If I supported Villa I’d be going though a bottle of whiskey every game right now.
– @Regista_Michael, during Saturday’s 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion, which Villa led 2-0 at the break
I had a big long post prepared that summarized the bad month of matches that Aston Villa has had, which saw them drop out of both Cups to lower-league opposition and mire further into a relegation fight, beginning with the 8-0 trouncing at Stamford Bridge. I had written a whole thing about how Lambert’s Norwich sides never did “boring,” which is great when you’re building confidence in League 1, but not the best when you just need to keep schtum at the back (some of which I will reprise). I did still decide to keep the above pull quote from Twitter, because it really does set the scene.
Then, in our internal email threads where we swear at each other and share fun stuff with each other, we were discussing the hilarity of the Brek Shea “donkey photo (after the jump).” And in that thread I had lamented Villa’s ouster from the FA Cup, which led Phil to say this:
Keith, is this the Brek Shea donkey photo of Villa seasons?
Well, let’s look, shall we?
Yes. Yes it is.
Both started with a good idea and devolved, somewhere along the line, to something strange, uncomfortable and ultimately confusing.
For the photographer, it was the idea to draw on Brek’s country side, and put him in a rugged, yet glamorous pose. For Villa, it was to replace the pragmatic and dour Alex McLeish with the on-the-rise, progressive Mr. Lambert. Then things got weird, and neither of us knew where the hell the donkey came from.
Or did we? As I said on AM452 a few weeks back, Norwich under Lambert was anything but boring. Last season, Lambert oversaw a season that included only three one-nil scorelines, six 1-1s, and ONE nil-nil. In the Championship-winning season, it was two nil-nils, six one-nil. His debut season, TWO nil-nils, nine 1-0. That’s not to say that the “We’ll score more than you” approach is ineffective. Ask Newcastle about Keegan Mark I or Lorber and Greg about the ‘Arry years.
And that’s all well and good in the Premier League if you bring it to a settled squad that’s played together (or is well-versed in the EPL), or if you have the low-ish stakes world of the lower leagues in which to play. But, with Villa already feeling the sting of having been in the relegation zone at least once in each of the previous seasons, and Lambert signing essentially a whole new squad over the Summer, perhaps a scuffling season was to be expected (despite my idiotic optimism in the beginning of the season).
But, following up the Chelsea loss with a 4-0 and 3-0 loss to Spurs and Wigan, combined with a packed fixture schedule through the festive period and January has put the pressure down hard on both the squad and the manager, to the point where Lambert “pulled a FIFA” in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal, throwing on every possible striker to play essentially a 4-2-4, thus panicking away the class that Villa demonstrated in the preseason and even as recently as the December tilt at Anfield.
So maybe if they just get a result on Tuesday, or even just a nice Interlull break, they can get back to the confident side that held Arsenal and swept away Liverpool and Norwich, and Villa can start to approximate a more normal picture of Brek Shea. Like this one:
Oh God. We’re doomed.