Many Aston Villa supporters were impressed by Nigel Reo-Coker's performance against Birmingham City on Sunday. The captain again put in an impressive defensive display in midfield, while also managing to record Villa's first shot of the derby. Yet what had most supporters singing his praises was his feisty display on the field. While referee Howard Webb looked the other way after Reo-Coker's first questionable tackle, he was booked for lashing out after a tackle by former Villan Craig Gardner. Not willing to risk a second yellow card and the subsequent sending off, Gerard Houllier almost immediately pulled Reo-Coker, substituting Barry Bannan in his place. Yet Reo-Coker still found his way back on to the pitch, charging toward Gardner just after the final whistle.
Many believe this is the performance Villa should expect from their captain: passionate and determined. I disagree, believing it's more important to stay composed and show leadership in a way that doesn't damage the team's chances. Turns out, Houllier agrees with me:
"Sometimes when you're tired you lose a bit of control. I warned them and wasn't happy with the reaction. He will learn," said Houllier.
Between this and the news that Houllier isn't happy with the performance of Stephen Ireland, it's becoming clear that Villa's new gaffer is not going to put up with much from his squad. The standards are quite clear: Work hard (training sessions have increased), concentrate on the game (Houllier told the press that players should be staying home in the evenings) don't make excuses, and keep control on the pitch.
The question is, will the discipline pay off? I contend that Villa supporters need to be patient. Houllier inherited a bare-bones squad, with little depth at striker and at defensive midfield. While we've seen great stuff from the kids, we can't expect the likes of Barry Bannan, Ciaran Clark or even Marc Albrighton to carry us to the top of the table. Houllier's ambitioius-he wants to take Aston Villa to the Champions League-but he's also realistic. He knows that the squad, as it stands now, is nothing more than a midtable team. Be warned: this could be a boring year for the Villa. While no one likes to focus solely on next year, that's where we likely need to place our hopes.