|Don’t expect to see Houllier smiling too much this season.
Well, here we are after a far from entertaining, lifeless and lackluster second city derby ended 0-0. As an Aston Villa fan it speaks volumes for the way things are going at the moment, and perhaps how our fortunes will pan out over the next season.
As usual, I was optimistic about Sundays’ game and with 6 wins out of the last 6 matches against Birmingham, why wouldn’t I be!? However, as the game continued I never truly felt that Villa were going to score. Certainly this is a feeling I have experienced this season already. Some may say the 0-0 draw with Chelsea was a good result (I for one will not, given the chances we had during the game). Similarly at the Stadium of Light, not once did I think that we possessed the conviction or even ability to get a goal. So why are Aston Villa playing such negative football at the moment?
Gerard Houlliers’ appointment as Villa manager did not excite me in the slightest. I’m as optimistic as it is possible to be when it comes to Villa, but I could/can not see light at the end of the tunnel. Nothing for me will beat the excitement of seeing Martin O’Neill roll up at Villa Park back in 2006 to take over the broken reigns that David O’Dreary had left behind. I felt that O’Neill’s departure was the correct decision, what more could he do for the club? Without doubt I would questions the timing of his decision; one that has perhaps set the tone to the season so far.
Houllier has inherited some outstanding players to work with. I look at young talents like Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and Mark Albrighton and combine them with the experience of Stylian Petrov, Brad Friedel and Richard Dunne and think that we always have a chance against any opponent in the Premier League. It now seems however that we are blunt, deflated and quickly running out of ideas. The 0-0 draw with Birmingham optimizing such thoughts. 3 (yes 3) attempts on target at home for me is simply awful in comparison to the 6 attempts that Birmingham produced. Similarly, to only force one corner in 93 minutes suggests that perhaps we are not clicking. Take nothing away from Birmingham, they defended well and limited our chances in front of goal, but to play in such a manner at Home I just do not think is good enough. Ashley Young rarely tested the aging frame of Stephen Carr, perhaps because he was playing in his new ‘In The Hole’ role, one that limits the creativity and flare that enables him to beat most full backs in the country. Stephen Warnock playing on the left win just didn’t work for me. Whilst I think he is a very useful defender, I don’t believe he had any place in such a demanding area of the field. Finally, Emile Heskey showed once again that he simply does not have the ability to cut it at this level any more. He looked lethargic and at times confused, and much like a Giraffe chasing a beach ball, he simply couldn’t get the ball under control! Villa’s narrow style of play meant that he got his fair share of the ball, but quite simply he did nothing with it.
The list of negatives continues for Villa, when we learn that our one solitary signing of the summer (Stephen Ireland) was left out because of some questionable performance of late. The BBC’s Phil McNulty discusses this decision in his blog (Link). I think the decision to leave him out in such an important match was certainly a bold one, but perhaps not the correct one. I believe that Stephen Ireland’s presence on the field today would have unsettled Birmingham. Undoubtedly Ireland’s move has come with it’s problems. He has had to adapt to Houllier’s style of play, and has also seen a change in management that cannot have had a positive impact on him. The answer to this I believe is to play him, particularly in such games as this one where adrenaline alone must be enough to coax the best out of him!
The next month or so will see Villa face the likes of Fulham (A), Blackpool (H), Man Utd and Arsenal (H) and Liverpool (A). If Houllier decides that recent results have been satisfactory and that Villa’s style of play has been effective then I cannot see Villa taking more than 4 points from these 4 games. Lets hope that my analytical skills as a Villa fan are quite wrong! The Premier League table is very tight at the moment, with 3 points separating 9th and 19th place. I would hate to see Villa return to the days of David O’Dreary; that is settling for a place in the middle/bottom half of the table. The once evident gulf in class between Premier League teams is slowly changing (perhaps with the exception of Chelsea), and lets hope that Gerard Houllier’s negative style of play changes with it! Only time will tell…