Not to take away from Rich’s most recent post, but lost among Chelsea’s guerrilla tactics on Tuesday was the fact Aston Villa choked a lead away and lost, at home, to relegation candidates Bolton.
So, with three games left, Aston Villa are just three points above the drop. And if Mark Schwarzer’s parry hadn’t fallen to the feet of Andreas Weimann at the death last month, they would be one point above the drop, with three matches left.
Let me repeat that:
Aston Villa could easily be one point above the relegation zone with three matches left.
How the heck did we get here? From Staurt James of theguardian
Extraordinary not because McLeish came from Villa’s rivals, Birmingham City. Extraordinary because McLeish had just suffered his second relegation with Birmingham in three Premier League seasons. And extraordinary because he is synonymous with a brand of football that, to borrow the former Villa manager Graham Taylor’s recent description, “looks [like] you are preparing a side not to lose”.
This season has been abysmal and the statistics make for painful reading. Villa have won only seven league matches all season, the lowest in the division with the exception of already relegated Wolverhampton Wanderers. Only Wigan have scored fewer than the 19 goals Villa have managed in 18 home fixtures. McLeish’s side have won only four league games at Villa Park and just one in the past five months [ed note: thanks Mark!], meaning that they are guaranteed to finish the season with the worst home record in the club’s history.
Against that backdrop, it is little wonder that there is so much apathy surrounding the club. There were 10,000 empty seats inside Villa Park for the Bolton game, which has been a common theme this season. Villa’s average attendance is 33,755, which is more than 6,000 down on the peak of four years ago and nine per cent down on last season, when Gérard Houllier’s side flirted with relegation…In fact more fans watched Villa in David O’Leary’s last season, when the club finished 16th and supporters held up a banner that said: “We’re not fickle, we just don’t like you.”
It’s easy to blame McLeish for Villa’s faults, which some of them are, but it’s been a combination of injuries and paucity of experience that is dooming this club.
What’s remarkable about the club is they only have 4 players over 30, (in comparison, we have 10). The average age of their starters is just 24.
So when Richard Dunne and Darren Bent are out for the season in February, the likes of 21-year old Nathan Baker, 23-year olds Eric Lichaj and Chris Herd, and 20-year old Andreas Weimann get called upon to fill in. Not to mention relying on 22-year olds Marc Albrighton, Barry Bannan, and Ciaran Clark anyway.
Add into this equation the fact that over the summer,Villa lost Nigel Reo-Coker, John Carew, Brad Freidel, Stuart Downing, Ashley Young, and Luke Young (the first three were released, the last three sold), only to be replaced with Shay Given, Charles N’Zogbia, and Alan Hutton, and you could see that trouble could easily flare up.
To blame McLeish for Villa’s fault is only portion of the story yet seems to be the entire story. What should be looked at as an exemplary yet dangerous transition to a youth/academy squad, is being overshadowed by dirge and doom. One could look at chairman Randy Lerner looking to gut the squad, sell off any assets, and hire an unpopular manager to shield any criticism; but the flip-side of attempting to rebuild for the future with a promising core is just as easily viewable. Heck, if Jol signed the likes of Bannan, Albrighton, et al, I’d be ecstatic.
McLeish’s goal that the media refuses to perceive is similar to that of Martin Jol’s: reduce the wage and age bill. Jol has found success partially because he’s been able to rely on the old guard. McLeish has no remaining old guard to speak of.
Needless to say, this summer will be interesting. I hope Villa don’t make it an omen.