Turning The Tide

R24Shirt1So, it’s time for the February update of the Aston Villa save. Last month was – to say the least – a bad month for our Villa side. The proposed Steve Tomlinson(?) takeover fell through, Randy Lerner wouldn’t give me anything to buy or even sign players (meaning I ended the month having signed no-one to help us ensure safety), Gabby Agbonlahor just wouldn’t take the hint and leave, and we plummeted from 12th to 16th by the 31st, losing to Man City and Arsenal in the league, before crashing out of the FA Cup in the 3rd round – perhaps a blessing in disguise – to city rivals West Bromwich Albion. We manage to stem the tide at the end of the month by drawing with a weakened – and managerless – Chelsea (they’ve since appointed David Moyes), but it was still a shocking month by all accounts. Let’s hope February is an improvement.

This month, we’d face Newcastle United, Crystal Palace and Leicester City. However, first off it was Liverpool again, this time at Villa Park. *gulp*. Just what we need. Liverpool have sacked Jurgen Klopp since the last time we played them – the players citing a lack of confidence in him – and replaced him with Rudi Garcia. However, they’ve remained mid table, and aren’t in great form. However, firstly, I received this little gem of a message.

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Awwww, thanks Idrissa, you’re alright.

Clearly the players are behind me at least, even if the chairman won’t let me keep this shell of a once great football club in the Premier League. Mind, I haven’t actually received a contract offer yet, so hopefully it’s incoming fairly soon. Otherwise, I’ll look a bit silly. If it doesn’t Randy, expect incoming Benfica curses. Anyway, moving back to the important factors – how have the month’s results been?

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Pretty damn good actually. We opened the month with Rudi Garcia’s Liverpool coming to Villa Park, and stunningly (at least to me) defeated them 1-0, the result going completely against the form we’d had – or not had – throughout January. It was former Barcelona player Adama Traore who stepped up to give us the goal we needed, putting in a rebound from a Jordan Ayew shot. Traore has massively benefited from the move to a more attacking 4-3-3, playing as an out and out winger out on the right flank. He’s encouraged to use his pace and put crosses in, and is getting better and better as the season goes on. He’s not the most talented of players, but he reminds me of Biabiany on FM14, who was unplayable at times. Once we’d gained the lead, we continued to create chances – and Ayew again failed to convert them – but when the final whistle went, I was ecstatic. I’ll take wins wherever I can get them.

Prior to the next game against Tim Sherwood’s Newcastle United, I had a much needed word with Ayew, and told him that I had faith in him to convert his chances and get back to scoring goals. It certainly worked, as Ayew put in a fantastic performance at St. James’ in a 3-1 win, scoring two goals and setting up another. Although in fairness, his assist to Traore wasn’t a proper assist, with Traore ‘crossing’ from 40 yards out and lobbing the keeper. However, I’m going to pretend that Traore meant it. He’s that good (he isn’t really). Ayew added the second in the early part of the second half after a wonderful pass by Carles Gil, and even though Aly Cissokho got himself idiotically sent off for a pointless second yellow card, I simply withdrew a striker, playing a wonderfully negative 4-5-0 in a desperate bid to hold on. Ten minutes later, Ayew added another from a set piece, and we came away with our second win in a row, something we hadn’t done since September – ironically against Liverpool and Newcastle.

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Jordan Ayew’s bad run comes to an end, latching on to Carles Gil’s through ball.

Next up, Crystal Palace on Valentines Day. Jordan Amavi came in for Cissokho, but apart from that it was an unchanged side – at this point I’m fairly comfortable with my first choice XI – to face Pardew’s lot. It was Ayew yet again who got us the win, meeting a byline cross from Traore – who had beaten his marker and run half the pitch – and tucking the ball into the corner. It was another well deserved win, and a dominant one at that. We had 60% of the ball, and created far more chances than Palace – a stark contrast to when we played them earlier in the season. Three wins on the bounce, the most we’ve managed during my tenure – and probably the most Villa have managed in years  – and we looked to be in a very good position, rocketing up to 9th in the table! Who’d have thought that after our horrendous January?

Of course, we then came crashing down to earth against 4th placed Leicester, with Mahrez and Vardy tearing our – still shocking – defence to shreds. We irritatingly conceded just before half time, and when the second went in in the 63rd minute, I decided to cut my losses and move to the 4-1-4-1, and just be content with the defeat. I wasn’t about to have us be destroyed, and have morale crash like it did after the Spurs game in November. It got us over the line with a 2-0 defeat, and although it was an incredibly negative move, I have to think of our bid to stay up and the importance of goal difference with all the teams so close in terms of points. Although it’s been a fantastic month, it just shows us how far we still have to go.

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I’m also continuing my attempts to get rid of Gabby Agbonlahor and his ridiculous £55k per week salary. I know N’Zogbia is leaving at the end of the season, so that will at least free up some cash, but I’d ideally love to get rid of this utter waste of space too. However, I keep repeatedly seeing this above every time Cardiff make a bid for him. At this point I’m offering him out for £100k, I’ve kept him on the bench, I’ve told him to get in contact with clubs, and he still won’t get the message. I refuse to keep him until 2018, soaking up my wage budget. He has to go.

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So, we end February of 2016 in 10th place, a massive improvement from 16th at the end of January. It just goes to show how close the league is from mid table down to the bottom half that three wins and a defeat has taken us up a massive 6 places, and we’re now only 3 points off the Europa League places. Of course, I don’t expect us to progress any further up the table, but at least the gap isn’t so great. Jordan Ayew has started scoring again – he’s carried the load all season – and the 4-3-3 really seems to be working for us, allowing us to get support to Ayew more quickly, and giving balance to our 3 man midfield of Gueye, Westwood and Veretout. With 3 months to go, I’m now really starting to feel confident that we’re going to be safe, and a couple more decent months should see us playing Premier League football next season. We just need a new Chairman, more money, and some better players. But hey, baby steps.

So until the end of March, thank you very much for reading, and as always if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to make them on this blog, or contact me via Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you again.

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