There’s not even the slightest bit of doubt in my mind that Paul Lambert is the right man for the job at Aston Villa. There have been times this season where others, mainly followers of other clubs, have expressed concerns but for the majority of Villa fans we understand the size of the task he has. That being said, our fan base is definitely not exempt from the odd worry and overreaction.
We knew after how last season panned out that this one wouldn’t be much easier. The duo of Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, the main creative force for Darren Bent were long gone and with them our attacking instinct - any that was left was soon forgotten with Alex McLeish in charge anyway. Our squad last season was threadbare and just not up to the task so Villa fans knew that it wouldn’t be an overnight fix; I’m just not sure that the majority of us quite knew how hard it would be to sort out the mess of the previous two seasons.
Being honest Lambert wouldn’t have been my first choice, I’m happy to admit that I was very wrong. The immediate impact he had on the fans was brilliant and despite being the huge favourite in online polls on Aston Villa fan sites (in a few Lambert had ratings as high as 85%), I don’t think many could have envisaged just how well he knew what needed to change. Everything that he said was right; everything that he did pleased the fans.
We needed a massive overhaul and thankfully our chairman Randy Lerner put his hands in his pockets once again and splashed a bit of cash – I’ll never understand that viewpoint that Lerner is a bad chairman or has taken us backwards, despite it becoming a more common thought these days. Players like James “hoof ball” Collins and Stephen “yellow card” Warnock were moved on, replaced with promising talent that could make a five yard pass if nothing else was on. Brett Holman is widely regarded as the one good thing that Alex McLeish ever did for Villa, and along with him all of our other signings that I’ve seen play have impressed me.
We love a centre-back at Villa, and Ron Vlaar has the potential to be a true legend for us. He embodies everything we lacked last season; passion, heart, determination. If you haven’t yet seen this video then it shows just why we love him already – he’s the one orchestrating the crowd into a frenzied state after beating Feyenoord’s rivals, Ajax. Not to mention he’s a Dutch international, captain and leader, and cost just over £2m. Joe Bennett has looked a bit raw at times, but again he’s young and he’s attack minded, of course he’s going to be out of position sometimes – that’s the price you pay. Then there are the likes of Matthew Lowton, Karim El Ahmadi, Ashley Westwood and Christian Benteke who I become more impressed with every time I watch them play. This is their first season too - we could have a real decent team together if given the time.
As for how the season has gone in terms of results so far, it’s been far from ideal and we have got a long campaign ahead. An away trip to a newly promoted team for a season-opener had us all licking our lips at the excitement of a league win, but Sam Allardyce is no mug and set up his West Ham United team exactly how you’d expect him to – did the bloody job though so you can’t complain. Not to mention a man of the match performance by Villa old-boy James Collins, of course. Typical. Aesthetically pleasing football is what we’d been asking for, a step towards the present state of football after the dark ages of booting out of defence and having 40% possession time after time. This was happening, but we lacked a cutting edge, and possession without creativity is just as useless as defending with 10 men behind the ball.
Aston Villa's first notable performance of the season was the 1-1 draw away to Newcastle, a game we deserved to win and would have but for Hatem Ben Arfa’s incredible 30-yard stunner – despite Guzan having a few fine saves to make he could do nothing about that one. Swansea City was next up at home and another impressive performance this time resulted in our first three point haul of the season. A moment we thought was to be the turning point of our season actually turned out to be a false horizon, as we were thrashed in the next game in a second-half mauling at struggling Southampton. The season has largely continued in similar cast – you just don’t know what’s going to happen with us. I’m far happier having a go and losing than rolling over before a ball is even kicked though, that’s just not what football is about.
So onto the most recent game; an impressive performance against Manchester United which resulted in Villa going 2-0 up thanks to a double from Andreas Weimann, before eventually losing 3-2. If there is such a thing as an impressive loss, this was it, but impressive losses don’t get you the points needed for safety. It has been a well-publicised statistic over the last few weeks that Villa would be in the top-five if league games finished at half-time, so we need to find a way to hold on to the leads we so often take.
“Proud history, bright future” is a well-known Aston Villa motto, and it’s more applicable to this situation than any other that I can remember. We have a manager who knows what needs to change and how it needs to be done. We have a category-one youth academy which has given us an exciting batch of first-team players now, with the promise of more in the future. We have a young, determined squad that are eager to impress. We have a patient chairman who knows that a transformation doesn’t happen overnight, and that sustainability is a key factor in progress and success – and he isn’t afraid to dip into his pockets if necessary. I can’t stress enough that it won’t be a quick fix, but with Paul Lambert in charge we will get there.