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Am I really on my own? Reflection


LancsVillan
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An interested party wrote in with

Two days have now passed and a bit of reflecting has been done. I’ve read various comments from people on messageboards, the odd television pundit and newspaper columnists who really are no more qualified than ourselves, and the thoughts of our management team and I don’t think I’ve agreed with anyone.

Am I really on my own?

The very fact that I’ve been thinking about this for two days probably shows that this game, this team has taken a grip on my life too much and it’s time to let it go. Or at least end this cycle of spending so much money on the ‘Golden Ticket’ (minus cup games, of course) followed by excitement – this phase seems to have lasted longer over the past few years – and the inevitable disappointment and let down when the

realisation strikes that actually we won’t be achieving the success that we craved, that we thought we might achieve this year.

And for what it’s worth, I think finishing fifth, even sixth and qualifying for the UEFA Cup could have been perceived as a success for this season, or at least a pretty decent consolation prize had we not treated the same competition pretty poorly throughout our participation this season, concluding in fielding a team which pretty much said “forfeit”.

If I believed in such a thing as Karma I’d be willingly suggesting that our subsequent fall from grace would be down to our behaviour in throwing away our participation in one of the world’s top club tournaments (not THE – but one of the…) – a tournament in it’s last year which we hadn’t won before. But I don’t believe in Karma, mainly because if I did believe in such then I’d end up being a character in ‘Hollyoaks’. And I hate that programme.

Despite that, I think those pointing towards the ease at which we gave up European competition are slightly missing the point. I can’t understand how a competition that we only played a full strength team once in could affect team morale, play or even fitness. Surely even in the group stages, despite the noises coming from Villa Park (in an attempt to push up ticket sales, dare I say?) this competition was never anywhere near the top priorities.

I certainly think that now we are facing UEFA Cup qualification rather than Champions League it could cause an issue though. Why bust a gut to participate in a cup competition that we'll probably just throw away again next season? A competition where the first team squad probably won't be playing in anyway? I could understand that trial of thought.

I also don't subscribe to the line of thought that it's all down to tired players. Yes, they have played a lot of games, but the period we found ourselves playing the most number of games seemed to be when we were progressing and winning game after game. It was when players began being 'rested' that it seems we've had problems - and it's got worse over the past two games where after a week off due to the reserves being sent to Moscow, and then a week in Dubai when we've still been, lets be honest, pretty poor for huge periods of the game.

I wouldn't argue with someone suggesting that it put doubts into the players minds when they were left behind for the game against Moscow, though. Just as we saw how winning can become a habit - lucky deflections and the like - losing can be just as easy to get into the habit of - as we are all unfortunately experiencing at the moment.

It's not the players unable to get to places that has caused downfalls. It's the way we are playing. We simply aren't playing as a unit. Players don't know what to do, where they should be - they aren't looking prepared. Never would you find a greater example of that than last Sunday, looking at Reo-Coker's face when being told to play center back or seeing James Milner screaming at the bench for five minutes asking where exactly he was supposed to be playing.

And I think this is one of the biggest problems Villa have at the moment. We don't seem prepared for the opposition in front of us - just there at the game ready to play. Perhaps that's down to the time between games (two games in the past two weeks is hardly a lot though - what did they do in Dubai?!) - just a lack of time for preparation - I don't know, but the Tottenham Hotspur fans had it absolutely correct when they were singing "One Plan, You've only got one plan!".

I can't help but think that this isn't being helped in the slightest by playing our players in positions which make no sense. I just can't understand it some of the choices. Surely playing a left back in his rightful position is going to be better than playing a central midfielder at rightback, a left back at right back and a right winger - somebody who can actually create things - at right back. This was actually done on Sunday - and the only reason I could possible fathom why was to keep Heskey, our one January signing on the pitch (but being played out of position, naturally!) at left wing and moving Young to the right wing where he is less comfortable.

I'm not saying I am a better manager than Martin O'Neill. I'm not. Let's get this straight now. But when confidence is low, when pressure is on you to get results and you haven't been playing football that has been anything like you have shown earlier in the season for months now, then surely it's a good idea to go back to basics - play players in the positions which they are comfortable in.

Our main tactic for Spurs was the same as against Stoke, as against any team this season. Get the ball to Ashley - if that doesn't work hoof it up to the guy up front. There's only one problem with this - when you face defenders who are good in the air they can bat away Young's crosses and deal with the long balls. And there doesn't appear to be an answer to it when we become stuck. There's no plan 'B'.

O'Neill is a fantastic man manager. When he gets the players in the right frame of mind then we can (and usually do) beat anyone. He can make an average player great - which is a good job because he has brought in a fair load of average players. The only problem with that is that occasionally, no matter what you say to an average skilled player he will put out a distinctly average performance. Sidwell has added nothing to Villa since his signing. Heskey (who I thought was going to be a star here) won us the game at Portsmouth and has done nothing since. Is Zat Knight good enough to be in a team looking to be in the top four? Why buy Shorey or Harewood if you never had any intention of playing them? I know you are more likely to get a player who won't flop if you buy a player who has already played in the Premiership - but it would be nice just for once to go that extra bit further and gamble on someone from a league abroad who could do the business. Fellaini - or Harewood, Sidwell and Shorey? If we'd have used that cash on one big spend and it had flopped it wouldn't have been any more a waste of money than the cash wasted on those three.

That last bit nearly turned into a rant then, so I apologise for that.

The problem is that whenever we get into a position where it looks like Aston Villa might finally push on up - something - always something - seems to get in the way. Is 5th really the best we can aim for?

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Whoever wrote that writes well.

I will say though that while I understand the thought process, I don't agree with a fair part of it. In fact I think worrying about a lot of the things discussed is pretty futile.

"Why buy Shorey or Harewood if you never had any intention of playing them" - the answer is in the question.

Our main tactic for Spurs was the same as against Stoke, as against any team this season. Get the ball to Ashley - not really. I see that teams are only too well aware of Ash's capabilities, but the "tactic" was for all the forwards - Milner, Gabby, Heskey...plus GB from midfield...to create and take chances. Milner wasn't at his best, Gabby was poor, Heskey, too was pretty well marked by King and Woodgate - so the tactics were thwarted by a combo of 2 good Spurs defenders, and Gabby being off form. That just left Ashley skinning his full back, but with no-one there to get on the end of it....Until Carew came on.

I agree about Sidwell - he's been invisible apart from a couple of games. I also agree about playing people "out of position". It's sometimes hard to understand, but then again Holland used to play all over the place - total football they called it - flexible players who are not narrow minded that they only play one place is an advantage if they have the willingness and ability.

Given the resource gap between Villa and other clubs competing towards the top (Everton excluded - and they do the same thing as us) this flexibility is a way of making up the difference, to an extent. I'd rather see Luke Young at RB and a LB played at LB, but Bouma's been injured and Shorey mostly not that good. I guess MO'N would have played full backs in their natural roles if he thought the team would be better for it, but events conspired...

Regarding playing as a unit, well, yes and no - basically they have lost some of the edge they had when on the great run the y went on, but basically it's down to not scoring goals. Get goals and you'll be fine, you might not win every game, but you won't lose many. Especially if you can get your best defenders on the pitch.

Unfortunately Martin Laursen has been missed, Curtis then lost form, Zat's done very well, but the constant enforced changes have led to an unsettled and therefore slightly leaky defence. Sometimes MO'N's loyalty/consistency can be a double edged sword, as players are not perhaps given the proverbial shake up they need by being rested.

There is not a lot wrong with Villa, it's not worth getting too worried by. We played well for an hour against stoke, for 45 minutes against City and for 45 mins against Spurs. Had the cards fallen differently, then we'd be 3rd or 4th and well clear of Arsenal. They didn't work out that way. Life goes on.

There is no way on earth that we could/can keep on the rate of progress we have made over the past 2 and 3/4 seasons. Sometimes a step back is needed, before going two steps forward.

I'd like to finish 3rd (well I'd really like to win the league), but if we finish 4/5/6th, that's another good season. The worst that will happen is we'll qualify for Europa league. Hopefully we'll be the stronger for this years experiences, and have a stronger squad, again.

Personally I'm not going to get wound up by a Villa that's top 6 material again. Yes I'd love better, but don't get too down on the back of a few bad results.

As they say - win 2 games and everyone is on that you're going to win the league, lose 2 and you're dreadful. Neither is true.

Lastly on the season ticket thing, because we've been doing so well, then badly, the emotions take their toll. Sure the cost is significant, but you'd miss it..

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as usual, i pretty much totally agree with Sir Peter of Blandshire on all points here.

There isn't THAT much wrong. We were due a blip, a lull, a bit of bad luck.

We have some injuries, and some loss of form. We will recouperate. 4th may be a step too far though, it seems this time, what with the arse recovery.

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I agree about Sidwell - he's been invisible apart from a couple of games. I also agree about playing people "out of position". It's sometimes hard to understand, but then again Holland used to play all over the place - total football they called it - flexible players who are not narrow minded that they only play one place is an advantage if they have the willingness and ability.

I have to say a very big 'WELL DONE' to 'Lancsvillan!' Your post said everything that needed to be said and i hope it finds it's way onto the lap of our manager, 'Woody Allen.' As for the above quote from 'Blandy,' eh, i don't yet think we have the quality of player to impersonate any member of the dutch national 'total footballing team' of the 70s!

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Great post and good to read something without seeing a rant! However after three days of thinking about the situation there are a few things that spring out and annoy me;

1. Why change a winning formation (4 5 1 / 4 3 3) to accommodate the type of player we didn't actually need?

2. Why bemoan the depth of the squad when you have had 5 (6 if you count when MON joined) tansfer window's to make an impact?

3. Gabby rant i'm afraid!! (and believe me I would never boo the team or an individual player). One incident springs to mind which typified every about Gabby for me at the moment. Cast your minds back to the Stoke game when half way through the second half. Young picked up the ball on the left and started to run with pace. Gabby was jogging down the middle whilst being passed by a sprinting and screaming Petrov wanting to hit the box. Which one is the striker?

4. For months now I have discussed with many people why Young doesn't get his chance by Capello....surely his form has proved he is worthy of the chance and I could never understand why he didn't until now. His performance on Sunday sparked the reason in one game for me. Give him an apponent that he can get past and he will do it all day long, give him someone he doesn't give him the time of day and his interest collapses....dramatically. I don't buy the confidence card as surely against Zakora his confidence would have been bubbling to then take on Corluka, it never happened.

I really want to stay positive and yes on reflection 6th or 5th would have been a decent position if you asked me at the start of the season but we are nearly at the end and have self destructed. I can honestly say it will be a huge dissappointment after everything to not even be competing for the holy grail come the last 2/3 games.

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And for what it’s worth, I think finishing fifth, even sixth and qualifying for the UEFA Cup could have been perceived as a success for this season, or at least a pretty decent consolation prize had we not treated the same competition pretty poorly throughout our participation this season, concluding in fielding a team which pretty much said “forfeit”.

I think this pretty neatly sums up my current disenchantment at the moment. The messages sent out by the Moscow thing were entirely the wrong ones. I can see what O'Neill was trying to do, but to my mind he got that call, a huge, a huge decision, horribly wrong. I think the messages sent out were:

We are tired

(the players, who might have been tired, had never played like it until then, suddenly since they look jaded. When I was in Sales a management they used to say "never give people excuses for failure ahead of time" - seems to me thats what ONeill did it is also interesting that teams now have no fear of us, its a long, long time since a team came and attacked us like Spurs did, maybe this sent the opposition the wrong message too?)

We are too good for the UEFA Cup

(We aren't, and should have treated the competition with the respect it deserved. Milan and Bremen both bigger clubs than us fielded full strength teams in their last-32 tie I have no issues with us fielding weakened teams in the groups once we were through, but to do so against CSKA was massively arrogant in my opinion. it also smacked a little bit of "job done, top four already achieved". Wrong)

If you get knocked out of competitions due to the vagaries of the football gods- a bad draw, a bumpy pitch, a bad ref- these things you can live with. Maybe we would have lost in Moscow anyway, but that would have been fine. To have made that decision, not in the Luhzinski but in the managers office at B6 is just wrong.

Now OK, sometimes a manager can gamble everything, sometimes he needs to. Sometimes he has to put all his eggs in one basket. fair enough, I'll accept that.

If you do put all your eggs in one basket though then you'd best not drop the basket, or there'll be hell to pay. O'Neill seems to be in the process of dropping the basket. he is giving every impression of buckling under the pressure, making silly unforced errors, weird tactical decisions and displaying odd stubborness over team selection and formation.

And then, to cap it all, he starts having a go at the fans, which reminds me forcibly of the previous incumbent when the pressure got too much. instead of taking the blame onto his own shoulders as a good manager should, instead of accepting that he should have pulled Gabby out of the firing line a month ago, he turns on the supporters.not a clever move, and perhaps the biggest of the many errors he has made this last month

people say "well, its been a fantastic season anyway". Hmm. Last season we achieved 60 points, and spent over £30m nett last summer. Surely anything less than 65 points or so would HAVE to be seen as abject failure in that context? Are we likely to get another 13 points?

lets hope he turns it around, but speaking personally, I have zero belief that he will. Sorry.

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I fundamentally disagree Pete. I'm confident more people will hold a similar view to yourself, than mine, but nevertheless I think you're utterly wrong (but eloquently so).

Re Moscow, I look at it like this:-

It's 48 hours or so before a really crucial league game against Chelsea. Do you a) take the team to Moscow, and 6 hour flight, play a competitive game on an artificial pitch at -10 degrees, with the risk of injury etc that entails, then fly all the way back, getting no proper rest, and then go straight into the league game

or

Do you, reluctantly conclude that to give it a "full go" against both CSKA and Chelsea would be too much - 2 games in 3 days, plus the travelling time and injury risks, and therefore prioritise. If you prioritise which do you select? Take away the excuse of too tired by NOT putting the same players out for both games.

The respect the UEFA cup deserves? once upon a time, but this a competition so bloated, so false, that it's a knock out, then a league, then some teams get parachuted in, then it's a knock out and it takes 19 games to win. Even UEFA have binned it as a dog's dinner.

Of course, Giving yourself the best chance of beating Chelsea doesn't guarantee beating them. We lost, rather unfortunately, so people will give MO'N stick. That's what happens if you lose games. All the eggs in one basket, as you say. But did "he" drop the basket? really. Or did he do his best to try to see of the imminent danger of too many games as best he could. I tend to feel that we would have lost in Moscow even with a full strength side, and would have fared even worse as a result. Hypothetical, true. But I do accept that the manager's judgement on the condition and mental fatigue/sharpness of the players is the best thing to go by.

you say MO'N is buckling under... pressure, ... silly unforced errors....weird tactical decisions.... and ...odd stubborness. That to me is less of an analysis and more of a disappointed/angry lash out at someone.

Of the fans who cheered Gab's substitution MO'N said "

"I can put up with many other things, but that was uncalled for...People have short memories. He's a local lad, he's come through the ranks and has been absolutely terrific."
.

Perhaps not the wisest thing to say, given the way media jump on comments and the way us fans are so precious in terms of thinking we are beyond even the mildest criticism. But truth be told "that was uncalled for" is so innocuous a comment as to merely amplify the general point about ultra sensitivity of some supporters and the eagerness of the media to make something of nothing.

Gabby and MO'N in my mind should take the ironic cheering on the chin and get on with it. The cheering was harsh but fair, frankly. Equally, perhaps, us supporters should do the same with the comment from the manager? - We were angry at the level of performance of Gabby and the failure to change things, MO'N thought "our" expression of this feeling was "uncalled for". OK. Now we know where we stand, move on.

Are we likely to get another 13 points - 4 wins and a draw? probably .

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I fundamentally disagree Pete. I'm confident more people will hold a similar view to yourself, than mine, but nevertheless I think you're utterly wrong (but eloquently so).

Re Moscow, I look at it like this:-

It's 48 hours or so before a really crucial league game against Chelsea. Do you a) take the team to Moscow, and 6 hour flight, play a competitive game on an artificial pitch at -10 degrees, with the risk of injury etc that entails, then fly all the way back, getting no proper rest, and then go straight into the league game

or

Do you, reluctantly conclude that to give it a "full go" against both CSKA and Chelsea would be too much - 2 games in 3 days, plus the travelling time and injury risks, and therefore prioritise. If you prioritise which do you select? Take away the excuse of too tired by NOT putting the same players out for both games.

The respect the UEFA cup deserves? once upon a time, but this a competition so bloated, so false, that it's a knock out, then a league, then some teams get parachuted in, then it's a knock out and it takes 19 games to win. Even UEFA have binned it as a dog's dinner.

Of course, Giving yourself the best chance of beating Chelsea doesn't guarantee beating them. We lost, rather unfortunately, so people will give MO'N stick. That's what happens if you lose games. All the eggs in one basket, as you say. But did "he" drop the basket? really. Or did he do his best to try to see of the imminent danger of too many games as best he could. I tend to feel that we would have lost in Moscow even with a full strength side, and would have fared even worse as a result. Hypothetical, true. But I do accept that the manager's judgement on the condition and mental fatigue/sharpness of the players is the best thing to go by.

you say MO'N is buckling under... pressure, ... silly unforced errors....weird tactical decisions.... and ...odd stubborness. That to me is less of an analysis and more of a disappointed/angry lash out at someone.

Of the fans who cheered Gab's substitution MO'N said "

"I can put up with many other things, but that was uncalled for...People have short memories. He's a local lad, he's come through the ranks and has been absolutely terrific."
.

Perhaps not the wisest thing to say, given the way media jump on comments and the way us fans are so precious in terms of thinking we are beyond even the mildest criticism. But truth be told "that was uncalled for" is so innocuous a comment as to merely amplify the general point about ultra sensitivity of some supporters and the eagerness of the media to make something of nothing.

Gabby and MO'N in my mind should take the ironic cheering on the chin and get on with it. The cheering was harsh but fair, frankly. Equally, perhaps, us supporters should do the same with the comment from the manager? - We were angry at the level of performance of Gabby and the failure to change things, MO'N thought "our" expression of this feeling was "uncalled for". OK. Now we know where we stand, move on.

Are we likely to get another 13 points - 4 wins and a draw? probably .

was about to post a very similar riposte, Pete.

But now I have no need, as you have expresed excellently and eloquently everything i was going to type.

You've saved me 10 minutes. Merci, and spot on Sir. :nod:

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The respect the UEFA cup deserves? once upon a time, but this a competition so bloated, so false, that it's a knock out, then a league, then some teams get parachuted in, then it's a knock out and it takes 19 games to win. Even UEFA have binned it as a dog's dinner.

So we are too good for the UEFA Cup?

I tend to feel that we would have lost in Moscow even with a full strength side, and would have fared even worse as a result.

How could we have done worse?

you say MO'N is buckling under... pressure, ... silly unforced errors....weird tactical decisions.... and ...odd stubborness. That to me is less of an analysis and more of a disappointed/angry lash out at someone.

Odd stubborness, by this I am specifically referring to the situation with John Carew. by ONeill's own admission, Gabby is low on confidence, and yet he continues to play Gabby and leave Carew on the bench. A Carew who is in red hot form. Every time Carew comes off the bench and scores he makes O'Neill look a bit silly. Maybe we do only have one plan, but I'll tell you what, when that plan involves putting the ball onto carew's head, its a bloody good one, less so when the target is Heskey. Now I am in no way shape or form a Heskey basher, I think he's a terrific player, but he isnt prolific, never has been, never will be. his strengths lie elsewhere, relying on him to carry the team's goal scoring responsibility as an old fashioned centre forward when we have a player of carew's talents sat on the bench is just stubbornness and close to being rank stupidity. I dont know what MON's issue is with carew, but he needs to get over it.

Weird tactical decisions - Reo-Coker at central defender, oh hang about, maybe he's playing left wing, erm, does anyone know what Milner's supposed to be doing, cos he doesnt?

Silly unforced errors - playing Gabby week after week when it was obvious (to me anyway) as far back as CSKA at home that his confidence was shot. No need to keep him in the side, we have squad options as said. Playing Curtis after his injury at Everton was nonsense. the lad was obviously playing well, well within himself for several games.Again, there were options, the manager didnt take them. Some of the things he has said recently have just been odd, cant quite put my finger on it, but the mood music right now is horrible, as bad as it has been since DOL was here. Barry's contract, Stan's contract, the Carew thing, fans jeering Gabby, ONeill being critical of the fans, Barry going on about low morale. Its not pretty,and its much, much more than a bad sequence of results, something has gone badly wrong behind the scenes imo, something to do with the Moscow decision (speculation, not ITK)

Are we likely to get another 13 points - 4 wins and a draw? probably .

I hope you're right

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..So we are too good for the UEFA Cup?

Not what I said at all. I feel in a choice between Prem and UEFA cup , Prem is more important. Much more.

I tend to feel that we would have lost in Moscow even with a full strength side, and would have fared even worse as a result.
How could we have done worse?

Got injuries, lost more heavily etc....

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So we are too good for the UEFA Cup?

nope. We prioritised Bozzy. MON sees/saw the league/CL as a higher priority than the UEFA. I think that is a sensible view to take.

How could we have done worse?

we could have got absolutely spanked by Chelsea, fielding atired team of dejected 1st team players, who had just got knocked out of the UEFA.

Odd stubborness, by this I am specifically referring to the situation with John Carew. by ONeill's own admission, Gabby is low on confidence, and yet he continues to play Gabby and leave Carew on the bench. A Carew who is in red hot form. Every time Carew comes off the bench and scores he makes O'Neill look a bit silly.

for me that is pragmatism and tactics. MOn doesn't really have another gabby type player. carew is just coming back from injury, and getting better with each game.

he is scoring when coming off the bench. Usually, when a player does that, the manager is applauded. Why does that make him look silly? :? Maybe Carew at the moment is more effective doing that than starting?

IMHO, every time carew comes off the bench and scores, he makes O'neill look a bit of a tactical genius, not silly.

MON's real probelm is that he seemingly only has about 14 or 15 or so players he really trusts, and the big boys who compete on all fronts need 20 plus.

That is something he will need to address.

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..So we are too good for the UEFA Cup?

Not what I said at all. I feel in a choice between Prem and UEFA cup , Prem is more important. Much more.

..

How it looks to me is

A year ago, no, six months ago, the UEFA Cup was the be all and end all. Suddenly, given perhaps a little glimpse of the possibility of those riches from the next tier up from six months spent in the top four, suddenly the UEFA Cup looks like a second rate competition? maybe we got a little ahead of ourselves?

I wonder if all the players agree, given that two or three joined us specifically to play in Europe

I wonder if all the board agrees, given their heavy marketing of the competition

I look back to Liverpool winning the UEFA Cup a few years back, and what it did for their club, giving them in some ways that little leg up status wise to go on to 2 Champs Lge finals quickly afterwards. I look at the UEFA Cup and what it did for the likes of Porto and Mourinho. I look at the UEFA Cup and what CSKA winning it said about the state of Russian football, subsequently confirmed by the performances of Zenit and the russian national team. Second rate competition? Maybe, but still very, very important for teams in a certain phase of their development.

most of all though, I look back to united winning the CWC early on in fergie's reign, the catalyst for everything that followed. Now that WAS a second rate cup:-)

Winning in Europe *is* a big deal, I'm sorry, it really is, its not the Champions League perhaps, but its an important phase to go through - all the big four won "second rate" Euro pots on their way up over the last 10-15 years

now again, I can see the argument that says, well, lets gamble that against qualifying for the Champions League. But the fact remains, that if that gamble fails then its a mistake, by definition. We will never know what would have happened *if* we had turned up with a proper team in Moscow, but if we walked away for nothing then the manager has to be held accountable ultimately. lets hope it doesnt come to that

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IMHO, every time carew comes off the bench and scores, he makes O'neill look a bit of a tactical genius, not silly..

That rather depends on why he is on the bench

lets be clear, the only player in a Villa shirt coring goals right now is Carew. No-one else seems capable of hitting a cows arse with a banjo. he seems fit. he seems sharp. he seems hungry (so does Nathan by the way), and yet he doesnt get to start. Because he's fallen out with the manager? Oh dear.

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Because he's fallen out with the manager? Oh dear.

has he though? Do we know this for sure?

Also, Big JC has a track record of "falling out/getting bored/moving on quickly" from almost every club he's been at .....

a manager needs to maintain discipline.

I agree about the Fonz. I'd be using him more.

Gabby has been crying out for a rest for ages.

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