Aston Villa fans could be forgiven for not feeling optimistic about the start of the new season. With the appointment of Alex McLeish from relegated rivals Birmingham City, fans were sceptical about the direction of their club, and this scepticism has remained throughout their opening games. Despite the negativity around Villa Park it appears that McLeish is having the desired effect on the Villa players.
Previous manager Gerard Houllier did not bring the results fans demanded, but was credited by many with improving their style of football. However, during his short tenure at the club many senior players were alienated, finding themselves dropped to the bench, or excluded from the club completely. Villa also lost the knack of being hard to beat, and consistently conceded soft goals, which saw them battling against relegation for large parts of the season.
It is already clear to see that McLeish has had a positive impact on the Villa players and has galvanised the whole squad. James Collins and Richard Dunne who looked as if they might be on their way out of Villa Park after a public fallout with Gerard Houllier and his staff, have looked rejuvenated at the back for Villa. With two clean sheets already this season, McLeish has sured up the defence and restored them to their previous high standards, with Dunne in particular, returning to the form he has characteristically shown over the last few years of his career.
Gabby Agbonlahor has continued out of position on the wide, but looks revitalised, he has been given a license to run at people and has proved successful at tearing past defenders. Whatever McLeish has been saying to Agbonlahor it appears to have been working. The local lad had gone stale under Houllier’s regime, but he has been Villa’s most exciting player so far this season, and finally seems to be back to fulfilling his talent and potential. He has three goals already this season almost surpassing his previous effort of five from last season.
Senior players have been quick to praise McLeish and criticise the Houllier reign. Agbonlahor has said he would have left his boyhood club had the Frenchman remained in charge, and blamed the way Gary McAllister set things up at the club. He has certainly started the season as if he is keen to make up for lost time, and has a point to prove, and the improvements in many of the senior players have not gone unnoticed.
McLeish may not have won over the fans quite yet, but he has certainly won over the dressing room. It seems much more balanced, and the players seem a lot more focused. He faces a huge task to get the fans on board, as the majority seem to have already prejudged and written McLeish off this season. This negative attitude ringing around Villa Park isn’t likely to help Villa and McLeish, but at least he has the players on side.
Villa are in a transitional period and McLeish appears to have steadied the ship with limited resources. They have had a solid start to the season currently lying in sixth place, but the doommongering by the Villa fans needs to end before it starts to wear the players and the manager down. McLeish has created a new atmosphere at the club that has filled certain players with a new lease of life and enthusiasm, and the team has certainly grown from last year. Now he just needs some of that to rub off on the supporters.
What do you think of Alex McLeish’s start at Villa? Let me know your thoughts by commenting below or following me on Twitter @LaurenRutter for more comment and debate.
Fancy winning a million pounds??