By Chris Kemps
A reported civil war in the stands at Burnley, two veterans prove a point and Keane gets his priorities straight in a week where Villa are still searching for that elusive win…
At what point does witnessing something happening often enough stop becoming a lesson? Yes, the first half against Burnley was probably the best half this season for composure, passing, movement and attacking-looking football. But as the game wore on, Cole came off, Richardson came on, Burnley’s set-pieces started looking better and better and an equaliser was on the cards. T
here were enough documented reports to make it plausible that Villa fans were upset at each other when the “Lambert out!” chants started with still time left on the clock, but at that point there was really only one team in it. Heads had dropped, and while Grealish could have won it (which would have been lovely for a few reasons) a win after an increasingly poor second half would have redefined “smash and grab”.
Whether you want him gone, want to give him one more chance, or are so cynical as to consider it irrelevant who’s the “boss” while we are still up for sale, it’s surprising given the slide in form even in this third year of poor league and cup form that Paul Lambert is still the manager.
What fans can’t agree on, it would seem, is whether supporting Aston Villa, supporting the manager and supporting the players can be different things or whether you have to be behind them all to be a supporter. When certain fans are hoping the team will lose to force Lerner’s hand into firing PL, that makes for a pretty ambiguous definition of “support” in the short-term, even if it is to achieve a brighter long-term future.
Will Palace on Tuesday teach us all that even an absent, keen-to-sell owner has limits?
OLD KING COLE
Joe Cole showed everyone who watched the first half of the Burnley game that he can absolutely play a part in lifting Villa up the table, given a chance (much as Okore has now… clumsy penalty aside). In 45 minutes we can’t say he’s solved all our problems, but his passing, leadership and of course his instinct in from of goal, lifted the team who have had a weird week regarding role models and their motivation (see Keane, Roy).
When Grealish came on after an hour, he showed his best stuff this season too. If his goal had gone in at the end (maybe a little more composure… see Bent, Darren) he would have seen a huge bump in Christmas shirt sales but while his best is obviously ahead of him, it was Cole who showed he still has enough in the tank to be a big contributor.
Of course, with his history of injuries and his increasing age – he broke on to the senior scene with West Ham in the 1998-99 season – he’s not going to be able to maintain that level of movement but if he decides to hang around, who’s to say he couldn’t be a Ray Wilkins, spraying the ball around and give Villa a bit of extra guile for the next couple of years?
GOAL KING BENT
Darren Bent’s debut goal against Manchester City suggested a Villa hero for the ages had been born. While statistically the £18m signing was instrumental in turning around Villa’s fortunes, as soon as a newer younger model came along (Benteke), he was dumped as Villa fans had a new talisman.
There’s no doubt he resented being dumped into the stiffs, though he was still being paid very well (well enough to become a bomb squadder who would have been allowed to move for a bag of chips if there was any real interest). His latest comments in the press about having the watch from the bench as the team struggled to score and him still not getting a chance have some validity.
So, of course, he scored as soon as he went out on loan at Brighton.
That said, he didn’t look at his best last year at Fulham (as the Fulham fans who he taunted after scoring for Brighton reminded him of at the final whistle) and he hasn’t made the most of his few chances he has had in the first team.
But what was the point in loaning him out, unless it was all gearing up for a permanent move in January? Especially as PL recalled Callum Robinson from loan to replace him… as a squad player on the bench? Villa fans as well as Fulham fans learned that you discount Darren Bent at your peril.
NOT SO KEANE ANYMORE
It’s hard to say what Roy Keane brought to Villa during his time as assistant manager without being in the dressing room or training ground. Stan Collymore said it was an indication that all is not well at the club, and some press reports said the Bearded One, who was only at the club for six months, lost the team’s respect after throwing a wobbly after the gutless performance against QPR.
The man himself said he was struggling to juggle his role at Villa with his dual role with Ireland and also as a father with a young family (he didn’t mention his book tour which was surely a distraction from everything too).
There are certainly lessons to be learned even from the Burnley game. Jack Grealish got a full half-hour of playing time – the most for a while – when Keane wasn’t on the bench next to PL. Was that anything to do with the fact Keane had issues with Jack’s dad Kevin and his stalling over a decision to pledge to either England or Ireland for his international career? Was the inclusion of Cole as a starter down to Keane not being there to talk PL into choosing N’Zogbia instead? (Keane did play alongside Eric Cantona – one of the most temperamental Frenchmen in Premiership history during his career at Manchester United after all…) We might never know all the details, but more answers will come soon.
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