At the beginning of the season, I tipped Aston Villa to push its way into the top half of the table. All started well with an improbable victory at the Emirates and a highly controversial 2-1 loss at Stamford Bridge. But beginning that Saturday in a loss to Liverpool at Villa Park, Paul Lambert’s side have been less than convincing at home and have, after a promising start, plunged again too close to the relegation zone for comfort.
The philosophy at Villa has been clear since Paul Lambert took over in the summer of 2012. Build through youth academy products and bargain buys of younger players from the lower divisions of English football and from less fancied leagues on the continent.
But Villa has been nothing short of woeful on home turf. Scoring just seven goals in ten league games (three of which came in a 20 minute spell during a September victory over Manchester City). Meanwhile Christian Benteke, secured long-term to the club at great cost, has been missing in action. Andreas Weimann has been poor all season long while prodigal son Gabriel Agbonlahor has been maddeningly inconsistent throughout the past two seasons.
The club has taken just one point from its last five Premier League matches and enters the January transfer window with arguably more obvious weaknesses than just about any other Premier League side outside the bottom three.
Lambert’s tactics and substitution patterns have become more scrutinized as the club fails to either entertain or get results. One such odd change was made on Boxing Day against Crystal Palace when Libor Kozak was removed for Jordan Bowery, a player who has never scored a goal in the top two divisions of English football. That Villa then got caught out on a counter-attack for Dwight Gayle’s late winner was even crueler punishment.
All the while anxiety is growing around the club’s supporters. Each Villa home game sees greater skepticism and more boos and hisses from the Villa Park crowd. Lambert, for his part, acknowledges the struggle stating:
“Football is about giving people something to cheer. We’re doing everything we can to keep building what we want to try and do. I’m a million miles short of what I want to do with the club.
“Personally I know what it’s like because I’ve played with big clubs as a footballer. I was never exempt from criticism.
“I remember my first few games at Celtic, I lost them. People were saying go back to Dortmund, 60,000 or whatever it was. Until I bedded myself in and got a grip of it, then it went reasonably okay.
“I know criticism. For the team, when they’re young, they need that support through thick and thin.”
Lambert has a supportive owner in Randy Lerner who has charged the Scottish manager with slashing the wage bill while keeping the club in the Premier League. But as time goes on, questions continue to grow about Lambert’s fitness for the job at Villa Park. He will need to draw on his vast experience as a player and a manager to steer Villa through what could be another relegation fight.