The FM17 Aston Villa Project – Episode 7

Inspired by Iain Macintosh’s journey with Everton on CM01/02, I’ve decided to boot up Football Manager 2017 and take Aston Villa back to the glory days of the 1980s.

Previous episodes: Episode One, Episode Two, Episode Three, Episode Four, Episode Five, Episode Six

There is no better feeling than enjoying Christmas on the back of a 93rd minute winner against your bitter rivals in their own back yard. It may not be Christmas in this virtual world just yet, but the real world as I know it has been full of festive cheer, more brandy mince pies and copious amounts of Scotch.

But we can’t celebrate forever, not when there’s a home meeting against Blackburn Rovers to prepare for. I’m back in the zone again – though thankfully not back in that zone again – and fully expecting my players to build on that victory over Birmingham City. I still can’t contain fist bumps and silent-scream cheers when I find myself alone, but now is the time for focus: FIFA has scheduled yet another international break after the Blackburn game, so it’s vital we go in to that with another three points.

Blackburn are in the bottom three and seven points from safety, so this is a game I’m expecting to dominate, especially as we’re at home.

Felipe Mattioni gets the nod over Ritchie De Laet in my only change, with Leon Osman sitting on the bench to come on if we need him. There’s no sense tinkering too much with a team that came off the pitch last time in such euphoria.

Dominance is what I expected, and dominance is exactly what I got. All three goals came in the first half, and they all came from corners on the left hand side. I take a lot of contentment from that kind of consistency – though Blackburn’s fans might not see it that way.

Ross McCormack was absolutely superb, but Jordan Ayew was quiet throughout and was replaced in the second half by Jonathan Kodjia. If he’d been at the races, this would’ve been a cricket score. As it is, 3-0 is still a cricket score, just a boring one.

Jack Grealish’s goal was an absolute beauty as well, have a watch of it below….

That result takes us up to 10th and just three points off Burton Albion, who are 6th. It’s Brighton up next after the break. They sit in eighth, so beating them should bring us ever closer to the play-off spots. Even when we were thumped 7-0 by Huddersfield and close to the relegation zone, we always had our eyes on the higher rungs of the ladder.

The international break is so often an axe-wielding reaper, hanging over your season until finally it arrices and harvests your players. For a few weeks, anyway. This time though, all my players away on duty come back fully fit and raring to go. Even the deathly agents of injury are smiling on me now – things are surely turning around.

I have the luxury of naming an unchanged XI to take on Brighton at the AMEX. I’m confident we can get something here.

Back-to-back 3-0 wins and, what’s more impressive, 40 shots in two games. The manner of both victories is even sweeter than the margins. The points are sweeter still. This win was superb because we completely outplayed Brighton – who also have intentions of being promoted this season – on their own patch. Again, consistency like this is what pleases me the most. Though I’ll admit it is nice to prove we can score from means other than corners from the left.

We had 22 shots on goal, 11 of which were on target. Yet again, it’s unbelievable we haven’t walked away from the AMEX with more than three goals, but we’ll take it nonetheless. Before the Blackburn game we had a goal difference of -11, but that’s been considerably improved now.

Nathan Baker was immense at the back, nothing was getting past him, while Ross McCormack was incredible in front of goal again as he nabbed a brace.

There are a couple concerns to take away from this, though. Jordan Ayew missed two sitters, which he would’ve scored a few games ago. He’s clearly low on confidence and while his last two performances mean I really should be bringing the iron fist down to drop him: though I worry that may make things worse in the long run. This certainly isn’t a dilemma I was expecting on the back of two convincing wins.

The other is Mile Jedinak, who picked up his 5th yellow card and earned a one match suspension. The plan was to name an unchanged XI to face struggling Cardiff, who are up next, but that’s out of the window now.

So I’ve decided to make a couple of changes for the visit to Cardiff. De Laet returns at right back and Leandro Bacuna steps in for the suspended Jedinak. Mattioni is dropped to the bench purely because he hasn’t exactly dazzled on the right over the last couple of games and De Laet has impressed when I’ve seen him.

They’re small changes but I’m still expecting us to make it four wins a row. Victory here will put us in the play-off spots for the first time this season.

Fair play to Cardiff, they came to Villa Park with the sole intention of defending for their little lives and it worked. We had our chances, but were mostly restricted to shooting from distance.

The one time we did carve them open, Jordan Amavi produced a wonderful first time finish to equalise, scoring his first ever goal for the club.

Jack Grealish was forced to leave the field with a gashed leg in the first half, presumably because he continues to insist on wearing his socks so low and without shin pads. Muppet. Hopefully he’s not out for too long because he was just starting to hit some good form.

It wasn’t the result I wanted, but we didn’t lose and it takes us up to seventh in the table, only a single point off the the top six. This has to be my best month at Aston Villa so far and as I look ahead to what December has in store, it’s clear my players are going to need to give their all if we’re to end 2016 well and truly in the race for a return to the Premier League.

We’ll begin December with a game against Leeds and will end it playing Leeds, too. But in between the bookends, we’ll face QPR and Burton Albion, who are both sitting pretty in the top six, and standing in the way of me and my team transitioning from Villans to Heroes.

This is the league table at the end of November. I’m back in the game. And to think there was a time when you all doubted my ability to succeed at this. Apologies accepted.

The month comes to a close as Jack Grealish earns the Championship Young Player of the Month award for November, which make his injury even more frustrating. The lad was really beginning to get in to his stride, and just look at that cheeky smile!

I came in third behind Gary Rowett and Rafa Benitez in the Manager of the Month standings, which isn’t a bad achievement given the situation I was just a couple of months ago.

Bring on December!

<< Click here for Episode Six | Click here for Episode Eight >>

 


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