THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

10 April ~ Another key skirmish in what the Guardian thinks is "history’s toughest relegation battle" takes place at Villa Park today. Newcastle United are the visitors, led by a Joey Barton who has blatantly attempted to curry favour with Villa fans by slagging off Gareth Barry.  Thanks Joey, but it won’t make you any more loveable. The staccato nature of Premier League fixture scheduling prolongs the tension that comes with being at the wrong end of the table. Aston Villa played just two league matches in March, and will play just once a week for the remaining seven weeks. Fans fill these yawning gaps between games with a range of emotions spanning panic and anger, fear, frustration and disbelief.

In Villa’s case, Gérard Houllier has become the focus of many of these emotions. Contrary to the simple "Houllier Out" story that parts of the media would no doubt prefer, fans are not unanimous in their opposition to the manager. The typical Villa supporter’s outlook on Houllier is shaped by their view of his predecessor’s legacy. Martin O’Neill was regarded with affection by most supporters, but there were many who didn’t care for his dogged preference of a core group of players who were over used to the detriment of squad development. These fans who welcome the emergence of new talents also tend to prefer Houllier’s less rigid and more expansive footballing ethos.

But a majority of Villans didn’t have a problem with O’Neill’s style and they are struggling to understand how the team can be in this situation after three consecutive sixth-place finishes. Houllier’s more vocal critics say that he has misjudged the fans and unsettled key players, especially those that most enjoyed the favour of O’Neill. Unfortunately for Gérard, the loudest complaints and biggest banners are coming from the Holte End, which is the first place that the snappers point their lenses.

There are, of course, some negatives that all Villa fans would agree on, such as Houllier’s ill-judged comments following the defeat at Liverpool in December and the virtual concession of the FA Cup fifth round tie at Man City before a ball had even been kicked. Houllier has been too slow to accept that Villa have been mired in trouble since Christmas, and it is generally agreed that fielding players out of position for no good reason – Agbonlahor for Albrighton on the wing, Delph for Warnock at left-back – is unlikely to yield results.

Another thing that Villa fans can agree on is that if this team ends up going down, it will be fully deserved. Newcastle may have lost on their last three visits to Villa Park but they did put six goals past Brad Friedel at St James’ in August and today's game is too close to call. Far easier to predict one less Liverpool supporter on the Villa bench next season. Colin Peel

Comments (5)
Comment by The Exploding Vole 2011-04-10 21:01:41

Haven't read the Guardian, but why does it think this is "history's toughest relegation battle"?

Comment by bearlion 2011-04-11 11:48:13

O'Neill - for walking out on us when it would cause maximum disruption; putting questionable players on massive wages.

Houllier - for playing players out of position as mentioned (and you can add Ashley Young in the middle to that); the Liverpool debacle; alienating senior players.

Players - for not taking preseason seriously (getting battered in Dublin, turning up overweight); not defending properly; getting battered and rowing with the coaching staff; generally seeming not to care at times.

Media - a riduculously blinkered following of the cult of Martin O'Neill.

Luck - massive injury problems autumn/winter; deflected goals conceded; woodwork strikes (although I'm doing that from feel as I can't find any stats).

Comment by JimDavis 2011-04-11 14:27:12

I blame Jeremy Peace

Comment by donedmundo 2011-04-11 15:35:10

O'Neill - Walked out when he and the chairman had a fundamental disagreement over new signings. O'Neill's views were proved right when we stumped up a club record fee to buy Darren Bent.

Houllier - Wrong man, wrong place, wrong time.

Players - Trying to play as the manager wanted; failed.

Media - I have yet to see David Conn (or any other journo) turn out for the Villa.

Luck - Can't find any stats because there are none. Villa are no more and no less unlucky over 32 matches than anyone else.

Board - No-one ever seems to address this. Everyone loves Randy. A bit naive when it comes to proper football. In the PL if you don't spend you go backwards. Need to face up to this uncomfortable fact.

Comment by Wobs 2011-04-11 16:23:59

Re "history's toughest relegation battle" - there have been a number of articles noting that the points per game of each team in a relegation place is (to round 31) higher than it has ever been for a 38-game league. The most recent piece was a lengthy Sunday Times article on April 3 which would have been linked except that it's behind their paywall. The Guardian piece is a few weeks older.

Re Luck, you make your own as they say. Everton were down to bare bones last week but Villa failed to capitalise.

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