Ever since the 9th August 2010, when Martin O’Neill waved farewell to Villa Park, I became encased by a suffocating claret and blue depression. With subsequent managerial appointments of Gerard Houllier, and the uninspiring Alex McLeish, my knuckle was poised and ready to knock on the door of a psychiatrist.
Time however is a healer and with the announcement of Paul Lambert, being the man chosen to lead our 2012-13 campaign, I opened up the curtains and dusted off my old Tony Daley Villa shirt.
It is true that many football pundits have tipped Aston Villa to struggle this season, most notably Mr Robbie Savage. This is a man, of course, that has had a long running feud with Villa’s fans after being involved, for the opposition, in several heated Midland’s derbies.
Villa Park, back in 2003, acted as the pinnacle for these frosty affairs when Robbie Savage became the victim of a Dion Dublin head butt when playing for fierce rivals Birmingham City. It therefore acts as no surprise that the male ‘Barbie’ is now having his ‘fun’ with the Villa faithful.
I can’t deny that Villa have capitulated badly since knocking on the Champions League door with O’Neil at the helm. Seasons past have seen an exodus in prized assets such as Barry, Milner and Young. Under the McLeish regime you needed a telescope in the Holte End to keep track of the high balls, but not any more.
At Carrow Road last season, when Lambert was still boss of Norwich City, the travelling Villa contingent chanted his name constantly. Now that they have their man a wash of mild optimism is filling Villa Park.
Paul Lambert may not have purchased any so called ‘big names’ during the transfer window, but what he has signed, in his own words, is ‘young, hungry raw talent.’
Lambert is no fool, as his managerial record thus far shows; he also knows the lower divisions inside out from his days spent with Colchester and Norwich. Right back Lowton, signed from Sheffield United, has already scored a contender for goal of the season against Swansea.
Sprinkled around the youth, Lambert brought in international quality in Vlaar, El Ahmadi, and Benteke. ‘Concrete Ron’ Vlaar has already become a fans favourite, El Ahmadi is accomplished on the ball and dictates the midfield and Christian Benteke will be a handful for most Premiership defences having scored on his debut.
But it’s not just the cliental that Lambert has changed, Villa’s mentality has transformed.
No player better sums up the Lambert philosophy ‘if you haven’t got the ball you can’t play’ than Villa’s ‘running man’ Brett Holman. Instilled is a desire, passion and ‘hunger’ that hasn’t been witnessed in a claret and blue shirt for a while.
But most pleasing of all for Villa is the change in football style, summed up by away fans at Newcastle chanting, ‘we’re Aston Villa, we’re passing the ball!’ Shay Given and Brad Guzan no longer have to wait for McLeish’s call of ‘pull’ before hoofing the ball skywards.
Under Lambert you will notice that Given and Guzan pass the ball out to the back four as Villa aim to build from the back.
The refreshing air of attacking possession football is already showing signs of fruition.
Villa dominated possession (55%-45%) at the Etihad when they knocked Man City out of the ‘Capital One’ Cup. Despite some claims that West Brom were the better side, during last Sunday’s 1-1 derby draw, the statistics paint a more accurate and telling picture.
Villa owned the lions share of possession 57%-43% and had 21 shots compared to Albion’s 14.
People must remember that we are only six games into the season. Aston Villa has a lot of new players still getting used to playing with one another. They also have youngest squad in the Premier League.
It is just a matter of time before this ‘raw, hungry’ team click and realise the managers vision. In Lambert I trust.
I would happily wager, with either Mr Savage or Mr Bellamy, that come the end of the season Aston Villa are not embroiled in a relegation battle? I haven’t been this excited to be a Villa fan since we signed Stan Collymore in 1997.
image: © ell brown