Supporting Aston Villa is like the back pages of the tabloid press after an England defeat. Filled with disappointment, bitterness and resentment. Unrealistic expectations shipwrecked on the rocks of frustration, but when emotion is removed, it’s not surprising that Villa find themselves in the predicament they’re in.
A bright start to the season, following last seasons ‘difficult’ campaign, brought with it another false dawn but reality soon slapped everyone involved with the club squarely in the chops when results began to nose dive. Dropped points, missed opportunities and down right incompetence establishing itself firmly and squarely. Only three wins since September in all competitions speaks for itself but more frustrating than results, performances have been frankly abysmal. Particularly at home. And this is the main bone of contention Villa fans are now have with manager Paul Lambert. At Villa Park there seems to be a lack of… anything really. No technical ability, no creativity, and no clear system outside of hoof ball. A light weight midfield allowing pretty much every other team in the league (and one or two below) to completely control games and dictate play. Who is to blame for all this is where it all becomes slightly more cloudy. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say half of the players in the first team squad are just not at a Premier League standard technically or mentally. But this isn’t their fault. Who would pass up an offer of a pay rise and the chance to play in the Premier League for an established and historic club. I know I wouldn’t, and I’m damn sure you wouldn’t too. So the players can’t really be blamed for there own abilities, or lack of, or the fact 50% of the squad are out of there depth. This is the offspring of circumstance and the belt tightening that followed. This is thanks to the five year plan, that only lasted just over 3, with the sudden departure of ‘he who cannot be named’ (Martin O’Neill). Ironically walking out on the club because of the unavailability of funds from the James Milner sale, O’Neill spent bucket loads of cash on ageing has-beens on extortionate wages for relatively little success. Its unsurprising that chairman Randy Learner wanted to balance the books, and now life on a shoestring at Villa Park is bringing little enjoyment to fans. Its unfortunate that if you can only afford to pay wages of championship quality players, sooner or later you’re going to end up in the championship.
So where does this leave Paul Lambert? When any club finds themselves in a bad run of form, or teetering on the brink of relegation, or just plain and simple not living up to expectations, then the finger of accusation inevitably ends up pointing at the ‘gaffer’. To an extent, Lambert’s hands are tied. There is only so much you can achieve on a modest budget and with strict wage caps in place attracting decent talent can be difficult. It must be mentioned that despite the financial restrictions he has unearthed some decent players. Benteke, Westwood, Vlaar, & Bacuna have all had moments of quality. Unfortunately though, for every Benteke, there’s a Scylla, so Lambert’s ‘throw enough shit’ policy is suffering from having to deal with everything that doesn’t stick. Also, he must have been aware of the circumstances at the club when he took the job, so budget excuses only go so far. Lambert has proven qualities as a manger doing great things at Colchester and Norwich but it seems the situation at Villa has just got the better of him. The tight purse strings, the expectation and a few unlucky long term injuries have made his Villa project unachievable. Paul Lambert is a decent manager in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So what now? The poor run over December has seen the Villa faithful begin to turn on there manager. And some are braying for blood. Villa need a manger who can get the best out of average players. Someone who can build a solid unit and build a competent squad on a humble budget. Unfortunately so does pretty much every other club in the country so these elusive managers are few and far between. To get rid of Lambert now would leave the club with very little suitable options available. To keep him could encourage the slide to continue. It feels like it may be a while before the grass is green again at Villa Park.