Looking back on the season and a half or so of Paul Lamberts reign we have seen some shifts in his philosophy and playing styles. A season and half, it seems so much longer, maybe because our last 3 managers and 1 interim mgr. lasted 2 seasons.
Let’s look at the start in the USA. I didn’t get to see the game against Philly, but saw a very nice goal by Delfouneso. In Chicago Villa just passed around them. In the first half it was one way traffic and the players took a lot of long range shots, but a lovely move ended with an Agbonlahor header for the only goal. Indeed, Gabby was the best player on the field, but he was way too quick for the Chicago defenders who mis-timed so many tackles. At half time I went on the Villa Mad board and moaned that the way Gabby was being fouled he needed to be rested, especially with Bent out injured. I was proved right ten minutes later, with Weimann waiting to replace him on the touchline another foul sent Gabby off via the stretcher.
Next to Portland and Villa were lucky to win on penalties after a 2-2 draw. It was all Villa in the first half, but the Villa players were obviously under strict instructions not to hoof the ball, but to play out of defence and Portland played a high pressure game in the second half, culminating in 2 goals until Lambert had to take the reins off Guzan and let him launch long balls until they got the equalizer from a corner.
Villa started the season at West Ham. Newly promoted Hammers looked second best to the confident Villa side who just passed around them. The Hammers saw Villa linked everything through El Ahmadi and began to squeeze him and use its obvious physical presence to overpower Villa.
Next game and Delfouneso immediately went into Lamberts bad books by missing a glorious chance in the 1st minute. Vlaar failed to close Pienaar down and he hit a superb shot that could have gone either side of the post, but went Everton’s way. Given was next in the bad books with 2 poor goals going past him and with his possibly being at fault in West Ham’s goal the previous week, he was going too. Villa was still trying to pass, but Everton just used Naismith to pressurize the midfield and defenders into mistakes and Villa were out of this by halftime.
So began the hoofball and when Benteke arrived at the end of the transfer window it was in full force.
Not to say there weren’t great moments. Villa passed Albion off the field at the Hawthornes later in the season for the first half and seemed to be strolling the game then a strange substitution of N’Zogbia freed up Albion to begin a good comeback. At Everton Villa did the same failing to hold on after taking off N’Zogbia. There were great passes from Westwood to set up goals at home to Liverpool and at Norwich. Lowton’s superb pass against Sunderland and his tremendous winner at Stoke showed the side could play.
Even the 3 horrible games at Christmas showed signs that a team was in there. At Chelsea, Villa weren’t as awful as the 8-0 loss suggested. Had Villa lost 1-0 at Chelsea and Albion 8-0 in their Stamford Bridge visit it would have been just as reasonable given the chances the Londoners had in each game.
Wigan pulled Villa apart, but Villa seemed to have weathered the storm but got hit by two strikes against the run of play in the second half to add to their early goal. Spurs could have been 4 up at half time, but went in scoreless, then Villa began playing good football but Gareth Bale had one of those perfect games and heads dropped at 2-0 then let in 2 more.
Other heartbreaks in games Villa were dominating at home the Man City, home to Liverpool and at Southampton. Home losses to Southampton and Newcastle should have been points for Villa the way it pressed at the end of the game.
This season looked bright for Villa but after playing fairly well at Arsenal and winning then losing unfairly at Chelsea. Liverpool, was like the Liverpool home game of last season where Villa should have earned a draw, but soon the losses came and the passing game has all but disappeared and it is all hoof ball.
Sure there are moments still, but they are few and far between now. There seems to be no movement to employ a decent passing game and Villa’s youth players seem to be given no shot to beat out the slightly older youth players Lambert brought in.
There no longer seems to be a direction and the failure to bring in a decent creative midfielder in all this time, despite there being so many players out there that could help even using Lamberts criteria of being young and ambitious has really hurt the side.
Lambert needs to either stand up to Faulkner and get a decent priced player or two for next season, that won’t break the bank, but won’t be on Championship wages OR if money hasn’t been the problem, then Lerner should force him to find such players or find someone that can.
On the whole, though this isn’t working and the fans are voting and the empty seats are winning. He’s had decent crowds for such poor football and far less booing than Houllier and McLeish endured, but every fan that stops attending is placing another nail in the coffin.