The idea for My Old Man Said’s ‘Five Reasons to be Cheerful’ column sprang from macabre times Aston Villa supporters were experiencing back in 2011. After the madcap appointment of Alex McLeish, a manager who the previous season had relegated Villa’s neighbours, Villa began playing soul-sapping football, as they tried to avoid McLeish pulling off a Second City relegation double. The column was also a play on those token gesture ‘Five Things’ or ‘Five Points’ articles that littered up the internet.
At the end of last year, Five Reasons was put on ice, as the website took a backseat to the podcast due to time constraints and the need to step away from the clickbait swamp that Villa written media had become.
Of course, there had always been a sense of irony to the title, and that is why after Villa finally won promotion from the Championship and then spent £150m on new players, MOMS was happy to embrace Dean Smith’s new world, and give up on trying to dig-up silver linings every week.
However, with Villa’s first season back into the Premier League fast becoming a potential nightmare, it’s perhaps time to dust down the old MOMS favourite and try to seek solace from any impending doom.
The landscape doesn’t look great. Villa are a team winless in seven and facing a last seven-game fixture list that includes the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Wolves. To get out of the relegation zone and pick up points against strong teams, they are armed with statistically the worst defence in the league and three strikers that have scored a combined tally of ONE league goal this season.
Villa are going to need more than just a little Hawkeye luck to pull off their great escape.
So what has there been to be cheerful about since the restart?
Five Reasons to be Cheerful
There’s a Pulse
After a winless run of seven games, Villa are still somehow alive. It should in all honesty be cut adrift and game over territory. Luckily there are four other teams that are currently in turmoil alongside Villa.
Norwich City look shot now after back-to-back restart defeats, Bournemouth too aren’t responding and have a tough fixture list ahead, while West Ham, despite decent enough players, seem devoid of purpose and know how. Watford have an easier fixture list, but have stuttered too.
Literally, it seems the Premier League relegation spots will be decided by who can be the least useless over the coming month.
Villa are the only team in the bottom four to pick up any points since the restart.
Surely that counts as hope?
Slowly Does It
Yes, we may have only taken two points from three restart games, but those points have somehow managed to put us in a better position now than when the Premier League was originally suspended for the Covid-19 pandemic.
We’re level on points with both West Ham and Bournemouth, which as long as you don’t look at the upcoming fixture list, gives us hope.
I’d mention Watford, whom Villa are just a point behind, but they surely should get something from the likes of Southampton and Norwich in two of their next three games? If they don’t, then they will be in the thick of it until the end too.
Dean Smith has made much about the work done on remedying Villa’s defensive frailties over the lockdown period. While it is still prone to lapses (see Newcastle game), there’s been statistical progress at least. Before the lockdown they were conceding an average of two goals a game. Post-restart, it’s now just one goal a game.
As well as statistically, visibly there has been marked progress too. The backline all deserved gold stars for keeping Chelsea at bay, where ultimately they were let down by their midfield not covering. That scoreline could have been a lot worse.
Also, both of Villa goals in the restart period have been scored by defenders.
So now it’s over to Villa’s midfield and strikers to get involved in the Great Escape mission.
Surely, the likes of Jack Grealish and John McGinn are going to go up a gear or two in the forthcoming games, now they’ve had a few games under their belt? The fanboy hype train can only take both of them so far, before the reality of their mixed bag Premier League 2019/20 seasons sink in.
Villa’s captain has cut a frustrated figure at times, but some of his decision making and passing has been uncharacteristically poor. Hopefully, it’s just a tuning issue and with game time under his belt and better opposition to come, he’ll be fired up to rise to the occasion.
Likewise, McGinn needs to go up at least one gear for Villa to get anything out of the next three games. He surely will only get better after such a long lay-off.
Speaking of lay-offs, hopefully the lockdown period is the excuse for Trezeguet and El Ghazi’s missed chances and poor timing since the restart.
While improvement from Grealish and McGinn is important, for Villa to ultimately get wins and survive, improved contributions from the likes of Trezeguet, El Ghazi, Samatta, Hourihane and Davies in the final third will be the key factor.
These are the players that have big question marks over their Premier League pedigree, but they have the ideal platform to prove all their doubters wrong in the final seven games.
Let’s hope they take it.
This one goes out to the listeners of the My Old Man Said podcast and the MOMS Patrons.
After months of lockdown isolation and now facing behind-closed-doors Villa matches, one saving grace has been the camaraderie that a little MOMS innovation called Match Club has already built over just three games.
A kind of virtual private members group (without the pretence!), MOMS Patrons have been quick to fully embrace it and help turn into a constructive and fun community to watch Villa’s remaining games with.
You’ll never replace the hole of not being at the actual Villa game with friends or family, but it’s nice to have created something that is more involving than any radio show or podcast, and provides a platform that takes supporters away from the knee-jerk reaction and toxicity of social media (especially the hate portal that is Twitter).
Now, I’d like to say more, but I can’t break the first rule of Match Club, which is you don’t talk about Match Club (see above).
But a message to all those ‘fan engagement’ app companies (that all seem to be run by betting companies), that keep spamming me to get MOMS involved to promote them (and are still waiting for replies) – none of your creations don’t come close to the Match Club experience!
So, thanks to everyone who has been involved so far and for the feedback:
“MOMS Match Club has been a success, much better innovation than VAR”
“Match club is great – much better than Twitter hysteria”
“The Match Club idea is genius. Love it!”
“Really enjoyed yesterday! Definitely enhanced my usual ‘match day’ from home experience. Good people, good vibes, good discussions! See you all on Saturday!”
“Great job tonight lads. This is great craic. See you on Saturday!”
“This feels like therapy…sh*t coming in. Upbeat leaving”
“First match club experience. Very impressed and thoroughly enjoyed.”