So, another season draws to a close. And what a crazy season it was. Here’s my review. Get yourself a beverage, put your feet up and have a read…
I should start by saying that it’s quite difficult to write this the day after being at Wembley. Hopes dashed and an abject performance (in fact no sort of performance at all). However, this was just one game, and our season was about more than just yesterday.
From day one in August I was a worried human man/person. With Lambert in charge, it always felt like another relegation battle was on the cards. And so it proved. However, our start was a pleasant surprise, none more so than the 1-0 win at Anfield, even if it was a backs to the wall kind of performance. Ten points from the opening four league games was a great return, but I think we all felt that we were in a false position at this point. A bit like Robbie Savage on Match of The Day – just get rid of him.
The 1-0 home reverse to giants (not) Leyton Orient in the League Cup was a reality check. Our run of six league defeats in a row (even though against some of the bigger fish in the Premier League pond) was even more of one. In the first five of these defeats, we mustered a magical zero goals. This was to become a depressing feature of Lambert’s reign.
A semblance of stability followed with three draws, followed by two sneaky back to back wins, away at Palace and at home against Leicester. How we needed these. It was particularly encouraging to see Benteke bagging at Palace, and what a delicious goal it was too. The equivalent for me of battered Halloumi with some garlic mayonnaise, and a generous side serving of triple cooked chips. I enjoyed that goal.
The festive period brought a meagre points return as usual, with a nauseous 1-0 defeat at WBA and two bore draws at home v Palace and Sunderland. This was about the time when our beloved national press decided to name us ‘Aston Villa nil’, and to be fair we couldn’t really disagree. Supporting Villa at Christmas is akin to opening a present as a kid and expecting it to be something amazing (like some battered halloumi), only for it to turn out to be a framed photograph of Robbie Savage or Steve Bruce. In short, its woeful and you wonder what you are doing with your life. It makes Christmas shopping seem fun, and that’s saying something, especially for me.
The narrow 1-0 over Blackpool in the FA Cup third round did not point to the glorious run to follow in that famous old competition – in fact if someone had told me that day that we would reach the final, I would have laughed in their face, quite loudly. Apologies if I did do this to any of you, I can’t remember as I tend to like a few beers around the festive season.
Sandwiched between another four league defeats to Leicester, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea was an unexpected 2-1 home win in the FA Cup fourth round against Bournemouth. I say unexpected because the Cherries were flying high in the Championship and had won national acclaim for their brand of attacking and free flowing football. They had won 8-0 at Birmingham City earlier in the season (I had to get that in), and the amazing statistic was widely circulated at the time that this meant they had scored more goals in Birmingham than Villa at this point in the season! How we laughed. However, a quite wonderful goal from Carles Gil put us on the road to the fifth round. Now we could start to believe.
Our 5-0 defeat at Arsenal on 1st February had many Villa fans scratching their heads as to how Lambert was keeping hold of his job. I for one was incredulous. We were playing with no confidence, no flair or guile, and were not even getting near the opposition goal.
A narrow 2-1 reverse at home to Chelsea was followed by an abject 2-0 defeat at Hull. The next day I received the welcome news that Lambert had been dismissed. I will always remember what I was doing when this happened (I was eating some chips).
As usual various names were linked with the vacancy but we ended up with someone I think hardly any of us wanted or expected – Mr Timothy Sherwood. At least he brought some passion. Suddenly, results started to improve. We started scoring goals. The 4-0 win at Sunderland was perhaps the highlight, especially as this game was somewhat of a six pointer at the time. Tim told us that he needed five league wins from the remaining 13 league games to have any chance of staying up. And by hook or by crook (I don’t even know what that means), we got them, as well as beating Leicester in the FA Cup fifth round at Villa Park.
Interspersed with this run was a balmy night at Villa Park where we put the Baggies to the sword, culminating in a pitch invasion which provoked such a ridiculous overreaction in the national press that it seemed we were being accused of dragging football back 30 years. In reality the FA must take some responsibility for allowing this game to kick off at 17:30 on a Saturday. There was always likely to be tension, allowing fans to consume more alcohol. Yes, those that invaded the pitch before then end of the 90 minutes were a bit silly, but the reaction to these events was draconian and over the top.
Then there was Wembley (part one). Its hard to describe the emotions of that particular day – those of you who were there will know exactly what it was like. A performance full of passion, verve and vigour, and a gorgeous team move leading to Delph’s winner and some incredible scenes(© Rob Carter 2015), the likes of which I haven’t experienced in some time.
I won’t dwell on the final here – at the moment it’s too raw. What I will say is that yesterday, coupled with the last two league games, have shown that there is a hell of a lot of work to do for Tim in the summer. As a minimum we need at least 7 or 8 new players, and some of the deadwood needs to be cleared out. Lets hope a new buyer can be found quickly, allowing Tim to work some magic in the transfer market.
And what of the playing/managerial staff? Here’s my feeling on how they rated this season.
Brad Guzan – lost his place towards the end of the season but overall I think he was pretty solid. Kicking sometimes a little suspect. 7/10.
Nathan Baker – silly beard but some decent displays. Injuries disrupted his campaign. 6/10.
Ron Vlaar – I can’t be doing with this bloke. He lets us down far too often and is found wanting when faced with real class (or against Stoke, who have as much class as Robbie Savage). Get rid, bye bye. 2/10.
Jores Okore – I like you sir, I like your face. Solid season. 7/10.
Ciaran Clark – love him. He’s everything Vlaar isn’t. Will be captain if Delph leaves. 8/10.
Leandro Bacuna – I like your style Leo. Badly treated by Lambert. 7/10.
Tom Cleverly – I wasn’t too bothered when we signed him, but some stellar performances and three goals in three games ensured some good press and hopefully we will make the move permanent. 8/10.
Scott Sinclair – I am giving him 10/10 just because of his goal against the Baggies. I’m like that.
Andreas Weimann – poor goal return and Tim clearly isn’t a fan. Not good enough, and if we can get decent money I would move him on. 3/10.
Gabby Agbonlahor – oh Gabby, you keep doing it to us don’t you (or not doing it). We are stuck with him. A fading force. 5/10.
Joe Cole – I don’t have anything to say on this one. 2/10.
Philippe Senderos – we saw him at Wembley yesterday and he blanked us. 0/10.
Ashley Westwood – like a reliable old car, he keeps ticking over. Fill him with the wrong oil though and he may explode into a massive fireball. I don’t know what that means. 6/10.
Fabian Delph – I love you. 9/10
Kieran Richardson – Please leave and take your top-knot with you - 3/10
Alan Hutton – like a phoenix from the flames. And that phoenix is a strapping Scotch mentalist who likes a tackle and a red card. Pleasant surprise. 7/10.
Aly Cissokho – nope. 2/10.
Carlos Sanchez – nope. 2/10.
Carles Gil –the emergence of young master Jack has held the Spanish magician back. Touches of genius. 7/10.
Charles N’Zogbia – I don’t understand why he gets a game. 3/10.
Shay Given – show him the door. 4/10.
Matt Lowton – I like him but he must have upset Randy because he never gets a look in. 4/10.
Christian Benteke – he deserves as much credit as Tim for keeping us up, no doubt about it. Destined for greatness. 8/10.
Jack Grealish – what a young footballer should be. Verve, swagger, crazy hair and socks rolled down. A young Gazza. More of the same next season please. 8/10.
Paul Lambert – the personality of a soggy dishcloth and the results to match. 0/10.
Tim Sherwood – love his passion, has a big summer ahead and needs to improve the playing squad massively. Not the game’s greatest tactician but hopefully this will improve as he gains more experience. 7/10.
To conclude, here are my season highs and lows.
Favourite game – has to be the semi at Wembley.
Worst game – a toss up between Arsenal away and QPR away. Saints was just ridiculous, and Leicester away was also abysmal. I would have to go with the 5-0 drubbing at The Emirates. Woeful.
Favourite goal – Scott Sinclair against the Baggies. Scenes.
Most annoying goal(s) conceded – the five in the first half at Southampton. Ridiculous and inept.
Favourite stadium – Wembley.
Least favourite stadium – Palace. Stuck in the 1970s.
Favourite player – Fabian Delph. Captain fantastic (except for yesterday).
Least favourite player – Ron Vlaar.
Best Fans – Aston Villa (especially away).
Worst fans – Arsenal. Football is not equivalent to a visit to the opera – it’s about passion and getting involved. This lot do neither. Apathetic.
All in all, it’s been a rollercoaster, and it’s been emotional. We’ve been through it all, and I for one can’t wait until August when it all starts again.
See you all soon – keep the faith. We support the mighty Aston Villa Football Club and they can’t keep us down forever.
Follow Rob on twitter @robcarter82