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.
While all my friends, family and colleagues continue to goad me about our terrible start to the season, I can’t help but continue to smile about the manner of our victory against Bristol City.
Something just clicked. I saw it in the players’ eyes, their souls. They now know what is required to be successful at this club and they’re willing to let it be me who guides them. I sense a beautiful relationship blossoming.
International breaks are tedious periods of nothingness. That is until you’re told your captain has fallen awkwardly in training and has suffered a broken wrist. Four to five weeks on the sidelines awaits, but I can’t afford to have Tommy Elphick watching from the stands as we embark on a special period in the club’s history.
He’ll just have to wear protective equipment and play through it. He won’t mind, he’s a fine specimen. A real footballer’s footballer.
Nottingham Forest are at Villa Park, tasked with knocking me off cloud nine. But we’re ready for them. I’m sticking with the same XI that smashed Bristol City, because you can’t fix what isn’t broken.
I blame that on the fact, for some completely ridiculous reason, we were playing in our away kit. At home. If there’s a way to confuse my players, it’s this. I know we won our last away game, but that’s taking superstition a bit too far.
It was a woeful performance, though, and I’m now wondering whether the victory over Bristol City wasn’t the turning point but just a glitch in the game.
Looks like I’m back to square one. Not a single player played anywhere near as well as they should’ve done and I’m scratching my head.
The return of the home kit at home was a must. I’ve made a few tweaks to individual roles in attack to try and get the best out of the players who are consistently letting me down. Ross McCormack will now operate as a shadow striker while Kodjia will play as an attacking right winger, Grealish as a supportive inside forward on the left.
Brentford at home is a winnable game, but will my changes portray me as a tactical genius or continue my reputation as tactically inept? Let’s find out….
Changing player roles to better suit their style of play is overrated.
It was a performance of complete professionalism. Ross McCormack finally got himself off the mark with a incredible brace, while Jordan Ayew gets his fourth of the campaign.
We had 18 shots on goal and nine of them were on target. It was a masterclass in how to attack and win football matches. Brentford’s goal, the equaliser that had me very worried at first, came from a counter attack. No complaints from me there.
Here’s Ross McCormack’s opener against Brentford. What. A. Finish.
All in all I’m happy again, and mostly because the changes I made before the game made a clear and positive impact to the way we played. Maybe I’m not as inept as we all thought at first.
A trip to 13th placed Ipswich does not represent the daunting task it probably would’ve done a few games ago. Now I’m confident that we can record back-to-back victories and go level on points with them.
That performance against Brentford was better than the one that saw off Bristol City, so all we need now is some consistency.
No changes, other than Adomah coming in for Kodjia on the right wing. Let’s do this…
Had we not suffered a monumental brain fart late in the second half, we would’ve taken all three points back to Villa Park.
But a half-hearted Tommy Elphick clearance landed at the feet of Brett Pitman in the 76th minute, which he calmly slotted home to level the game. Then, Kodjia gave away a penalty in the 81st and Pitman smashed the hosts in front with less than ten minutes to play.
If it wasn’t for Jack Grealish, who saved a point for us in the 84th, we’d have left Portman Road with nothing more than our heads in our hands and me being restrained by my coaching staff.
I’d would’ve been in the mood to seriously injure someone on the coach journey home or, better still, leave them somewhere in Norfolk by way of punishment. Instead, I’m content with the point.
Mistakes happen and we move on to our toughest game of the season so far…
Newcastle are top of the league. They have scored more goals than anyone else and have the most impressive squad in the Championship. Rafa Benitez’s men represent a completely different test to anyone I’ve faced so far, but I’m taking no notice to that.
I want my players to go out there and continue playing in the same system they have been all month. I made the mistake of tweaking tactics too often early on in the season and it backfired. Now I aim for consistency, so no changes for the visit of Rafa’s boys.
EASY! EASY! EASY!
Villa Park is rocking, the fans are in party mode. It took a while but I’ve got something positive going here. We were Villans, now we’re on our way to becoming heroes.
I hug every single player as they make their way down the tunnel. Especially goal hero Ayew, who doesn’t just get a hug, he gets one of my delicate forehead kisses. He feels wanted, he feels loved, and he reacts with performances like that.
Nothing can take this away from us. We’ve just beaten the title favourites at home, and it was relatively comfortable. Tactically inept? Not me!
And the fans are impressed, too..
September ends with a trip to a high flying Barnsley side who are 8th and just a point outside the play-offs. But they haven’t faced James Jones’ Aston Villa yet.
Ashley Westwood is ruled out for a month with a groin strain but it’s ok, Gary Gardner has been chomping at the bit to get some game time anyway, so he slots in nicely. The rest of the side is unchanged.
Let’s make this four games unbeaten and end September on a high…
Well that was harder than I expected but we didn’t lose, despite James Chester picking up two yellow cards late in the second half. Barnsley’s Aidan White also fancied an early bath and joined him. Not sure what was going on there, but it left both of us to thrash out a thoroughly annoying goalless draw with 10 men each.
That leaves us
in 18th position four points off the play-offs going in to October. There is light at the end of the tunnel after all.
What was I so worried about at the beginning? Success doesn’t come straight away, I realise that now.
It takes hard work, perseverance, not knowing when you’re beaten. This is the foundations upon which Aston Villa’s revival is built. This is what will make us heroes once more.