Seven points from nine matches. Six goals total at Villa Park this season. Aston Villa don't just have the worst record in the Premier League, they have the worst record in the entire football league. There may be non-league Conference teams out there that have yet to win at home, but the fact remains: In the league, Villa are the worst at home.
After the defeat to Crystal Palace on Boxing Day, Paul Lambert left the pitch to a chorus of boos. According to social media, the boos didn't start after the final whistle. The support for the home side seemed to be barely present -- or at least, sporadic. It may depend on where you are inside the ground, and the lack of support may be overinflated by this sort of 'reporting', but it's clear that Villa Park does not inspire fear in visiting teams.
There are stadiums throughout Europe that are known as cauldrons. They're the places visiting teams don't want to go, because they know taking points is near impossible. Right now in England, that's the Etihad: nine wins in nine games with 37 goals scored. Westfalenstadion, home of Dortmund's Yellow Wall, is certainly known as a threatening place. Napoli's San Paolo brings fear to most visitors. The Mestalla, where Valencia play out their home matches, is meant to be one of the most intimidating stadiums on the continent. This is, of course, just a brief list of places teams don't want to travel in Europe.
The thing is, Napoli have two draws and 1 loss in their nine home matches. Dortmund have lost three out of nine this season. Valencia? Well, they're 11th in the table, and have lost four while winning four at home. They're not perfect, not by any means. Yet these sides are still picking up more points at home than on the road. And the atmosphere, as well as a reputation for that atmosphere, is helping to bolster the club.
What's the point? Well, it's two-fold.
First, it's pointless to tell fans never to boo their side. That's not what makes these stadiums so intimidating -- an atmosphere of pure positivity. The Marakana is a place visiting sides dread, but Red Star fans aren't always being nice to their team. What they do do is make sure no visiting player wants to be at their stadium.
Obviously I don't go to Villa Park very often. But would it be so hard for one of England's oldest clubs, with a not-small fan base, to make life difficult for teams coming to play Aston Villa? In 2008-2009, and 2009-2010, Villa had just three losses in each season at home. Since then, the club has had eight, and then nine.
It's not just the fans that are making it difficult to win at home, but it's definitely not helping the club. Is there a solution? Again, not being at Villa Park doesn't help me to find one. But considering the big change from 09-10 to 10-11, you have to know it was something to do with the chaos surrounding Villa's managerial changes. It's tough to hide dissatisfaction with the club, but rather than focus inwardly, focusing outwardly -- on making other players not want to play at Villa Park -- might make for a good start. In other words, leave the sheets on the bed and crank up the noise.
(Note: this does not mean lighting flares or throwing bottles at opposing sides. Thank you)
And yet it's clear that the problem is not all from the fans, much as we would often like to take credit for the performance of the side (lucky socks, anyone?) The turmoil Villa have been in since Martin O'Neill left has made it hard to pull off consistent results. It's a club in transition, and the crucial elements -- a solid squad performing under a manager that knows how to get the best of them -- are still not there.
So we cycle back to Lambert, the more critical element in the side's performance at home. The manager is constantly shifting his squad's tactics and personnel between home and away matches. Sometimes it's difficult to stay consistent with a squad, particularly when injuries have done a number on some of the best players. That is understandable, at least.
But with a young, still rather inexperienced squad, it seems necessary to keep making such dramatic shifts in playing style. Yes, the fans might find a counter-attack boring. However, fans like winning. So putting out a team that gets high numbers in possession yet can do little more than aimlessly hoof a ball into the final third doesn't actually make for an improvement at home. Possession needs to have a point. And yes, even possession football can be ugly.
Wins, Paul. This team needs wins -- and you must take some responsibility for it. No more of this "there's no magic formula" nonsense. Tony Pulis has turned his Crystal Palace around in just a month, and he's done it by focusing on the basics, on shape and position. It might be boring and it might not be what Villa want permanently, but it's far better than being in a relegation battle.
Three points. If that must come from hunkering down and hitting quickly on the counter, even while at Villa Park, so be it. Will it disappoint some of the fans in the seats? Sure. But when the three points are there, it will matter little.
Swansea's up next. And as much as many of you would like Lambert out, don't go to Villa Park stringing up the signs. Go there planning to make it a tough atmosphere for the Swans players. Make them rue the day they put a boot on that lovely green pitch.
And for god's sake, Lambert, do your part and cater to your side's strengths. Use the speed of Gabby Agbonlahor and Marc Albrighton out wide. Get Libor Kozák inside the area and give him the chance to use his head. Don't let Aleksandar Tonev shoot. Remind us why Nicklas Helenius was brought in.
Bring back Villa Park's winning atmosphere.