The last of the “bloody hell” run of fixtures is out of the way, and Liverpool game aside it hasn’t gone well. After another poor display with few chances made and no goals scored, what can Villa fans take away from the game at Goodison, the choice of players used and the treatment of a former Villa favourite?
Villa fans certainly hold a grudge. Former Villa captain Gareth Barry made 441 appearances in a Villa shirt and scored 52 goals but that was put to one side as he was booed sporadically throughout the game at Goodison Park.
The resentment stems back to 2008 and his wanting to leave the club for Liverpool where he could play alongside his good friend Steven Gerrard and compete in the Champions League. When his move was refused, then Villa manager Martin O’Neill stripped him of the captaincy, fined him and banned him from training. While the captaincy was eventually restored, the rift was too large to overcome and eventually Barry moved to Manchester City.
Despite writing a heartfelt open letter published in the Birmingham Mail thanking the Villa fans, his claims of wanting to leave to play on the highest stage in club football (City weren’t involved at that point) led to accusations he was just leaving for the money. More recently, if it’s true Villa were trying to re-sign him either on loan from Manchester City or at the end of his contract he further upset fans by choosing Everton over his former team.
There are certainly more disliked ex-Villa players in the club’s history, and even David Platt was booed by some when he came back with Arsenal after years in Italy. And God forbid any player with any connection to Birmingham City show up at Villa park and expect a warm welcome. But Villa fans won’t forget if they decide you’ve crossed them.
HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING ABOUT THE BOMB SQUAD
Jack Grealish was recently rewarded for largely his potential with a new contract – yet couldn’t make the bench for the trip to Everton. Instead, former bomb-squadder Charles N’Zogbia was given another chance to impress… and the consensus among fans seems to be that he did not.
N’Zogbia was subbed after an hour after making very little impression and was included in a list of players Paul Lambert blamed as potential goal-scorers who weren’t doing their job. It was an unusually scathing post-match rant from Lambert who typically blames bad luck, highlights the positives, and wants to move on.
“We got what we deserved” he said. “I don’t think we did enough to win the game… We had to be better… we weren’t at it… It’s probably the first game since the start of the season where we have come away thinking we have never really turned up to a game and justified ourselves” before more predictably: “You try to win the next game… There’s a long way to go… you have to put that to bed…”
Back to Grealish. It seems like getting what is essentially a promotion, a rise and the backing of your boss means you have to start working harder. Lambert was quoted as saying: “It’s time for [Grealish] to knuckle down and force his way in.” Which means he has to work harder than… N’Zogbia? A player hardly renowned for his work ethic, and since he signed for Villa as a cut-price replacement for Ashley Young, a player barely renowned for anything (except that free kick against West Ham).
It was reported that Gabby’s booking for a foul on Baines in the Everton game was meant as a demonstration to N’Zogbia of what was expected of him.
Motivation comes from many things, and Villa fans will be hoping Grealish can learn from Lambert’s challenge to replace the Frenchman in the starting XI. A cynic might think N’Zogbia is being put in the shop window rather than left unexposed in the stiffs after some up-and-down performances of late, albeit in the midst of a very tough run of fixtures.
It should also be noted that Grealish was instrumental during the 3-0 win in the “Benteke comeback game” in the U-21’s against Bolton. More to follow on that game next…
Christian Benteke played an hour of a reserve game, scored a goal, and was deemed ready for 30 minutes of action against Manchester City. Jores Okore also played in that same reserves game against Bolton, but played the full 90 minutes. He also played the full 90 minutes of a U-21 international of great importance for Denmark against Iceland. Yet neither he nor Grealish were considered worth a gamble against Everton. Even Joe Cole, who played in that same U-21 game against Bolton made a cameo appearance against Everton this weekend.
And yet when Nathan Baker went down injured, the call the bench was made and on came… Ciaran Clark. “[Okore] has played U21 football but I’m not quite sure he’s ready to go into this environment just yet,” said Lambert.
Okore has yet to play a single minute this season and has only made the match day squad twice. While the rumours persist about Vlaar leaving, Senderos crocked for a while longer and Baker out with a hamstring injury, perhaps Okore will have to wait until it’s an absolute necessity to make it into the starting team, while watching Cole and Benteke are considered fit enough and ready for action after arguably less rehabilitation than the young Dane. Okore and Villa fans have learned the hard way: the manager picks the team. End of.
“I am not walking away. No chance. No chance. This is a big club. I love working for it. I’m proud to be the manager.”
A hard lesson to learn for ex-BCFC manager Lee Clark.