PR embarrassments and the stench of relegation
So, did you ever think you’d see the day that Swansea City put four goals past Villa? I can’t quite bring myself to call it a new low given that Fulham and Palace have done the double over us, that we lost 1-4 at home to Stoke, that we were dumped out of the FA Cup at home by Sheffield United (I’ll stop there, we’ve all got things to do), but it has made our situation a whole lot worse. Here’s a look back at the Bad and the Ugly (and an attempt to find some Good) from the Liberty Stadium on Saturday.
Villa were at least in the game for a while, and there was a brief period of the match where I began to doubt my own pessimism. Set myself up for a bit of a fall there, won’t be doing it again.
Marc Albrighton continued his trend of recent weeks of being Villa’s liveliest player by some distance, and his ball in for Gabby Agbonlahor’s first goal since New Year’s Day was superb, although virtually every other cross he put in during the game was either poor or blocked. Villa’s most enthusiastic player he may be, but he doesn’t half lack refinement. Still, a new contract for him in the summer looks a requirement.
As with Villa’s season as a whole, the main saving grace from the Swansea game and its aftermath is that there are (just about) three teams worse than us in the league this season. Sunderland may well save themselves but Cardiff and Norwich should be as good as gone, and Hull’s late show at the Cottage may well have knocked the stuffing out of Fulham. So we should survive, albeit on the back of other teams’ failings rather than our own successes.
I wish someone would tell our manager and players that we could actually do the job ourselves by winning another game, mind.
Hull at home next week strikes fear into the heart, which is one of the most depressing sentences I’ve ever written. Shane Long loves a goal against Villa, and we’ll probably put it on a plate for him next weekend.
Back on the Swansea game, the defending for the first and third goals was abysmal; utterly static for Bony’s opener and mass ball-watching for the third, for which Pablo Hernandez looked like he could have beaten every Villa player in the box before scoring if he’d fancied. Jonjo Shelvey’s goal, although incredible, was also so, so avoidable.
One noticeable thing that had been missing from our performance was a clumsy Nathan Baker challenge resulting in a goal for the opposition, so it was nice to see that put right with the penalty.
The midfield offers the defence no protection whatsoever whilst also failing to create even a fraction of the opportunities necessary for our attack. Villa have scored just seven times in the nine games the Christian Benteke has missed this season, and with 36 goals in 35 games this season we’ve found the net less than both Sunderland and Fulham.
Villa now have the worst form in the league over the last six matches, with the dour but resolute draw at home to Southampton last weekend producing our only point from the last possible eighteen. In those six matches Villa have netted four times whilst conceding fifteen.
This season has seen not only the highest number of home defeats in a single season in the club’s history but also the highest number of Premier League defeats in a single season.
During the post-match press conference the cogs in the club’s frankly embarrassing PR machine just kept on turning. Lambert rolled out his trademark “you can’t fault the lads’ effort, they gave it their all” again.
Although you have to credit his ability keep a straight face, you can’t help but feel that some acknowledgement that, actually, the fight that some of the other teams in trouble have shown in recent weeks in comparison to Villa suggests that is not actually true. Even if it was, effort alone is sometimes not good enough. Quality helps, and so does any hint whatsoever of tactical nous from the manager.
Lambert’s repeated spiel – one that could almost have been pre-recorded before the season started for all the insight it gives – has at least dropped the thoroughly unconvincing “we’ll be fine” in light of the fact that, actually, we might not, but Lambert still seems to refuse to acknowledge the fact that we are running unforgivably close this season.
As if our displays on the pitch weren’t embarrassing enough, Lambert, Lerner, Faulkner and co. have managed to prove in recent weeks that the fans really are bottom of the pile. As if bland interviews and club statements that should have cleared up the situation for the fans but actually just added to the confusion and ill-feeling weren’t enough, we have to endure repeated condescension in being told that the club need our support.
We give the club our support (the team should count themselves lucky to have any fans at their games at all anymore, but Villa’s allocation at Swansea was one of the largest that had been at the Liberty all season), and actually the issue is that support is not rewarded or reciprocated in the slightest by either the players’ performances or the words or actions of the club staff.
Mark Lawrenson said on Match of the Day 2 Extra (on which all three guests tipped Villa to go down) that the club have “the stench of relegation”, and though I’m loathe to, it’s hard not to agree with him.
All we can hope for in the time being is a win over Hull to assure safety. After that at least some heads must roll, and a mass clearout of both playing and backroom staff wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Strip it back, rebuild and bring back the desire and pride that used to be so plain to see but which have both been so conspicuously lacking in recent seasons. Easier said than done, but my word, we don’t half need it.
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