After just two rounds of games, Aston Villa sit bottom of the Premier League table, marooned on zero points and a minus three goal difference. Even if the new term is still in its relative infancy, it’s merely drives home the point that Paul Lambert has a huge rebuilding job to do at Villa Park to halt the slide.
The opening half of the club’s first game of the season, it appeared as if Lambert had made an impact on the side already, as they knocked the ball around excellently and with confidence away at West Ham. However, after going behind to a Kevin Nolan goal around the 40-minute mark, there was little to no drive or penetration to their forward play in pursuit of an equaliser, highlighted by the fact that Darren Bent had just 14 touches of the ball the entire game.
Nevertheless, they went into their first home game of the season against Everton full of hope that in front of their own fans, they’d be able to build upon a promising first half platform in their previous game and show more threat, a lot like Brendan Rodgers Liverpool side went on to do against Manchester City, after a lopsided opening day defeat to West Brom.
Unfortunately for them, they ran into an Everton side buoyed by a 1-0 victory over Manchester United and in superb form. They were ahead courtesy of a wonderful Steven Pienaar strike to put an end to a flowing move inside three minutes and it was an uphill struggle from there.
Aston Villa have now just won once in their last 18 league games and have only one win in their last nine months on home turf. This is a side that is so far out of the winning habit now, that any confidence gleaned during pre-season with a new manager can be evaporated in an instant off the back of a few ropey results and they are still in a very fragile position, looking nervously around at fellow strugglers.
It’s worth drawing attention, though, to how young and inexperienced the squad at Lambert’s disposal is at the moment. Against West Ham, Matthew Lowton (23, 127 career appearances), Ciaran Clark (22, 44 career appearances), Nathan Baker (21, 39 career appearances) and Fabian Delph (22, 77 career appearances) all began the game.
Next up against Everton, Chris Herd (23, 64 career appearances), Barry Bannan (22, 91 career appearances) and Nathan Delfouneso (21, 54 career appearances) began the game, with Eric Lichaj and Andres Weimann coming off the bench. It is clearly a very inexperienced side and with Stephen Warnock and Alan Hutton being frozen out of the first-team picture, Lambert is certainly placing all of his eggs in one basket in terms of relying on youth.
Lambert said in the aftermath of the Everton defeat, during which they were out-played for long spells: “There’s not a magic wand. We have got to win games, that’s the main thing. If we don’t do that then it becomes a problem so I’ll see the chairman and Paul (Faulkner) as I always do and speak with them and see what happens. I’ve got ideas in my head, but I have to speak to them and see. It’s not a quick fix, I know that myself, but it’s something where you don’t want to be left behind, you want to try and win as many games as you can. That’s why I never got caught up in the euphoria of it because I know what it’s like, I can feel the feeling of people, they want us to do well and that’s my responsibility so we’ll pick ourselves up and go again.”
The result of this chat with the chairman has seen the club have a £5.5m offer rejected for 21 year-old Genk striker Christian Benteke. There is a danger that in order to bring about a bright and bold new era, that Lambert could go too far the other way in his reliance on young players. While the likes of Shay Given, Ron Vlaar and Darren Bent all play in key positions and boast a wealth of experience, they still lack a leader in the middle of the park and they miss Stiliyan Petrov hugely.
Patience is the key and in Lambert, the club have one of the brightest young managers around in Europe at the moment, but as the man himself testified to, there is no magic wand, and sweeping out the remnants of the ill-fated Alex McLeish era will take longer than even the biggest septics might have previously envisioned.
Leaving a lasting legacy is the one thing that most managers struggle with when they move on from a club, but McLeish has left an overwhelmingly destructive one. Any talk of anything more than a season of struggle with an eventual lower mid-table finish is fanciful at best at the moment, and you just hope that the fans realise that it’s going to take Lambert well over a year to reverse the damage caused and get them back to winning ways again.
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