Note: This was a originally written as a fanpost, but we've bumped it to the front page.
Despite the distraction of the (thus far) hugely entertaining World Cup in Brazil, the release of the fixture list for the coming top-tier domestic season never fails to deliver a little tingle of excitement, bringing back memories of eagerly flicking through the Birmingham Evening Mail to see the latest Villa list.
Who do we play at home first? Who’s on final day? Do we play at home on Boxing Day? When’s the United game? And (on only a few occasions) when do we face the Noses? While this year’s list didn’t bring up very much in terms of most of these questions, a scan down the fixtures brings home the awful truth regarding the current set-up: every single one of these games is a potential landmine.
We’re in a phase of Villa’s history where there is as much a sense of ‘staring into the unknown’ as I can remember since my first year as a Villa fan in 1987. That year coincided with Villa’s most-recent lurch into the second tier of English football, the club was in crisis, any big names we had were on a desperate want-away (Steve Hodge, I’m looking at you), and there was a feeling that despite the trappings of a premier home ground, five years after being crowned Champions of Europe Aston Villa were in terminal decline.
The twelve months that followed under Sir Graham Taylor would cement my love for the club until at least the present day, but what was certainly the fact in that period of English Football history was that the difference financially between being in Division One and Division Two was negligible, and things could be turned around much more easily compared to now. Today as we know things could not be more different. While Villa could somehow claim £72 million for completing a desperately-frustrating 15th position, the fact remains that finishing in the bottom 3 would spell financial disaster for our club. To survive is essential, but to actually watch such a survival-at-all-costs season on a daily basis could not be further from the experiences that many Villa fans have enjoyed over the last 30 or so years.
Paul Lambert I have no great axe to grind with at this moment, because without him agreeing to continue and provide a team for next year, we would be in even worse a state than we are. But seeing the list of fixtures in the Autumn, playing a terrifically tough set of games, are they really any better or worse (or more dangerous) than the fixtures that surround them?
One of the stats wheeled-out during the period when we were momentarily relevant to the Liverpool/Man City chase was that, in terms of a mini-league of teams performing against the top-4 teams, Villa themselves were not only top, but also the only team with a positive goal differential. Sadly that last bit did not last the City game, but the first part did. Against good teams, we are good because we are set-up to take advantage of teams that are trying / expecting to beat us. We generally have the pace to exploit the areas behind advancing full-backs, and some of our one-touch play through the midfield three of Delph / MEA / Westwood at times was really great to watch.
However, any team that comes to VP with a conservative mindset has proven themselves to be impregnable. It’s desperately frustrating to watch, and as a result the atmosphere in the ground for large periods of last season was utterly toxic. After the awesome Chelsea home win in April we were thinking the end of the season would be a breeze, and then from the Stoke game onwards we absolutely collapsed. However much of that was due to the Culverhouse situation is hard to say. But in this period of uncertainty what I’m saying is this: Aston Villa is in relative Premier League terms a bad team that has not, and will not materially change unless a buyer comes in with a fresh injection of cash, so we need to embrace that set of hugely difficult Autumn fixtures, and not think the lesser games are going to serve us any better.
Because in the last four years since the money ran out and O’Neill walked, what we have been repeatedly shown us that on our day we can beat, or get absolutely walloped by, anybody. I only hope we can stave off the seemingly inevitable until the new owners finally come in, whoever they may be.
Up the Villa,