing, then maybe we can learn something from the future – where we have been given an insight to with the selection of the provisional squad of 30. Aston Villa, who fielded 14 English nationalities throughout the course of this season, will have just 2 players on the final plane to South Africa (Warnock will lose out to Baines). One of these players will be Emile Heskey. Heskey, with 3 goals to his name, has been selected ahead of our first choice striker, Gabby Agbonlahor. Heskey, who has been dropped for the majority of our games, makes up 50% of the players representing Aston Villa for England. Meanwhile, Gabby, with 13 goals to boast, hasn’t even been considered. Gabby, who can hold the ball up as well as Heskey and lead the line as effectively as anyone, stays at home. I’m not sure who should be most embarrassed by this decision: Emile Heskey or Fabio Capello – because it is a travesty; and a selection which will only hinder England’s search for glory.

Meanwhile, the selection of the two City slickers is further testament to the appalling job completed by the decisions panel. Shaun Wright Phillips; who not only has been out of form, but out of favour for the entire second half of the season, has, like Heskey, been deemed immune to Capello’s policy of selecting only those players who are in form and playing regularly. It is an outrage that such an inconsistent, non-entity of a player has been made an exceptional circumstance and selected ahead of two-times left winger of the year Ashley Young. It is blatantly obvious that Young is a much more technically gifted footballer than SWP and their effect for their respective clubs in the past 5 months bears no comparison. Yet, Young, like Agbonlahor, has been deemed surplus to requirements.

Andy Johnson. Probably the most disappointing decision of them all. Clearly, he’s not a bad player; but at 22, he still has a lot to learn. He set up 5 goals in his 5 months for City, but down the road in Birmingham; Capello could have chosen the older, the internationally experienced and ready-made left footer Stewart Downing in his place. In fact, Johnson seems to be just a clone of his former teammate, but the current England manager followed the footsteps of his predecessors and bowed to the hype and pressure of the English media.

Recalling the retired Jamie Carragher to the setup was another blunder. This has hardly been the Liverpool player’s best season (not by any stretch) and the fact that he had turned his back on his country should have dismissed any notion that his name be even considered. Bringing him in as full back cover is another questionable decision. Designed as a raw, last-ditch centre back, Carragher will fail to make an impact on the wing (offensively and defensively), and in Gary Neville, Capello could have had a much more competent, and loyal, full back substitute.

All in all, it seems to be a case of “more of the same” as England prepare for yet another major tournament. The eventual switch of Steven Gerrard to the left flank is testament that nothing ever changes in the England setup as Capello attempts to accommodate all his big names. Instead, players should be selected on the basis of who is the best for each position (not on the idea of selecting your 11 best players). European champions, and tournament favourites, Spain, will line out with the exclusion from the first team of names from this list of ridiculously gifted players: Fabregas, Alonso, Busquets and David Silva. Worryingly though, Capello seems to have shirked every big decision to date. His attempted acquisition of Paul Scholes, in my opinion, is further admission to his belief that his team can’t cut it. Not only will England have to come through the dreaded penalty shootout at some stage if they are to be crowned champions, but they must overcome opposition who they have, in the past and recently, just simply been second best to.

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, David James, Robert Green.

Defenders: Leighton Baines, Jamie Carragher, Ashley Cole, Michael Dawson, Rio Ferdinand, Glen Johnson, Ledley King, John Terry, Matthew Upson, Stephen Warnock.

Midfielders: Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Tom Huddlestone, Adam Johnson, Frank Lampard, Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Scott Parker, Theo Walcott, Shaun Wright-Phillips.

Forwards: Darren Bent, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Emile Heskey, Wayne Rooney

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, World Cup

COLE Lot of Gossip

I’m worried…

Matured? Not enough

Once again it is only Chinese whispers, but I must admit that the increasing transfer speculation of a potential ‘Carlton Cole to Villa’ transaction is now certainly getting the better of me. Is Cole a decent player? I suppose he is. Has he improved since his uninspiring loan spell at the Villains 5 years ago? Of course he has. Is he top 5 material? Absolutely not. 

Because when Cole left Villa in the Summer of 2005, he went about trying to improve on his one goal in nine games form that he treated the club with – and no doubt, he has turned himself into an effective front man since then – unfortunately for him though, in the time it has taken him to be considered a serious Premier League footballer, Aston Villa Football Club have improved twice as quickly. Maybe if we were still languishing in the apathetic mid-table region of the Cole era (or at 16th place the year to follow), the England hopeful would be welcomed back. But after restoring Midlands pride, after resurrecting Villa hope, after consistent top 6 finishes and after creating Champions League and Cup visionaries out of us, it would be an insult to the hard work, the diligent progress and to the dreams of tomorrow if we were to acquire the limited services of an overpriced Carlton Cole.

Not good enough

And I’ll tell you why…

Yes, Carlton Cole is a decent striker who is probably every bit as competent as Emile Heskey. Having flirted with the England set up, the 6’ 3” West Ham man demonstrated that his strong target man abilities, his powerful dynamic running and a good first touch can be made useful. And after a rich vein of early season form, Cole took all the plaudits and was lauded as the Hammers’ main man.

But is 9 goals this league campaign really anything to get excited about? Or is Cole’s 3 assists this whole season something to boast? For a self-professed selfless player, I don’t think his “team contribution” is all that hot. Although, the Croydon born player suggested, “[setting up goals] was what I was known for. That was my thing…” However, if you ask me, West Ham’s ‘asset’ isn’t as constructive as he’d like to think.

He explains how he is a “team player”, but out of West Ham’s 44 goals this year, Carlton Cole has only contributed to 27% of them. 27% isn’t that bad a statistic but this reality should surely undermine the notion that Cole is being held back by West Ham’s lack of success. He hasn’t been carrying the East London outfit by any means. Because if he was in fact a big fish in a small pond, surely his return would be much greater than this.

Admittedly, Carlton was injured and missed 9 of West Ham’s league games and some have suggested (himself included) that he is still trying to get back to fitness. But since his return, Cole has played 13 games and pitched in with just 2 goals. I’m sorry, I know I’m not a Sport Scientist (yet), but I believe that 13 games is more than enough time to regain any temporary loss in sharpness and 13 games in a would-be-World Cup forward’s career should produce better results than 2 goals and 1 assist. And even before his injury, West Ham’s first 14 games showed an “in-form” Carlton Cole take responsibility for just 8 goals. That’s almost a goal involvement tally of just one in every 160 minutes. And this at the height of his playing career to date. Even the pitiable David N’gog can put this stat to shame.

So Villa are already blessed with equally as average centre forwards like Emile Heskey and I have been calling for the signing of Kevin Doyle in his place. These names aren’t exactly capable of overshadowing Carlton Cole, but Doyle has been directly involved in 31% (4 more than Cole) of his team’s league goals this season and on top of that, the Irish man has lead the line superbly well for the newly promoted outfit all on his own every week, without fail. And maybe I should mention the fact that having been signed in the region of £6m just nine months ago, Doyle represents much, much better value for money than West Ham’s over-inflated valuation of £12m for their England darling (who is also the same age as Doyler).

Better Option

If we were going to credit someone with the same price-tag as Young Player of the Year, James Milner, it should unquestionably be someone worthwhile – and certainly not a forward whose highest ever scoring performance for a season stands humbly at 10 goals. When I look at Carlton Cole playing, I sometimes think he can do certain things well (but not to the standard that some media reports would suggest). And of course when I analyze his asking price in comparison with his stats, I’m overcome with nothing but sheer bemusement.

Conversely, if you roll your eyes up just one position in the Premier League table, you will find another small pond, Wigan Athletic. And in it, you will find a much bigger, much more worthwhile fish in the shape of one, Hugo Rodallega. At 24, the Columbian is not only subjectively a fantastic footballer and easily looks like an actual “main man” at the DW, his statistical performances show up any concept of buying Carlton Cole as ludicrous and baffling.

With the same amount of goals as the English forward (9), Rodallega has also contributed a highly impressive 8 direct assists in a team with a considerably lower ‘goals for’ tally. And with a key role to play in a staggering 48.5% of their goals this season, Wigan are almost solely indebted to the contribution of Rodallega for their survival.

Moreover, feeding off consistent assists from Mark Noble, Diamanti, Julian Faubert and Jack Collison, you would think Carlton Cole was better equipped to notch up greater scores on the stats board than his fellow relegation battlers. But the fact is that Rodallega, armed with no player as highly ranked as the mentioned Hammers, has dwarfed Cole’s performance (and done it on his own), and hopefully has dwarfed any notion that Cole would be a good signing for Villa this year.

Rodallega: 9 Goals, 8 Assists

Leave a comment

Filed under Transfer Talk, Uncategorized

My Favourite Second City Derby

I’ve recently become Twitter buddies … with a Brummie girl. Turns out she’s alright for a Birmingham supporter (it’s like a 21st century Romeo and Juliet – for the digital age). I’ve been following her blog and despite her gender and allegiances, she’s a surprisingly decent writer! Anyway, she asked me to write as a guest for her site on my favourite recent derby match; and with another 3 points in the bag last night, I turned my attention to the small matter of Aston Villa v Birmingham on Sunday, and some of the heated clashes through the years – below is my entry which will posted on her Brummie blog today.

When asked to write a guest blog on my favourite recent derby match, I automatically began scanning the archives of my brain for all the classic Villa-West Brom encounters. It is well documented that The Albion pose the biggest threat to Villa’s Black Country dominance so when I realised I had to discuss a Villa-Birmingham clash, I had to scratch my head and think long and hard to recall such an irrelevant fixture in the Aston Villa calendar.

16/04/2006 

Aston Villa 3 – 1 Birmingham City

David O’Leary’s 3rd year in charge of Aston Villa was somewhat of an apathetic affair. Having had a gallant fight for Europe come up agonisingly short in his first season in charge, the Irish man ultimately contributed to the eventual downfall of the biggest club in the Midlands (that’s Villa by the way!). After scraping a miserly two more points than the Blues the previous season, a humiliating 4-0 drubbing at Upton Park in just the 5th game of the new campaign set the tone for DOL’s final spell – as the Villains stumbled out of the blocks with just 9 points from their opening 12 games.

Fast forward to the 5th last match and the two Birmingham clubs were still rubbing shoulders; but this time, found themselves in the heat of a very real relegation battle. 

Derby-day Sunday somehow never fails to produce a high, glorious sunshine; but with the Brummies lingering above relegation, desperately hanging on to our flailing coattails, an away victory at Villa Park would promise nothing more than eternal darkness over the plains of Bodymoor Heath (at least for a year anyway).

With an abysmal attendance record all year at Villa Park, over 40’000 people (for just the second time) made their way to Trinity Road to witness the home side secure all 6 possible points in the second city derby. But I was less optimistic.

With the team sheets in front of me (and a disastrous season behind), I had this sinking feeling of defeat prior to kick off (similar to what Blue-noses must feel every Saturday).  I looked at the partnership of Nicky Butt and our transfer target David Dunn and dabbled on the idea of having them instead of McCann and Davis. I then feared for the ridiculously inexperienced centre back pairing of Liam Ridgewell and previous week debutant, Gary Cahill coming up against the international standard Heskey and Sutton and I concluded that we were in trouble; big trouble.

Birmingham had put together an admirable revival and had lifted themselves out of the bottom three. I was frightened of this game. But then again, O’Leary had majestically guided Villa on a fantastic FA Cup journey, only to be dumped out in the 5th round. And lest we forget that we had won 4 of our 15 home games prior to that derby… and I was worrying there for a second!

The lunchtime kick off started frantically (and I don’t recall it ever slowing up). It was honest, end to end action, with the atmosphere spurring the players to take a giant step up from rest of the season’s performances. I remember analyzing the game and thinking that Villa were having endless joy down the right wing, with loanee Milner and Aaron Hughes in devastating form. And in the 10th minute, that right side attacking paid early dividends with a squared ball slotted to the net by the erratic Milan Baros. It was more a rush of relief than delight as we looked to be steering clear of the red.

But then, once we went a goal to the good, we were already looking for the final whistle. And although the pace of the game didn’t drop, our defensive line certainly did and we were pinned in our half, stalled in the headlights of one way, oncoming traffic.

And despite conceding an early equaliser at the hands of soon-to-be Villa forward, Chris Sutton, we struggled to get ourselves back in contention and I was certainly one fan who was happy to see half time.

Fortunately, Villa came back out punching in the second half in what promised to be yet another electrifying 45 minutes. Young Cahill had already proved he could do a solid job for the team at the back but what he was about to do 10 minutes into the new half will forever be remembered in Aston Villa folklore. An inswinging corner was poorly cleared and the new-boy turned his back to goal before lifting his hole body parallel with the ground, 6ft in the air, to spectacularly bring the ball back towards goal with an acrobatic scissor kick that he couldn’t execute if he tried 99 more times. Villa Park was bouncing.

Magic

For the next 20 minutes, we retreated once more. I don’t think the crowd cared because of the scenes that had preceded; but within this quarter of the game, Birmingham were banging down the Villa defensive wall. However, rather fittingly, now at the foundation of this barricade was 20 year old Gary Cahill who looked like he had been playing Premier League football for 10 years (not 2 appearances). The Brum attack huffed and puffed but Cahill was there time and time again to ensure the Villa back line showed nothing but relentless contempt to their rivals’ attempts to take points in front of the Doug Ellis Stand. And with 13 minutes remaining, a Milner-Baros breakaway ensured the Villains would stride home to victory in a cracking derby clash. More importantly though, the 3 points gained would take us clear of the drop zone, secure a 100% record over our rivals and condemn the Brum-scum to eventual relegation.

They say that you can’t write this stuff. Archrivals, local enemies competing in a fight to stay up, a fight to survive. A 20 year old central defender making his second ever start, standing tall and suffocating his adversary’s assaults; scoring not just his first ever goal, but the goal which crucially broke the deadlock, the goal of his career, the best finish I’ve ever seen at Villa Park; and scoring the goal which ultimately secured Aston Villa Premier League status, and the goal which condemned the blue half of Birmingham to deplorable demotion. They say that you can’t write this stuff, but I disagree. This stuff is too easy to write, it is the stuff of fairytale. The difference is, when I read a fairytale, I don’t believe it.

4 Comments

Filed under Second City, Uncategorized

Summer Transfer Targets

Another day, another draw.

Yes, the two points dropped against Everton leaves our fight for fourth hanging by a worn thread. However, if we were to magically win our remaining five games we would still accumulate the targeted 16 points which I believe would be enough. But daydreams aside, I think it’s important to get back down to business and think about how we could improve on another season of overachievement.

Speaking to fans of other clubs, the general consensus is that Villa have had a “very good season.” Some would deem this patronising and others would think we deserve more than a very good season but in relative proportions, we have had an excellent year.

When you’re engrossed in team affairs and buy into the promises and hype of hope, I suppose it’s easy to accuse the team of underachieving when some results don’t go your way. Fortunately for our previous two managers (Taylor and O’Leary), they failed to offer any form of optimism and thus expectancy was non-existent throughout their reigns. If we were to ignore the less competitive league of the past when 10 less points got O’Leary to where O’Neill finished 2 years ago, one could argue that DOL’s 6th place finish got us believing. However, a steady decline throughout his time in charge of both on and off field performances suggested all along that he would not take us forward. Indeed, before MON took charge, we had witnessed 4 FA Cup 3rd Round eliminations and a thrilling run to the 5th round. So when I consider how in just 2 seasons O’Neill had turned us into an assured top 6 side, before chasing both fourth place and cup honours, I remember our all-too-recent relegation scraps and realise that Aston Villa have of course had a “very good season”.

A very good season for an Aston Villa fan, however, means putting up with yet another trophyless year. And if we were to stop the rot at 15 years this coming season, it is going to take a prolonged exceptional performance. The boys proved their capable competency this year with 2 extended cup runs and an elongated top 4 challenge (which is still going with just 5 games left).But, as good a journey it has been, we have fallen short. And as quality a player we may possess, we can’t expect to win silverware with just 13 trustworthy names (Luke Young and Heskey are the only other two squad players who contribute).

So what do we require to go one step further? Which players are needed in our squad to help push us into the top 4 and into cup glory? How do we prolong success?

Kevin Doyle:

Okay, okay, not groundbreaking by any means and the Villa faithful might not jump up from their seats at the prospect of the Irish man’s arrival. But in ‘Doyler’, we could have a younger, hungrier, more prolific and just plain better version of Emile Heskey. Watching the Wolves player on a regular basis playing for Ireland, I was surprised at his superb ability to hold the ball up. Not only is he much stronger than I first presumed, but his aptitude to bring the ball under control and find a supporting player is something to be admired – and something which he can do as effectively (if not better) than our number 18. On top of this, he does so in much more difficult environments playing with poorer opposition and used as the “out man” for his country, Doyle has propelled himself to be one of the nation’s most crucial players. Furthermore, his pace, technique and goalscoring record (which surprisingly is better than Heskey’s one in every eight games) make him a much better candidate than the 32 year old Emile to help our club progress. I’m not saying he would make our starting line-up (although he seems to grasp his chance anywhere he plays), but if we sold Heskey and replaced him with Kevin Doyle, we would already have taken strides to improve our chances next year.

Next up, it looks as if our munificent chairman will have to dip into his pockets once more. Of course, there are players there to be sold as well. I think he’s a decent player, but if we have little use for Steve Sidwell then we may as well cash in. Analysing the team, I think it has become abundantly clear that the right back area is a major problem. Defensively, Cuellar is not designed to cover so much space behind him and guard against lightning wingers. And offensively, the Spaniard is certainly not devised to cross into the opposition’s half. I’ve said it before, it’s not his fault but he should not be playing at right back. He is a quality centre back – one of four at the club – and if needs be, could also probably be sold to raise expenses (as disappointed as I would be to see him leaving). Curtis Davies is, talent-wise, our best centre back. Dunne has performed exceptionally well, as has Collins. Therefore, if money was an issue, Carlos would need to get the chop.

Branislav Ivanovic:

Audacious? Maybe. But with the Serbian defender we could, once again, improve our starting line up immensely. At 6ft 2, he would have no problem replacing the aerial prowess of the older Spaniard and certainly at right back, we could acquire an actual footballing threat. As a centre half, Ivanovic would also have much more to offer than Cuellar but after his £9.7m sale to Chelsea, might not come so cheap. I actually believe that Luke Young has much more to offer than he has been allowed this year, but if we are aspiring to play Champions League football, it would be advised to splash out the 5 – 7million required for the purchase of Branislav Ivanovic.

Rafael Da Silva:

At just 19, Rafael is a proven threat attacking from right back. In the intensity of Old Trafford, the Brazilian has sometimes been found wanting in defence and has demonstrated a few signs of inexperience which will surely be rectified with age. But with 3 long term right back servants ahead of him (O’Shea, Neville, Brown), a loan move would be perfect for the development of the young lad. Perhaps he wouldn’t fit as well into Villa’s system and could prove a liability in our set piece defending, but certainly if the chips are down or we’re controlling a game (trying to break teams down), he would be a valuable dimension to deploy.

Michael Carrick:

I can’t believe I just wrote this player’s name. Constantly a source of negative criticism (heavy criticism) from yours truly, I’m extremely disappointed in myself that I have turned my back on such strong beliefs. Too often, Carrick is happy to play safe and return the ball to centre back or pass the buck to his central midfield partner. He’s a player who doesn’t seem to want to make something happen, someone who doesn’t seem to want responsibility, and thus someone who hides from the ball. Yet, when he is on form, he is undoubtedly a terrific passer (if he has the balls to look forward). Starring for Spurs, he made the big money move to United because of his ability to find a game winning pass. And at times for the champions, the fans adored him. Last year, they were electric and Rooney and Berba loved feeding off the English man’s inch perfect passes. But when the going gets tough, Carrick gets running (scared). What I do think however is that Manchester United is probably a club too big for the make up of the central midfielder. Tim Howard was suspect to blunders at Old Trafford, but since his move to the blue half of Liverpool, he has proven he is one of the best keepers in the league. Likewise, Phil Neville’s selection at United was lambasted every week before he went on to captain the best club outside the top 4 and proved he was in fact a quality player. I firmly believe that with Carrick’s underlying talent, he can replace an ageing Petrov, but do so with more panache and more ability to change games for us. And with Man U about to put a miserable season behind them, a serious shake up is on the cards on Sir Matt Busby Way and the former Spurs player could well become available for around the same price we captured Downing and Milner for.

Robbie Keane:

Maybe the wrong time in his career, but Ireland’s all time leading goal-scorer has something which we have been missing for years: flair. Villa stick to a rigid system and it works great, but again when we’re facing difficulties breaking teams down, we don’t possess a player who can unlock defences with a touch of flamboyancy from nowhere. All the great teams have this creative nerve to their back bones and although maybe not a world-class number one choice, Keane could arrive at a cheap price and provide a wonderful stopgap elegance to our side.

Kris Boyd:

Rumours of his arrival were rife last season and as much as I would prefer to see a bigger name on the scene, I’m trying to maintain an air of realism – realistic, yet valuable, additions. How often do we say that Villa need a finisher? Well in Kris Boyd, we could have an indisputable great goal scorer (regardless of which league he plays in). Scoring a goal in almost every 1.3 matches, I think Boyd would make an excellent addition to our effective forward line of Gabby and Carew, but provide that deadly instinct which unfortunately is missing too much. Probably available for under £3 million, it would be silly to miss out on the 26 year old – unless we had a mouthwatering name lined up.

Shaun Wright-Phillips:

Out of favour at an ever-growing Man City, SWP could be the perfect addition to our thin squad. When Downing and Young are tired or underperforming (not to mention the possibility of injury), we have to move our best centre midfielder to the wing and rarely have I seen this pay dividends (Not because Milner can’t operate on the flank, but because we leave a gaping hole in the middle). Again, I am not his biggest fan but even with his inconsistencies, Wright-Phillips is direct and dangerous. I feel Downing and Young for sure have more to offer our first team, but when he’s on-song, little Shaun would fit like a glove into our quick moving attack and again, provide an extra dimension to the superb crossing ability of our current wingers in his willingness to take on the full back.

Having considered 7 new additions which could be acquired this coming summer, I have not only discussed fully possible targets, but I have also put forth 7 names which I think could make a world of difference to Aston Villa’s season performances. On top of this, my wish list could easily be obtained within the realms of a sensible budget and to ensure balance, I have proposed the sale of 3 high profile, replaceable players (Cuellar, Sidwell, Heskey). However, if we could keep such players and find better use for them, as well as bringing in new faces, then the squad will have improved two fold. My suggested signings provide not only a remedy for our first team weaknesses, but flesh to a bone-thin squad and invention to an unimaginative (sometimes) attack. On top of this, each potential signing are at peak age for performance and we wouldn’t have to wait for them to produce the goods. They are proven performers and would not have to adapt to the environment of the Premier League. If you consider the development of Fabian Delph, Marc Albrighton and the long awaited recovery of Wilfred Bouma, with these summer acquisitions, Aston Villa could find themselves going one step further next year. And a one step improvement on this season would result in League Cup success, FA Cup Final shot and Champions League Qualification.

13 Comments

Filed under Transfer Talk, Uncategorized

And the Boys Go MARCHing On

I would say excuse the pun, but I don’t want you to – they’re too good to be ignored! As a matter of fact, I think it’s about time that the world finally embraced the pun.

Anyway, Aston Villa…

Football is a wonderful thing. It really is. I think it was the ineffable David Brent who once said,

“Life is just a series of peaks and troughs. And you don’t know whether you’re in a trough until you’re climbing out, or on a peak until you’re coming down…”

And how perfectly facsimiled was life’s unpredictability in the recent week of Aston Villa.

10 days ago, I was darkness personified. Having had our League Cup dreams crushed at the merciless hands of the champions, I was left picking up the pieces of my heart from the rocky road beneath my feet. But exactly one week after our Wembley disappointment, the Good Lord had answered my prayers and John Carew got his deserved starting berth (albeit at the expense of the wrong forward). And exactly one week after our cup defeat, my unreasonably limitless hope is once again justified (for the meantime at least).

After succumbing to the bludgeons of chance, I only really appreciated the new heights we had reached when we were indeed coming back down. And after fearing for the rest of the season and even worse, expecting a successive cup exit at 2.15pm last Sunday, I can see that we’re climbing back out of the temporary trough we had tripped into and I once again, have my rose tinted glasses on.

Because where an inexperienced side would have wilted, O’Neill’s apparent words of inspiration at half time at the Madejski ensured that our ever-developing crop of talent timely blossomed to slap the face of adversity right out of our path. And where a lesser man (maybe a wiser man) would have huffed, John Carew has continued to put in his vital shift for the team – despite the fact that a player of Emile Heskey’s limited calibre has constantly been named ahead him. What an insult to a man of Carew’s ability. But rather than jump ship, our beloved Norwegian has fed off the crumbs from the table and still proved an integral member of our squad – and more importantly, proved to be a leader of men. Cue Agbonlahor’s illness: Carew hatrick – action!

Back in the 27th of January, we had 4 massive games ahead of us in a 2 week period: Arsenal, Fulham, Spurs, United. At a time when the nation was looking on in anticipation of our wheels coming loose, I had predicted that if we acquired 8 points from those fixtures we would without doubt finish in the top 4. Six points and no defeats later, we emerged unscathed from the potential minefield and ensued to carry on our silent assault on the coveted Champions League spot. Today, I write with a smile on my face in the knowledge that O’Neill has banished his ides of March. No victory in 3 annual attempts in that particular month was oddly ridiculous, and maybe testament to where we were coming up short when it really mattered. Maybe we hadn’t the squad. We were possibly inexperienced before. Perhaps in the past, our team had not yet developed to carry on a full season’s burden into the last crucial 2 months. But after ruthlessly disposing of Reading in another 10 minute blitz (similar to that against Burnley), the boys have shown that they have both mentally and physically matured. Destroying the notion that O’Neill can’t win in March, his players have done so off the back of an extended League Cup run. And with the 3 defensive summer signings proving they are the best in the league (just 21 goals against), maybe, just maybe we have acquired the right ammunition to finish off the battle for the top 4 this year.

Of course, we have been aided with the demise of Liverpool, but it’s about time Stevie G stopped pulling them out of trenches. Unfortunately for the Merseysiders, their decline has come at a high tide for the surrounding clubs who are accumulating more and more points each season. And what is more pleasing is that looking at the remaining fixtures, I actually believe that clinching that last remaining European Cup spot is very much in our hands – and at this stage, very much out of the long serving Champions League residents’ control. An in depth analysis of the top 4 challengers’ run ins would suggest that Villa and City should be favourites to clinch the prize – I just hope that Liverpool’s ‘been there done that’ experience runs out of games to gain sufficient points. My biggest fear is that Man City finish fourth (of course I would absolutely hate to see Harry Redknapp succeed but needs must). I worry that if the blues can gain Champions League qualification, then of course we’ll see an even greater influx of extravagant players and a new, unsurpassable top 4 will emerge (with City replacing Liverpool).

However, today is a good day. I was actually excited about the prospect of taking on Chelsea in the next round of the FA Cup – this Wembley nonsense is getting tedious now! MON will have the Villains set up well and difficult to beat and one thing is for sure, I bet Chelsea did not want to see our name out of the hat to play them. So here’s to a good month of March. And here’s to a top 4 dogfight which is destined to go right to the wire.

How the final fixtures could play out:

  Villa   City   Pool   Spurs  
Points 45   49   48   49  
  Stoke (a) 1 Sun’d (a) 3 Pomp (h) 3 Bburn (h) 3
  Wigan (a) 4 Ful (a) 4 Utd (a) 3 Stoke (a) 4
  Wolv’ (h) 7 Ever’n (h) 7 Sun’d (h) 6 Pomp (h) 7
  Sun’d (h) 10 Wigan (h) 10 Brum (a) 7 Sun’d (a) 10
  Chel (a) 10 Bburn (a) 13 Ful (h) 10 Arsn’l (h) 10
  Bolt (a) 11 Brum (h) 16 West (h) 13 Chel (h) 10
  Ever’n (h) 12 Utd (h) 16 Bburn (a) 16 Utd (a) 10
  Pomp’ (a) 15 Arsn’l (a) 16 Chel (h) 17 Bolt (h) 13
  Brum (h) 18 Villa (h) 17 Hull (a) 20 Bburn (a) 16
  City (a) 19 West (a) 20     City (a) 17
  Bburn (h) 22 Spurs (h) 21        
  Hull (a) 25            
                 
Final Points Total 70   70   68   66  

 

  • The results for each team against the corresponding opposition were considered in a fair, calculated and unbiased manner.
  • Where numbers are added in the column beside each fixture, this is the prediction of points the team will have added to their run in form after each game has been played. (For example, I expect Villa to lose to Chelsea so their points tally remained the same)
  • The accumulated run in points were then added to the team’s current points total (as of 10/03/2010) to estimate their potential total points for the season.
  • Away to City on the 1st May looks like it could be the Champions League spot decider.

Leave a comment

Filed under 09/10 Season, Uncategorized