It seemed to be going well for a change but after two victories on the trot Villa crashed back to Earth suffering an emphatic 4-1 home defeat to Stoke City.
It would be all too easy to focus on the negatives again; our defensive frailties cruelly exposed for the umpteenth time this season alongside our continuing lack of creativity but on the bright side with eight games left to play you do get the feeling Villa have managed to secure Premier League survival, although by no means can we rest on our laurels. Our future is very much in our hands, it is just unfortunate that we appear to have covered them in AstroGlide.
But let’s make the somewhat dangerous assumption that we have survived yet another frustrating season where for every positive there’s been three or four negatives and consider what we can do in the future?
Regardless of our likely survival, pressure from the fans has continued to mount on manager Paul Lambert and understandably so. It isn’t just the woeful performances on the pitch but the repeated mistakes that we have failed to learn from. All too often we fall victim to the same issues that have plagued us for several seasons now and things will have to change.
As it stands the bottom ten in the Premier League are, thankfully, all roughly as bad as each other with Fulham just about being the worst of the bag of mouldy apples. Even though they did just stick four past us, we’re not really any worse than Stoke City, though we’re not any better. We need to look at ways that we can break away from this collection of misfits so that we can have a season in which we’re not looking warily over our shoulders, limping away from the glue factory.
How do we achieve this? Investment is the obvious answer but Randy Lerner is long past the age when he would have chucked money at us. Lambert has been given reasonable but not extravagant budgets and chose to purchase unproven players – some of whom have made the cut, the bulk of which have not; somewhat akin to a Lidl version of Martin O’Neill.
The most likely scenario for a large cash injection comes from selling Benteke. Much to the chagrin of most of us, our big Belgian brute is unlikely to resist the overtures that will soon be coming his way from the league’s elite, particularly if he were to prove himself on the world stage in Brazil this summer. A fee of £25m+ would almost certainly be demanded from Villa’s management and we would hope that the bulk would return for investment on players.
The question, therefore, is do we trust Lambert to spend sensibly this time? In the January transfer window, Lambert finally said what we all wanted to hear and that he intended to bring in some experienced players – he then went and brought in Ryan Bertrand and Grant Holt on loan. While the former has been solid, if not overly impressive, Holt has been much as we expected him to be – a complete and utter waste of time. We may have brought others in were not Lambert so persistent over Wes Hoolahan, another signing many of us would have raised our eyebrows at in bemusement.
His record in the transfer market leaves a lot to be desired and thus I’m personally sceptical over whether supplying him with a warchest, whether from the proceeds of a Benteke sale, or due to a Mr Burns-esque Pillsbury Doughboy incident, would yield better results than it has thus far.
However, if we were to dismiss Lambert immediately we have to pay out compensation reducing any potential funds, find yet another new manager (and I think we’re long past the days of looking flirtatiously toward Carlo Ancelotti) and go through another rebuilding process that will most likely condemn us to yet another season like those that now appear to be the norm for Aston Villa, unless Lerner decided to back any new boss with a significant reinvestment in the club but I think that is too much to hope for.
It is a case of you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. Villa have managed to tunnel themselves into prison and the tunnel has collapsed behind them. Perhaps the most we can hope for is that this “exciting, youth-driven squad” just clicks next season and we can write this all off as a bad dream? Whatever happens, as it stands, we need a new centre-back, a new creative midfielder and a solid left-back… I feel like I’m repeating myself here but that may be because we’ve needed this for at least three years now.