In the scheme of things, 2009 wasn't that long ago. Since then, in the world of football, plenty has changed. Portsmouth were in the Premier League for goodness' sake. And Gabby Agbonlahor led Aston Villa in league goals with 13!
Villa had finished in sixth place in the two previous campaigns, and ultimately would do so again. It's been all downhill since then, with Martin O'Neill leaving on the eve of the 2010-11 season to start a revolving door of managers in B6. I'm not going to get into that, because the point of this post is to remember the good times enjoyed by our club in relatively recent times.
Gareth Barry departed the club prior to the start of the season, after being a Villan since 1997. This move, along with the sale of Zat Knight, helped finance the purchases of Stewart Downing, Fabian Delph, Stephen Warnock, Richard Dunne and James Collins. The squad had been strengthened, and Villa finished off the set of preseason friendlies by winning the Peace Cup after a penalty shootout against Juventus.
For as great of a season as it was, the beginning was far from ideal. An opening day loss Wigan Athletic saw the Villans sink to 17th, but O'Neill's team would respond by winning four consecutive matches to shoot up to fifth. It was the first of two stretches where Villa won four on the bounce, the second came in December and took the team up to fourth place.
After Christmas, things started to go south with two losses at the end of the month stopping that good run of form. Even though Villa didn't lose for ten straight matches between January 17th and March 24th, only three of those were wins. Failing to secure wins some of these matches ultimately resulted in missing out on Champions League football.
Maybe the weirdest thing that happened concerned Blackburn Rovers. Incredibly, Villa squared off against Rovers five times -- losing both league meetings, but winning all three cup ties. This produced one of the funnest moments of the season, a 6-4 win in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.
Ewood Park played host to the first leg, which Villa won 1-0. Leg two got off to a terrible start, with the Rovers taking a two goal lead within 26 minutes, both from Nikola Kalinic. But, Stephen Warnock cut the deficit to one on 30 minutes, and James Milner converted a penalty five minutes before half to level the score. After an own goal in the 53rd minute, Villa were up 3-2. Just ten minutes later, it was 5-2, but Rovers responded with two unanswered goals of their own, and with five minutes left in the match it was still anyone's game. Villa put it away in stoppage time, with a goal coming from Ashley Young.
While that certainly was one of the high points of the season, one of the lowest was a 7-1 defeat to Chelsea that ended the 10-match unbeaten run. The campaign definitely ended on a low note as well, with consecutive losses condemning the Villans to another eventual Europa League exit at the hands of Rapid Vienna.
Close but no cigar is probably the perfect way to sum up the season, as both cup runs fell just short of fruition. Chelsea ended hopes of FA Cup glory in the semifinal, while Manchester United defeated Villa at Wembley in the League Cup final.
Ending the season on 64 points is surely something to have been proud of, just six shy of that elusive fourth place. Sandwiched between Manchester City and Liverpool, it looked like Villa were on the verge of greatness. However, too many poor transfers were made, and eventually Randy Lerner's money dried up.