Last season only six teams recorded more wins and points away from home than Aston Villa did. Villa managed relative success in the supposed hard games of the season, such form should have seen them comfortably mid-table at least, so why were the team slumming it at the foot of the table?
A shocking nine home wins in the past two seasons tells the story in a nutshell and addressing the problem will be one of Paul Lambert’s most important tasks for next season.
This season’s five home wins – relegated sides QPR, Reading and Wigan being the only teams with worse records– was at least an improvement on the club record low of four recorded under Alex McLeish in 2011/12, a number which was more than only Wolves (a warning sign if ever one was needed).
But whichever way you look at it, nine home wins from 38 home league games is an abysmal record, and is one of the biggest causes of Villa having been embroiled in relegation battles until the penultimate game of both seasons. Also, you can’t help but feel sorry for season ticket holders who have had to endure such poor form week-in, week-out.
It reflects just how much Villa have struggled in the past couple of years that under Gerard Houllier in 2010/11, a season viewed at the time as one of Villa’s worst in recent years, Villa won at home eight times – as many as in Martin O’Neill’s final season the year before.
In O’Neill’s 6-6-6 years, and possessinga team viewed by many as being set up more for counter-attacking football away from home than for breaking stubborn teams down at Villa Park, Villa achieved 25 home wins from 57 home games, including ten in 2007/08 alone (the only time in the last six seasons that Villa have had a more than 50% win rate at home).
Obviously a key factor in Villa’s decline in home form is the fact that, to be frank, Villa’s team is not what it was five years ago.
But more specifically, as every fan knows, Villa have lacked a creative midfielder for several seasons, which has severely limited their ability to break down teams’ defences.
For example, many Villa fans, like I, will have been looking on enviously as Shaun Maloney’s performances for Wigan continued to catch the eye in the latter stages of this season. Maloney was chronically underused in his eighteen months at Villa, and is the kind of player that many Villa fans would probably be delighted to welcome back to the club.
If Lambert makes improving Villa’s home form one of his highest priorities, as he surely must, then he must first sign a creative midfielder to do the job that Stephen Ireland was supposed to do.
Improving the home form would also help to build upon this season’s small improvement in average attendance.
Attendances had steadily declined every season since 2007/08 until this season, and this was no coincidence as Villa’s home form worsened. Although there is probably causation both ways – poor home form leads to worsening attendances, whilst declining crowds must surely have some sort of negative effect on the team’s mentality – an upturn in home form would inevitably lead to a continuing rise in attendances for Lambert’s Villa.
It appears that most fans feel relatively optimistic under Paul Lambert now that Villa have survived their close shave with relegation. If Lambert can preside over a return to at least reasonable home form as one of the improvements he hopefully brings into next season, Villa should find themselves top half in the league table in 2013/14, without much trouble.
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