As a relatively new Aston Villa fan, opening day has always been a hopeful and exciting day for me. For every season in which I've been a fan, the table on the opening day of the season lists Aston Villa second, which is a comforting thought. A reminder that everyone starts with zero points. While the past couple seasons have been pretty disappointing and somewhat scary, I always tend to forget that on opening day. I look forward to a new season where Villa will surely finish 4th and make the Champions League. (Still waiting on that.) So for this week's Holte History, we will be taking a look at my favorite season-opening game.
For most of the summer of 2010, rumours swirled that James Milner would be leaving Villa and signing for Manchester City. Yet as the days went on and we got closer to transfer deadline day, Milner remained a Villa player. There remained a sliver of hope in the head of every Villa fan that he would remain. However, it eventually became clear that Milner would indeed be moving soon, and Stephen Ireland would be coming in from City as part of the deal.
Five days before the first game of the season, it was announced that Villa manager Martin O'Neill had quit the club. In the years since his departure, fans have begun to realize that despite the impressive finishes MON had taken Villa to, his transfer dealings and signing had a put the club in a difficult spot. Villa is still dealing effects of the MON era three years later.
But at the time, MON leaving was really upsetting and confusing to a lot of us. Why would he leave five days before the season? It made no sense. It eventually became clear that he and Randy Lerner had some quite different ideas in the direction that club need to go. His departure was a short-term loss, but may end up being a long-term gain.
The five days after that came and went, and it was time for Aston Villa to host West Ham at Villa Park for the first game of the 2010-2011 English Premier League season. Kevin MacDonald was named as interim manager. James Milner was not only still in claret and blue, but he was in the starting eleven for the match against West Ham. Another person getting the start was a young winger named Marc Albrighton. Milner received boos before the match, but those would turn to cheers very soon.
Villa were the better team from the very start. Stewart Downing opened the scoring in the 15th minute, in what was also the first goal in all the Premier League that season. Stiliyan Petrov added another goal before halftime to make it 2-0. In the 66th minute, Albrighton went past a couple defenders and cut the ball back to Milner who put one in from the edge of the box to make it 3-0.
When Milner was taken off in the 85th minute, he received plenty of applause. As did Albrighton, when he was brought off for Barry Bannan in the 89th minute. Andreas Weimann even made an appearance that day, coming on for Ashley Young.
Villa held on for a 3-0 win, and finished the first day of the season in third place, behind Chelsea and Blackpool.
Three days later, Milner left Aston Villa to join Manchester City and Ireland came back the other way. Villa were eliminated from the Europa League by Rapid Vienna a few days later. In Ireland's debut for Villa, he was absolutely awful as Villa were crushed 6-0 by Newcastle United. Gerard Houiller was brought in as permanent manager. He started a youth movement at the club that saw the likes of Albrighton, Bannan and Ciaran Clark become regulars. Villa battled relegation for a large part of the season, but a late surge saw them finish 9th. Health problems forced Houiller to resign at season's end. Alex McLeish would be hired as Houiller's replacement and lets not get into that.
The 2010-11 season turned out to be a strange and somewhat disappointing one, but for those 90 minutes against West Ham, everything was okay.