Thank Goodness That's Over: The 7500 to Holte End-of-Season Roundtable (Part Two)

Christopher Lee

The 7500 to Holte writers conclude their postseason review of Aston Villa's 2012-13 season by talking about Aston Villa's standout players and evaluate Paul Lambert's first season with the club.

The Players:

Who would be your pick for Aston Villa Player of the Season?

Aaron: It's Benteke. As amazing as Guzan was, Christian Benteke not only kept this team up pretty much on his own, but at some point he's going to be an enormous financial boon to the club. That's a cynical way of looking at things, I know. But it's important. And aside from that, he made this club fun to watch again.

Andrew: Christian Benteke all day. Probably one of the most fun players to wear a Villa shirt. He's going to go down as a legend no matter what happens from here.

Gareth: Obvious answer, but it's Christian Benteke. Without him, Villa would have been dead and buried. The best player I've ever seen in a Villa shirt, and he's far too good to stay in one for long so I'll savor it while I can.

Kirsten: Andi Weimann. What? I like being non-obvious, and you said it's "my pick". Honestly, though, I love seeing Andi's absolute joy at playing, and who can resist that ridiculous goal celebration?

Matt: I can't separate between Benteke and Guzan.

Robert: Sorry to go obvious, but Benteke.

Which of the new signings this season has been your favourite?

Aaron: Brad Guzan. That counts, technically. He was released!

Andrew: Benteke is the best but since everyone will say that I'll go with Ashley Westwood. From what I read about him when he was signed he delivered on that promise. He's going to be such a key player going forward. Steady on the ball and accurate with his passing. Great find. I love Lowton as well.

Gareth: Benteke's the best, as I said earlier, but the semantics of the question let me wriggle out of repeating myself and pick Matt Lowton. Ever-present in the starting eleven, and only scores brilliant goals. What's not to like?

Kirsten: Benteke. Sure, the honeymoon may not last, but we sure as hell needed his goals.

Matt: Ash Westwood. This is a guy who stepped up from League Two. Ok, he technically was signed from Crewe who were in League One, but they were promoted in 11-12, and he only played three games in League One. For him to be as good, considering the giant step he took, is amazing. And he's just under the radar enough, that no one is probably going to try poach him. Yet.

Robert: Benteke. Again, sorry to go obvious, but it's amazing to watch someone with so much speed, skill, strength, and finishing ability wear a Villa kit. He's like the perfect blend of Gabby and Emile Heskey with a touch of Darren Bent.

Which player has been the biggest disappointment of the season?

Aaron: Ciaran Clark. This really should have been his season to shine, but he was a disaster just as often as he was merely competent. I still think he's going to be a good player, but watching him struggle was a pretty serious bummer all season long.

Andrew: I would say Charles N'Zogbia just because it would have been neat to see him build on some of the promising matches he put together later in the year. He never did get an extended run and I hope he can go somewhere else and fetch a decent sum for Villa.

Gareth: Ordinarily, this is where I'd be sad about Stephen Ireland, but not while we're paying Shay Given £60,000 a week to keep goals out the only way he can: by sitting on the bench.

Kirsten: Barry Bloody Bannan. What happened to you, Baz???

Matt: Go away, Shay Given. Just go away.

Robert: I made the case for Darren Bent in my season review of the forwards. But really, the one that disappoints me is Karim El Ahmadi. He showed so much promise in the preseason and for the first few matches. And then? Well, I keep forgetting he exists, which is as big of an indictment as anything else.

Who is the most underrated Villa player?

Aaron: Gabby Agbonlahor. The guy has been pretty mediocre for the past few years, but in the kind of system Lambert's using right now he's absolutely lethal. Is he a one-trick pony? Sure. But given the circumstances, that one trick is really, really valuable.

Andrew: I think Joe Bennett is. He's been a gongshow at times trying to defend but going forward he's pretty good and he's very good at getting the ball into the box. I'm not sure he wouldn't be better suited as a winger. This will be a pivotal season for him.

Gareth: After being written off as a lost cause and suffering through an abortive move to left back, Fabian Delph is starting to look more like the player people thought we were getting from Leeds United back in 2009. Currently the best candidate to fill the Petrov-sized hole in Aston Villa's midfield.

Kirsten: Matthew Lowton. Who even talks about him except to rave over his goal?

Matt: Westwood, for all the reason I said a couple questions up.

Robert: Ron Vlaar. We all know how good he is, but since he's a no-nonsense defender, we don't get to talk about him all that much. He was almost my choice for favorite new signing of the year, and he's definitely one of the best players on the pitch at any given moment.

What would you pick as Goal of the Season?

Aaron: Lowton against Stoke is the obvious answer, but everyone else is going to say that so I'll go with Weimann against Liverpool. The finish itself wasn't all that special, but the whole build-up punctuated by the Benteke backheel was a wake-up-call in terms of how good this team could end up being.

Andrew: Lowton against Stoke. Best goal in the league.

Gareth: There was a lovely team goal against Norwich in the League Cup that everyone forgets about because the real answer is Matt Lowton against Stoke City.

Kirsten: Lowton's, mostly because as Villa fans, we're used to seeing players take speculative shots from millions of yards out. But we're certainly not used to those shots ending up in the back of the net.

Matt: Vlaar against Wigan because HOLY CRAP HE IS A CENTER BACK

Robert: Yep. Lowton against Stoke City. But boy there were a few great runners up. For instance: Lowton against Swansea. Or possibly Vlaar's goal against Wigan.

How do you feel about Ron Vlaar as Aston Villa's captain? Should he be replaced?

Aaron: Nah. He's apparently both well-respected and well-liked, he's a clean player and so doesn't undermine his authority by having to talk the referee out of booking him. Plus the guy captained Feyenoord, so he probably has some kind of intangible thing that managers love.

Andrew: Not sure there's anyone more suited for it at the moment. Another exciting aspect of Villa's growth is seeing who else is going to step up as a leader type. Nathan Baker, maybe? Fabian Delph? Westwood?

Gareth: Obviously, I can't speak to his leadership capabilities, but he's really ingratiated himself as a personality. However, I'm not convinced that his defensive abilities are enough to keep him in the team every week. He seems like a placeholder until one of the youngsters is ready.

Kirsten: I say yes simply due to the spectacularness of his Twitter when he can't play. Clearly the dude loves the Villa already -- and I want that from the captain.

Matt: From everything we've seen on the pitch and in the public eye, I can't think of any better candidate. Plus I think he fits the Olof Mellberg-type of player and person that Villa fans seem to really relate to.

Robert: I'm absolutely okay with Vlaar as captain. I thought he did a wonderful job this year and was an anchor in the defense. That said, if we were to replace him, maybe it's time to reward Gabby with the armband. And if neither of those, how about Guzan?

The Manager:

How would you rate Paul Lambert's first season with Aston Villa?

Aaron: This is a tough one. I feel like Lambert could have made things a whole lot easier on himself in a variety of ways, but I think he also had a purity of vision regarding the best approach to take the club forward and his sticking by it is certainly admirable. That leaves the window of judgment open a bit longer, because the implicit trade-off between a more comfortable finish and building for the future is tangible improvement next season, but I think that's a decent bet to make. In short, Paul Lambert is the manager I've wanted ever since Martin O'Neill resigned. I just didn't think the process would be quite so rocky, which was more than a little naive.

Andrew: I can't imagine a more tumultuous season ending with such a sunny outlook. I feel like it couldn't have been more painful (wait, now I remember that McLeish fella) but things are set up nicely as more wages are set to leave the club and the impressive youth gets a little more experience. Lambert picked his guys and let them play through adversity and most of them, if not all of them, rewarded his faith with good performances. I also feel like if he had driven Villa to a top half finish he might be talking with other clubs right now. So it worked out well.

Gareth: It's hard to think of a manager that I'd rather have at the club right now. He's not perfect, but when you compare him with the jokers and retreads that get hired at other clubs (and our previous manager, who was both a joker and a retread), we're very lucky to have him.

Kirsten: He's not Alex McLeish, he doesn't appear to have heart trouble, and he has this side playing some fun football. Accomplishments!

Matt: In the preseason roundtable, I said I hope everyone would be a little more patient with him, considering we could've still technically gone down on the last day of the 11-12 season. I thought this season would be a struggle at times and it was, but I think he's set down a nice foundation to build on.

Robert: I'm awfully happy with what we saw. I feel like the mid-season trouble was a growing pain that is good to have out of the way. Can't wait to see what Lambert can do with a full season of a squad he's groomed.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you trust Paul Lambert?

Aaron: I'll go with an 8. Every manager does things in-game that seem really dumb to me and there were a few of his signings that didn't work out all that well, but it's difficult to argue with the results. Lambert (or someone that Lambert trusts quite a bit) has an eye for hidden gems, and finding talent is the most important thing. Tactically he stuck with a few gimmicky approaches for a bit too long, but he's at the very least willing to be inventive. I don't think he's the next coming of Alex Ferguson or anything so dramatic, but I feel really good about Villa's prospects for finding their way back to Europe in the near-ish future, and given all that's transpired over the past few years that's a pretty good place to be.

Andrew: I'd give him a 9. There were some strange subs and I'm not sure I get Jordan Bowery yet. Not every signing is going to work out but Bowery played more than anyone from Chesterfield probably had any right to. I'll laugh really hard if he turns out to be something. Lambert had the balls to play the guys he believed in over bigger names and it paid off. Hard to doubt him at this point.

Gareth: 9/10. Any doubts I had about the way he dealt with the more established players in the squad (Ireland, N'Zogbia, Bent) were erased by the faith he had in his guys and how it was repaid in the latter stages of the season.

Kirsten: 8/10. I don't think he's the best manager in the world by any means, but he's great for a side that needs to reduce the wage bill while still being competitive. I'd say the performances of Lowton and Westwood, both brought in from League One, are the best indicators of just how much we should trust this man.

Matt: 8. His in game management sometimes left me a little puzzled, but his signings have been more than good. Ok, Bowery didn't do much, and Bennett wasn't really bad at times, but I'm not ready to give up on those two yet. But Westwood, Benteke, Vlaar, and Lowton were all major reasons why we stayed up. He's shown he knows how to find a bargain buy, and that's perfect for the way this club is being run right now.

Robert: 10/10. He made some mistakes - a few signings that were not so great and some questionable substitution policy - but every manager does that. If he can be right 75% of the time, I think he's golden. And I do think he'll be right at least that often.

What is your biggest concern about Paul Lambert as a manager, if you have one?

Aaron: Stubbornness. The 5-3-2/3-5-2/whatever it was approach was a stroke of genius at first, but the opposition adjusted and Lambert was several moves too slow in finding the counter-punch. He probably stuck with Bennett longer than he should have when he was really struggling. But ultimately, that determination to stay with the plan is the entirety of Lambert's upside, so it's one of those greatest strength/greatest weakness kind of things.

Andrew: I want to see another summer window. I guess my biggest concern is losing him sooner than I'd like. I'm not an idiot. Villa isn't a top 5 English job at the moment and should one come up at a time where Villa's been doing really well he'll be on someone's list.

Gareth: I don't think he's much for second chances. He really shut out players who might have contributed to the squad, and that's a dangerous game to play with a team as weak as Villa.

Kirsten: At times he's just a bit too stubborn -- welded to his formation or shutting the door on players after one negative interaction. Villa doesn't have the resources to put up with a prima donna, so he needs to curb such tendencies.

Matt: In game stuff. His continued use of the 3-5-2 when things started to go really bad was frustrating for a while.

Robert: His substitutions drive me batty at times, and I think it might be related to what Gareth said. There's times when out-of-favor players would be the right choice, and they stay glued to the bench.

This concludes 7500 to Holte's roundtable review of the 2012-13 season. Feel free to add your own responses to our questions in the comments below.

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