If Saturday’s FA Cup final told us anything, it is not that Villa are simply unlucky at Wembley, it is more that they are struggling to bridge the gap between themselves and the so called top four. While many will have expected Villa to go on and put pressure on the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool, Martin O’Neill’s men have been playing second-fiddle to Spurs and Manchester City in a season which, despite a ‘Mickey Mouse’ cup final, has been relatively reminiscent of their past years. The worry there would be that Villa, with all their youth and ‘potential’, have yet again lacked the ability to take the step up towards becoming a top four side.
With Liverpool’s inability to do anything domestically, this season would have been the perfect chance for Villa to improve on their previous two season’s sixth place finishes. Looking at the table now, it seems the claret of Birmingham will be suffering a similar fate, at best, again this season. 13 points from a possible 33 against the six sides above them will need to change if they are to ever bridge the gap. The 7-1 humbling at Chelsea will still have been in the memory of many fans as they walked down the new Wembley way, but their worst fears were not played out in front of them in a match that rarely created any excitement from either side. The score line still shows a considerable margin for improvement.
Saturday’s Wembley disappointment yet again displayed Villa’s competitiveness but highlighted a lack of bite to grasp the opportunity with both hands. Martin O’Neill’s future at Villa Park has been questioned over the past few weeks and, while the club were keen to dismiss these rumours, the effect they may have had on O’Neill’s self belief is yet to be seen. With the thoughts of ‘you’ve taken this team as far as you can’ bouncing around his head, O’Neill may see failure to break into the top four this season as the final straw. Would the fans agree? Probably not. O’Neill has of course taken the club from mid-table to a top 6 or 7 side, but can he take them further? I have my reservations. Randy Lerner may have the same reservations. If there’s one thing a US owner would demand, it would surely be trophies. The Americans pride themselves on silverware from their Stanley Cup to their Super-bowl rings. O’Neill will not be looking forward to an end of season meeting with a trophy-less Lerner.
At the end of the day, you can argue that Villa have shown a lot of promise, but a runners up medal and a close call semi-final are ultimately still failures. Villa’s youngsters do have potential but, while they displayed the energy and endeavour, their London opponents showed the necessary experience and quality needed to be a top side. If O’Neill gets through the summer, it will be players who display both of those traits that he will need to sign. Randy Lerner is keen to provide the cash, but will he feel it wasted in the hands of O’Neill? Only time will tell I guess.