by Liam McConville
There must have been a depressing inevitability around Villa’s defeat to Millwall on Friday, The Den is not an accommodating place at the best of times, never mind for a side completely bereft of confidence. Although Paul Lambert’s side took the lead, his fragile team soon succumbed and another disappointing defeat followed.
Exit from the FA Cup is not a disaster for Villa, but a win was needed here for morale rather than anything else. This is a club still in a state of recovery from the humbling they received from League 2 Bradford. Villa were bullied against Bradford (in much the same way that several premier League sides crumbled to a physical presence in the FA Cup), their defending was almost comical, every set-piece looked hazardous, with defensive organisation sorely lacking. Losing over ninety minutes to a side from the fourth tier would be embarrassing, but to be beaten over two legs highlighted the serious problems Villa are battling. To be so close to a showpiece Wembley final, only for the side to capitulate to the Bantams must have been very painful for fans and players alike.
The man overseeing this sinking ship, Paul Lambert has received the full backing of the club, even through this challenging period. Lambert picked up a club still recovering from the disastrous reign of fun-sucking parasite, Alex McLeish. After making the switch from city rivals, McLeish was tasked with overseeing a transitory period; Randy Lerner was looking to scale back his investments, after seemingly hitting a ceiling in the quest to reach the top four.
There was the small matter of removing the expensive deadwood clogging up the squad, fringe players on high wages needed to be moved on, with little to be reinvested into the playing squad. Last campaign was a joyless slog in which the former European Champions narrowly avoided the drop, so with McLeish gone, surely up and coming Paul Lambert would be able to lift the cloud hanging over Villa Park?
Well no. This season threatens to be even worse than the last, with relegation looking an increasingly likely possibility. Lambert has placed his trust in youth, something he has been lauded for, but at the moment it isn’t working out. Villa are a side that has forgotten how to win games, as seen by the throwing away of 2-0 leads against Manchester United and most recently West Brom. They are a side that panics when their advantage is chiselled away; they need to learn how to close out games quickly.
There have been highlights amongst the doom and gloom though, big wins away at Norwich in the League Cup and an impressive 3-1 victory at Anfield showed the potential of this team. The performances of Christian Benteke are to be applauded (even if his marking isn’t). Lambert still retains the backing from the majority of the Villa support, although it’s interesting to ponder what the atmosphere would be like if his predecessor was presiding over such a run of results.
The performances of those at the bottom of the table, is rapidly improving, Reading and QPR have narrowed the gap, while Villa are stagnating, flapping around in quicksand seeking a timely escape. They have the ability to turn this slump around, whether they have the drive to scrap and the wiliness needed to win the big games remains to be seen.