What We Learnt as Aston Villa Fans After Villa Scrape Through FA Cup

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By Adam Keeble

Three games, one goal scored (and it was another beauty), but even three clean sheets and a ticket to the 4th round of the FA Cup to play AFC Bournemouth wasn’t enough to quell the first overt signs that fans aren’t happy. With the transfer window open, then a game against Leicester before a potentially horrific three match run, what can fans take from the recent run of games?

 

YAWN

Even the most blinkered of fans, passionate in their support for Lambert and “the lads”, would have to confess the last three games have hardly been action-packed. The new passing tactics of building from the back… then passing all the way back to Guzan quite often… might well be the polar opposite of the “wait for it… wait… for… it…HOOOOF! RUN! GO GO GO!” that the team was using a few weeks ago. It’s as though someone playing Football Manager 2008 slid the tactics slide from “fast tempo, long ball” to “slow tempo, short passing” and expected it to work miracles.

Even the most blinkered of fans, passionate in their support for Lambert and “the lads”, would have to confess the last three games have hardly been action-packed. The new passing tactics of building from the back… then passing all the way back to Guzan quite often… might well be the polar opposite of the “wait for it… wait… for… it…HOOOOF! RUN! GO GO GO!” that the team was using a few weeks ago. It’s as though someone playing Football Manager 2008 slid the tactics slide from “fast tempo, long ball” to “slow tempo, short passing” and expected it to work miracles.

But it’s what fans were crying out for. Some actual football, not the kick and rush, defending inside our own area, lumping it and legging after it that could have been played by stray dogs. But to say “be careful what you wish for” would be cheap. It’s not the finished article but it still overlooks the fact that Villa players are professional footballers. Their ability to do things with a football that the man in the street can’t do is why their weekly salary is more than the ordinary non-footballing person earns in a year. But this new style isn’t particularly demonstrative of that either. Most importantly, it hasn’t shored up the defense that much more and it certainly hasn’t added to the creativity up front. So what’s the answer?

 

GREALISH  

Jack Grealish? That was the fan solution to the lack of goals. Most fans have still only seen him play for a couple of hours in total, and yes he’s shown a few flashes. He was a little tough on himself via Twitter after the Blackpool game saying he was “cr**” and fans were a little too scathing saying he had finally been given his chance and “blown it”, but as is so often the case with footballing arguments, the truth is probably somewhere in between “crap” and “just what the doctor ordered”.

I’m sure Blackpool weren’t happy to see he was getting a starting place over N’Zogbia (who proved his Villa career is going nowhere after coming on as a sub, getting booked, and otherwise doing very little else in his half-hour or so on the field).

 

 

Nobody is suggesting Grealish go back to picking carrots for the Villa publicity department but once again, as with the switch in team playing style, the fans got what they were screaming out for – and it didn’t go all that well. So far. So, what’s the answer?

 

WE WANT LAMBERT….

Everyone in the media and at the game on Sunday would have heard the dissent from the stands calling for Lambert to be fired. Trying to figure out why it should have started during this particular game, at this particular part of the season, isn’t all that clear. Yes, at the time the game was petering out towards a 0-0 draw against a team a division below Villa (and likely to be relegated at the ends of this season unless they can start scoring) but with fans still at odds with each other about whether he should stay (“who else would take the job?” “he’s got no money to spend” “anyone else would be struggling just the same”) or go (“he’s pi**ed away millions”, “his tactics aren’t working”, “he’s had plenty of time and nothing has improved”) this was perhaps a defining moment in the short-term future of the club.

Parents out there know what unconditional love is all about. Your kids can drive you crazy. They can drive you to despair. But they can make you feel like the happiest person in the world. What’s hard to take is when they disappoint you.  Even if you aren’t a parent yourself, you’ve probably heard your mum and dad say: “I’m disappointed in you” and it crushes to the bone.

That’s what it’s like supporting a football team – you can be the team’s biggest fan, but not be happy with how things are going because you know they can do better. And you want them to be the best they can. In the eyes of some fans, what looked like a third successive 0-0 draw against a team you would hope Villa would sweep aside comfortably, those fans were calling Villa to the living room and saying: “We need to talk about your recent behaviour…”

And Mr Lambert didn’t like that very much at all. His comments that it was “strange” after his team had shown their “dominance” of the ball (in narrowly scraping their first win in six games). He appeared to shoulder the blame, but then deflect it back to the fans in saying: “I have no problem. I have had it all my career. But it doesn’t do the lads any good… The players will be hurt by it.” So the it’s okay for fans to air their views, and he will take it like a man, but it hurts the team so maybe you should go to your rooms and think about what you did?

But if “tough love” (as opposed to pure hatred) isn’t the answer, what is?

 

WINDOW OPEN

One of the best measures of success in the Premier League is wages. You pay top dollar, you get results. Villa tried that under O’Neill and it went some way to keeping Villa ahead of the pack. The problem was while Chelsea and Man City were paying top players top money, Villa were committing above average wages to below average talent and… well, here we are.

January windows are tough to negotiate. Most of the reports linked to Villa are more about players leaving (Delph: Liverpool or Spurs, Vlaar: Napoli, Benteke: Man City) than coming in (Sinclair on loan… again) but if Lambert is now happier with his patient possession football, then he needs to do one of two things – let the players have some creative freedom or get some other ones who will fit the style better.

Fitness doesn’t look like a problem, but the cutting edge final ball still isn’t there. Vlaar leaving wouldn’t be a disaster given the form of Okore and Clark. Delph leaving probably would be a disaster, especially if it was on the cheap. And selling Benteke can’t even be considered. Joe Cole is not the long-term solution but if he can stay fit he can help. But if Lambert wants to take Villa forward using this new style, he needs to invest in just a couple of £9-10m players, on loan if he has to, to make it a lot less predictable and dull, regardless of the clean sheets and the fact Benteke will probably go ahead and keep Villa up by himself again.

Follow Adam on Twitter – @keebo00

Follow MOMS on Twitter – @oldmansaid

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