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Not Counting any Chickens Yet


blandy
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PB has written to ask whether Can Villa crack the big four, or better yet challenge for a long overdue title as some have claimed?

I write this after reading articles by the always excellent TFT blogger Chris Nee who claimed that the top four are, well, not dead exactly but in a coma, and my old mate from the anti-Ellis campaigns Ian Robathan who claimed on his blog that Villa had a shot at the title this year. Even Alex Ferguson chimed in the other day with his Christmas message, which as last year claimed he wouldn't be surprised to see Villa challenging for the title.

As last year, he will be wrong; there is absolutely no chance, zero, nil, nada, nowt, none of Villa acquiring more points over a 38 game season than the football point machines which are Manchester United and Chelsea, never mind the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and even our old friends Tottenham. Our squad cannot match the quality and depth of those squads, and over a full season that will be exposed, as it was last. We can, to be topical, Rage Against The Machine by believing little old Villa with our superior team ethic and our work rate and our annoying, if media savvy, manager have what it takes to compete, but its a delusion.

All of our competitors have, to be blunt, better football players than us in most positions on the pitch (defence excepted perhaps, in some cases), they have more strength in depth and with the exception of Tottenham more experience of being in the mix when the pressure kicks in than we do. All of them (again with the exception of Spurs) have managers who have won titles and/or European Cups, managers who have a proven record of going the distance without imploding under the pressure. Our manager has the exact opposite record. He has won nothing of note, and when it looked for all the world last season like he was going to really mark his arrival on the scene by doing something significant he froze like a rabbit in the headlights and to this point in time isn't showing many signs of having learnt the lessons from the last campaign. Here we are again after playing five games in 19 days with the same starting eleven with O'Neill complaining about his players being tired and playing too many matches. Go figure. Its like a bizarre kind of dèja vu and I'm already dreading the team selections in the cup matches next month.

Anyway, the simple fact of the matter is that neither the title race nor the race for the top four have even started yet. They won't for another ten games really. Up until then, up until we hit the final ten games of the campaign its all about jostling for position on the starting grid. We are still in qualifying. Yes, we are doing nicely so far, really nicely and if we can pick up twenty points or so from the next ten games then we'll be in a nice spot on the grid to launch a top four bid from. You can bet, despite all their current troubles, that even if we do rack up those 20 points we won't have shaken off any of our current competitors, not even Liverpool or Man City, oh no, they'll be there, count on it. If we are still there hanging around this group at that time THAT's when it starts to get real, thats when the pressure is on, thats when every game is a Cup Final and the experience or lack thereof will be ruthlessly exposed. If we are there still after 28 games I'll start to believe its possible, that we have what it takes. I hope we are, but it is just that, hope, in the face of all realistic expectation.

I'd love to believe that Villa can compete. I'd love to see us playing Champions League football next season, but the lesson from last season, harsh as it is, is that we aren't good enough or experienced enough and lack quality and the ability to control football matches. We haven't added that genuine top level talent, we haven't added enough quality in depth. We've had some great results this season, beating three of the big four with Arsenal to come next, and I've really loved that, especially the win at Old Trafford which was so sweet after so many years. And yet, counterbalancing that I've seen us somehow come off the pitch against Spurs with a point after totally outclassed, I've seen Brad Friedel being a one man team to get us totally unjustified wins against Liverpool and Chelsea after being similarly outclassed, and while I've celebrated those wins as excitedly as the next man it nags at me that like last season its a bubble waiting to burst. We cant keep getting away with it. We didn't last year, we wont this.

I'd take sixth place right now, I really would. I think us and Spurs will be fighting for sixth come May, and I'll take beating them to that and lifting the Carling Cup as being a good, positive forward moving season. Anything else is, in my opinion, just 'belief', faith with nothing to back it up, people setting themselves up for a huge, huge fall. I know, 12 months ago, that was me, I took the fall and I'm not about to do that again. As it is, I'll go to the Emirates on Sunday (thanks for the tickets JF! I'll see if I can knock you up a match report!) ready for a good Christmas knees up, ready for Villa to maintain our incredible record at that ground, ready to rub my Arsenal supporting friends noses in the mud for a while, but also ready to accept that when you are talking about the serious teams, at the serious end of the season, we are outgunned.

PB

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Maybe it's just me, Pete, but I think that analysis is overly gloomy.

I don't share your view that MO'N is "annoying". I think he's interesting and intelligent. I like the fact that he does things his way, the right way. He doesn't compromise or bow to popular opinion. That's, for me, the opposite of annoying, whatever that is.

I also think that in the team spirit, work ethic and so on that he has fostered we do have something absent from the likes of Man City and Liverpool. The team is greater than the sum of it's parts, whereas they are less than the sum of their parts. It matters.

I also think the title race starts on day one of the season, not with 10 games left. That's, to use another anology, like the last laps of a 10,000 metre race, rather than the starting gun you view it as.

Another area I differ from you, is that of the "lessons of last season". I don't get this at all. Last season towards the end, we looked a mess in defence and devoid of threat up front, while the midfield were treading treacle.

We have, now, a stronger depth of back 4, without question. We could swap the 2 in the centre at the moment, for their deputies, and still be strong. That wasn't the case last year. Gabby is wiser and stronger, We have back up wingers, Heskey has settled in, now.

In midfield Barry has been replaced by James Milner, who is a way way better player than he was last year, and someone who is totally set on playing well for Villa.

As for adding top class talent, I think it's a case of one step at a time. What we've done is what I wanted - grown the club and the side surely and steadily. None of this throwing money at the thing then losing patience a la Manchester City. They added Robinho and Adebayor and so on, and despite their limitless funds are a team that is part brilliant, part car crash. We are more than matching them.

I don't know what will happen in the next few weeks, or towards the end of the season, but the evidence of my own eyes is that we are much better positioned to last longer than we did last year. It's part "faith" as you put it, part judgement. It's not irrational. I don't even think the wins against Liverpool or Chelsea were "unjustified". They couldn't cope with us, and couldn't cope with the expectations they put on themselves, or their fans put on them.

While every silver lining may have a cloud, I'm of the view that we should just enjoy the silver while we have it, while we're chasing it.

Just about every criticism made of MO'N over the past 3 or 4 years has been, in my opinion, shown to be wrong.

It was "he can't organise a defence - we can score, but we can't stop letting in goals". The it was "the midfield isn't creative enough"....and so on. It just changes with the instantaneous fortunes of the team.

He knows what he's doing, which is more than can be said for Rafa, or Gary Cook.

The standard of the perennial top 4 sides has fallen in all 4 cases, we've got better. Spurs have too, and Man City will also challenge, but I'd say top 4 is a possibility for us, the title not, not this season. We'll have a ropy spell at some point, we'll get injuries and suspensions, but so will the rest.

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I think it's a good thing to be lowering expectations because right now they're getting a little over the top. Time and time again we've failed to meet expectations, so being realistic I don't feel as if we should be favourites for top 4 despite our current position.

What I would say is that we have improved on last season - and the belief our team is showing is stronger than last season. We've managed to beat Liverpool and Utd away (first time in years), and the players are going into games with the belief that they can win. MON has drilled it in to them that they can't just turn up, and results have been getting better as the seasons gone on.

Of course there will be off days over the second half of the season, but I can't see the same collapse happening again. Yes we'll lose a few (probably to teams we should beat), but I reckon we'll have more in us to stay the course and challenge till the very end.

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Its not always the best players that win titles but it is the best team over a season. In the past the likes of Forest in 77 and us in 80 would not have been favourites for the titles they won on day one of the season but they both did it through a team ethic and strong managers who moulded the team together they wanted which then went on to shock the more likely suspects.

It will be harder to do now but I think it might just happen if not this season then say within a season or two. This season I think fourth is a realistic aim. We may fail to secure that placing but I'm not prepared to give up on that yet and I don't think our players and management are either. A trophy would as has been suggested be a nice consolation but what we continue to see at B6 is ongoing improvement and that is what we all wanted and have been provided with to date.

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Maybe it's just me, Pete, but I think that analysis is overly gloomy.

It's not just you. It's unbelievably gloomy. Expectations may get carried away at the moment, but this article goes way over the top in the other direction.

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Incredibly gloomy.

I completely agree with the playing down of the title shouts. of course we won't win the title, even be challenging for it.

But if someone offered me 6th right now I'd tell them to **** off.

I'm not saying we'll finish 4th, but I fully expect us to be challenging for it. I think we'll be in a similar position to last season prior to the Stoke game, maybe not quite as good, and this season we'll be a hell of a lot better equipped to keep the performances up.

if this article didn't have PB as it's author I'd have guessed it was barrys boots or Sting that wrote it. As Danwichman has said, expectations are understandably getting carried away, but this is the other extreme.

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.... Terrible article....
There's a difference between disagreeing with something and that something being "terrible".

It's PB's view, he's written and explained it well, and while neither of us agree with him, it's unfair and ungracious to call it terrible. It's not. It's a different outlook to yours or mine.

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When I say annoying I mean to say that he annoys me, and he does. He irritates me, grates at me, in perhaps much the same way that an ex girlfriend might. The things that used to seem cute and charming now just get on my nerves. I'm not alone either, many people I speak to feel the same. But this isnt about O'Neill, who I think is actually doing a pretty decent job all things considered, and who, being fair, has also said that he fully expects as I do that the top four come May to be more or less the usual suspects.

Guys, if you think that me saying Villa are a solid top six side but no more is overly gloomy then I suggest you pull yourselves up sharp. We are a really decent team, with decent players. Milner I think will be a superstar in time. And yes we are on a great run, Downing has made quite a difference and I'm really enjoying it, really revelling in being able to take the mick out of scousers and gobby man City fans - while I can. But top four? Champions League? Come on, be serious.

Look. For most of the campaign to date we have been bloody dull, as boring as Leicester were under O'neill for those old enough to remember how dire they were to watch (although I'll concede they were effective, especially when they played us!). How many games have we had more than 50% possession? more shots than the opposition? I accept that these things dont win points, goals for and against do, but ultimately the fourth best (or better) team in the land is going to be better than that, better than a team who cant hold possession even against mediocre opposition like Stoke. I'm sorry if you dont like me pointing that out.

I admire our grit, our determination, our effort. These are all fine and necessary qualities in a football team, but this isnt 1980 any more, it isnt enough, not by far. The top teams have genuine world class quality, and they have it in depth, and they have grit, determination and effort, and experience. We dont have that quality, sorry. I appreciate thats not going to be popular at this time, but its simply true. After 38 games the League table doesnt lie, and Villa in the top four is just that, a lie, we simply arent that good, if we were we would be able to dominate the odd game of football or at least look like the better of the two teams on show.

Just imo naturally.

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I fancy there'll be a battle for fourth that goes all the way to the line, and I fancy we'll be in the thick of it.

I've been surprised this season with how easily I've been drawn in and tempted by belief. I started the season convinced we'd be in a battle for the last UEFA spot and not overly confident we'd get it.

Liverpool have changed that.

New hope from the new world because between them the American board and the comical Spanish manager of Liverpool football club have made a rare old mess of things and Liverpool are now on the edge of the precipice. Skint, not performing well and falling apart at the seams, they are as little as a couple of defeats away from bowing out of the race for fourth early and that single fact has for me changed the face of English football and lit this season up.

It's not just me and it's not just us, the collapse of Liverpool will be causing excitement amongst that most maligned of groups; Spurs fans and also amongst the fans of Manchester City. All three of us know we're in this battle and we all know we can win it, I think we would all say it's possible for the other two to win it; I'm not sure if Liverpool believe at the moment.

City too though have disappointed, I thought they would "click" a little better than they have, that they'd have off days but for the most part sparkle. They haven't, they've lacked any kind of sheen or lustre and still look for the most part a pretty ordinary side for 80 minutes of any match. They'll get it right in the end, but the sun is shining and I don't see any reason why we shouldn't make hay.

It's not our improvement that's given me some hope of success this season, or at least it's not just our improvement, it's the failure of others.

I think we've got grit, some really good experience and more quality than others give us credit for. We don't play with the style of Arsenal, or indeed Spurs, but we have a certain something.

I also think we have better depth than some of the teams around us and I'd fancy our second team against the second teams of Spurs or Liverpool.

I don't make us favourites and I've a horrible feeling Spurs might snatch it, but we're not the outsiders and we're a lot nearer than I thought we'd be.

You're spot on PB about pressure being the telling factor; we're largely untested in the hot bit of the season, but I don't necessarily think that means we'll crumble. It doesn't necessarily mean we'll stand tall either, but I don't think we'll know until we get there...and I think we'll get there.

In ten games time we'll be a lot more sure I guess, but I see no reason not to stick the old dream out on the block again and risk the heartbreak.

This could be our year.

(As I seem to remember saying just about every year.)

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Thanks PB.

I actually agree with you - in part.

The only teams with recent experience at being champions - ManUre and Chelsea - will be the only ones to realistically lift the Trophy this season. While Arsenal are past winners, their current squad has as much experience at winning as we do, so I would discount them.

The Top 4, however, is a different ball game this year - as are we.

- The top 2 sides are dropping points. United have already lost 5 this season. Chelsea were held by lowly West Ham. That means more potential points for the chasers.

- With the exception of Arsenal, our other top 4 contenders are in indifferent form. Liverpool are struggling. Man City have just sacked their manager. Tottenham are not consistent.

- Our biggest problem last season (our defense post Laursen) has been greatly strengthened in both quality and cover.

- Our squad is bigger with decent cover in most (if not all) positions

- We started this season with a proper pre-season, not an early cup competition.

- We are scraping results out of indifferent performances. These were losses last year.

- Our home form is a complete turn around from last season. That suggests we control games better now than we used to.

- We have positive results against other top 4 sides. In fact, against all other top 10 sides. This was not the case last year.

I see no reason why we will be repeating the same mistakes of last year and am more confident of a top 4 finish this year than I was last year.

Stay positive.

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When I say annoying I mean to say that he annoys me, and he does. He irritates me, grates at me, in perhaps much the same way that an ex girlfriend might. The things that used to seem cute and charming now just get on my nerves. I'm not alone either, many people I speak to feel the same. But this isnt about O'Neill, who I think is actually doing a pretty decent job all things considered, and who, being fair, has also said that he fully expects as I do that the top four come May to be more or less the usual suspects.

Guys, if you think that me saying Villa are a solid top six side but no more is overly gloomy then I suggest you pull yourselves up sharp. We are a really decent team, with decent players. Milner I think will be a superstar in time. And yes we are on a great run, Downing has made quite a difference and I'm really enjoying it, really revelling in being able to take the mick out of scousers and gobby man City fans - while I can. But top four? Champions League? Come on, be serious.

Look. For most of the campaign to date we have been bloody dull, as boring as Leicester were under O'neill for those old enough to remember how dire they were to watch (although I'll concede they were effective, especially when they played us!). How many games have we had more than 50% possession? more shots than the opposition? I accept that these things dont win points, goals for and against do, but ultimately the fourth best (or better) team in the land is going to be better than that, better than a team who cant hold possession even against mediocre opposition like Stoke. I'm sorry if you dont like me pointing that out.

I admire our grit, our determination, our effort. These are all fine and necessary qualities in a football team, but this isnt 1980 any more, it isnt enough, not by far. The top teams have genuine world class quality, and they have it in depth, and they have grit, determination and effort, and experience. We dont have that quality, sorry. I appreciate thats not going to be popular at this time, but its simply true. After 38 games the League table doesnt lie, and Villa in the top four is just that, a lie, we simply arent that good, if we were we would be able to dominate the odd game of football or at least look like the better of the two teams on show.

Just imo naturally.

PB for what my opinion is worth on here, I agree with you on many points. I also agree with many things blandy says, so I guess I'm somewhere in between.

We have made good strides and the development is now noticeable with the defence much more dogged, but I too still have my doubts about our ability to score when we need one. I do feel there is almost an obsession on here of speculating where we will finish, when we are still " work in progress".... I havn't a clue where we will finish,because there are too many imponderables.

I do think we need an out and out ball player who can change a game.... i.e Merson,Di Canio, that type.

I don't think we are far away now, but not there yet.

.....However, there is plenty to be pleased about.

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I fancy there'll be a battle for fourth that goes all the way to the line, and I fancy we'll be in the thick of it.

I've been surprised this season with how easily I've been drawn in and tempted by belief. I started the season convinced we'd be in a battle for the last UEFA spot and not overly confident we'd get it.

Liverpool have changed that.

New hope from the new world because between them the American board and the comical Spanish manager of Liverpool football club have made a rare old mess of things and Liverpool are now on the edge of the precipice. Skint, not performing well and falling apart at the seams, they are as little as a couple of defeats away from bowing out of the race for fourth early and that single fact has for me changed the face of English football and lit this season up.

It's not just me and it's not just us, the collapse of Liverpool will be causing excitement amongst that most maligned of groups; Spurs fans and also amongst the fans of Manchester City. All three of us know we're in this battle and we all know we can win it, I think we would all say it's possible for the other two to win it; I'm not sure if Liverpool believe at the moment.

City too though have disappointed, I thought they would "click" a little better than they have, that they'd have off days but for the most part sparkle. They haven't, they've lacked any kind of sheen or lustre and still look for the most part a pretty ordinary side for 80 minutes of any match. They'll get it right in the end, but the sun is shining and I don't see any reason why we shouldn't make hay.

It's not our improvement that's given me some hope of success this season, or at least it's not just our improvement, it's the failure of others.

I think we've got grit, some really good experience and more quality than others give us credit for. We don't play with the style of Arsenal, or indeed Spurs, but we have a certain something.

I also think we have better depth than some of the teams around us and I'd fancy our second team against the second teams of Spurs or Liverpool.

I don't make us favourites and I've a horrible feeling Spurs might snatch it, but we're not the outsiders and we're a lot nearer than I thought we'd be.

You're spot on PB about pressure being the telling factor; we're largely untested in the hot bit of the season, but I don't necessarily think that means we'll crumble. It doesn't necessarily mean we'll stand tall either, but I don't think we'll know until we get there...and I think we'll get there.

In ten games time we'll be a lot more sure I guess, but I see no reason not to stick the old dream out on the block again and risk the heartbreak.

This could be our year.

(As I seem to remember saying just about every year.)

as much as I like Carew and Agbonlahor.... I think there is a more consistent stream of goals from Crouch and Defoe.

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It's really odd, reading stuff like this.

Yes, of course it's too early to be suggesting that Villa could win the league. We won't. Period, stop, end of. Yes, the team needs an injection of class in the attacking half, plus more quality in depth, to change that. All fine.

But then we get crap like this:

Our manager has the exact opposite record. He has won nothing of note, and when it looked for all the world last season like he was going to really mark his arrival on the scene by doing something significant he froze like a rabbit in the headlights and to this point in time isn't showing many signs of having learnt the lessons from the last campaign.

Really, really sick of this stupidity. As always, it's not about O'Neill particularly. It doesn't matter who is in the manager's chair. If that person isn't one of the recognized, proven, eighteen-trophies-on-the-shelf, top 10 managers in the game, then he's a guaranteed failure. Pay no attention to the things he does right, folks, anything that can be remotely ascribed as his fault (whether it actually is or not, whether there's any real evidence for it or not) is what we need to harp on.

I still don't see where O'Neill has actually demonstrated that the style of play we end up in for a lot of our less attractive matches is the style he's actually targeting long-term. I don't know what he's targeting long-term. Maybe he is stuck in the 80's and maybe he isn't. Maybe he'll never bring in the top-class players we'll need to push things over the top. But there is no goddamned proof of that in anything that's occurred so far. What we have seen is an influx of quality players, steady improvement in the standings, and very careful, thoughtful work by the manager on all fronts.

It's not whether MON is the right guy. It's the repeated, continuous, and utterly baseless insistence that he's already demonstrated that he's the wrong guy that I can't respect. No different from saying Hughes needed to be sacked, or Arsene Wenger should change the way he builds teams, or Roy Hodgson should never have been hired at Fulham because what has he ever done, anyway?

It's a good thing Villa haven't been subject to real sorrows in ages. The earnest efforts of so many here to drown themselves in invented sorrows, to wallow in the victimization of Villa being so large and so storied and not having won anything of note in almost 30 years, might lead to a serious uptick in self-inflicted hospitalizations and morgue visits were the club to ever collapse like a Leeds or a Wednesday.

*shakes head sadly*

*walks away*

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PB. I don't think it's the notion that Villa may finish 6th that's getting to people.

of course we mightfinish 6th and before this good run we've been on a lot of us would havesaid that was a lot more likely than finishing in the top 4.

But the way I read your article is that you are completely writing off our chances of challenging top 4. It suggests that everyone around us has far superior teams and squads and that if we think we can challenge for the top 4 then we are deluding ourselves.

I also glean from it that you seem to think we're not in much of a bettter position to cppe with the run in than we were last season. I think the squad has vastly improved in quality and depth. Maybe it's not enough to challenge for the top 4, butif we're in a similar position to where wewere last season prior to Stoke, I'd backs us to, at the very least, give it a much better go than last time round.

I guess it's just the complete lack of optimism in your article. There doesn't seem to be a "We'll give 4th a go but ultimately we'll fall short". it reads more like "we're overachieving, only an idiot would think we can challenge for the top 4". You state that there is absolutely no chance, not a chance, that we'll finish with more points than Tottenham (amongst others). To me that's ridiculous. Of course I'll entertain the fact that we might finish with less than Spurs, I'd even accept the opinion that we'll probably finish with less than Spurs (even though i disagree with it). But for someone to state that we have "zero, nada, nowt, zilch" chance of finishing with more points than Spurs is astounding. You don't thinkwe have even the slightest chance of finishing ahead of Spurs in the table?

Given our current position and our record against the good teams in the league this season, I find that hard to believe.

So, I think it's the lack of even a glint of hope in your article that is grinding people's gears. The notion that you'd "take" 6th in assumingly the fear that we'll finish even lower. The dig at O'Neill for seemingly no other reason than to have a dig at him. And, as I mentioned, the lack of any positivity or hope that we could be challenger sfor thetop 4 this season when Liverpool are so badly faultering and there looks to be 3 teamswaiting to step into their spot.

It's just hard to understand the negativity in a time when we're in such good form.

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Sorry, Stevo, in that case I didnt come over as I intended.

There is a chance we'll finish top four, of course there is. the performances against Hull, united and Sunderland were much more what i would expect from a team in our position even if the game against Stoke saw us revert back into our negative shell again. Milner in central midfield is a revelation, the new David Platt perhaps and if we can keep him fit, and in that central position (which also requires Young and the notoriously injury prone Downing being kept fit) then who knows what might happen? Defensively we are obviously very, very solid, and that is winning us points we shouldnt really be getting at the moment. Can we rely on that for the whole season? I dont know, not sure about that at all.

I guess what I'm getting at is that while there may be a chance we can be in there in the mix come May, I dont personally believe we will be, and I dont expect us to be really. As I said in the article, ask me again in 10 games time, because in ten games time we'll know, for one thing, whether Liverpool's collapse is real or whether it has more in common with Arsenal's 'Gallasgate' of 12 months ago and we'll have a better idea of whether or not, this time around, our players are better equipped to deal with the pressure that comes with expectation, that coems with needing to win every game, that comes with the media knocking us down as they will if we start to look like the real deal.

I'm pleased with where we are, but I've been around too long, seen far too many of these sorts of situations to believe that this time will be any different, because my experience, again as I wrote in the article, is that this hasnt even started yet and Villa always seem to screw it up. Give me, say 55 points after 28 games and I'll start to believe, but even then I'll be looking in the mirror to see how close Liverpool are.

We'd better beat bloody Arsenal mind you! My first trip to the Emirates, come on Villa! :-)

Have a good christmas lads and lasses

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Sounds to me as if the author is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder from last seasons collapse. Terrible article, glass half empty, miserablist drivel.

Taking on board what Blandy has said, I'll agree that calling it a terrible article is a little self righteous, especially given the fact that I've not addressed any of the issues that I feel are 'terrible'. So firstly I'll apologise for that, and secondly I'll try to give the reasons as to why I disagree with the article.

As last year, he will be wrong; there is absolutely no chance, zero, nil, nada, nowt, none of Villa acquiring more points over a 38 game season than...Manchester City and even our old friends Tottenham. Our squad cannot match the quality and depth of those squads, and over a full season that will be exposed, as it was last.

You're welcome to the opinion. But to say there is no chance that we'll finish above Spurs and Manchester City is ridiculously overly pessimistic. It's worst case scenario, crystal ball stuff. We're currently above both teams in the league, that's evidence enough for me that we've got at the very least, a chance of finishing above them.

Last season we finished above both Manchester City and Spurs, so your final point is invalid in regards to the other top 4 pretenders. Since last season all three teams (Villa, Spurs and Citeh) have strengthened in the transfer market, only time will tell which squad is the strongest.

All of our competitors have, to be blunt, better football players than us in most positions on the pitch (defence excepted perhaps, in some cases)

Again, an opinion you're welcome to, but I feel you are underestimating our squad.

...they have more strength in depth and with the exception of Tottenham more experience of being in the mix when the pressure kicks in than we do

Sure, the top 4 do. Do Manchester City? Some of their players might do, but as a team, they most certainly don't. We'll have learnt a few lessons from last season and should be better equipped psychologically to deal with the battle ahead.

All of them (again with the exception of Spurs) have managers who have won titles and/or European Cups, managers who have a proven record of going the distance without imploding under the pressure. Our manager has the exact opposite record.

Really? I think you're ignoring the facts here. MON has won plenty domestically (and got the UEFA cup final with Celtic) and 'imploded' to finish a respectable 6th, once. He's clearly got the relevant experience to deal with the situation that we find ourselves in, and quite obviously not out of his depth. It seems to me that you're letting your opinion of MON's personality cloud your judgement in regards to his managerial record and ability.

Here we are again after playing five games in 19 days with the same starting eleven with O'Neill complaining about his players being tired and playing too many matches. Go figure. Its like a bizarre kind of dèja vu and I'm already dreading the team selections in the cup matches next month.

We've won 4 in a row without conceding a goal. I think his decision to not rotate has been vindicated. He might have had a little moan about the fixture list (which hasn't been kind to us), but he's also suggested that he'll rotate at some point.

I've seen Brad Friedel being a one man team to get us totally unjustified wins against Liverpool and Chelsea after being similarly outclassed

We didn't dominate either game. We edged two close encounters. What more do you want? I think it's a little rich to bleat about how fantastic these teams are and then be critical when we win tightly contested games against them. And as an aside, I didn't feel either victory were unjustified and I doubt that many Liverpool or Chelsea fans would disagree either.

people are setting themselves up for a huge, huge fall. I know, 12 months ago, that was me, I took the fall and I'm not about to do that again.

Personally, I enjoy being optimistic. I look forward to every game, and if we eventually fail this season I'll be disappointed, but it certainly won't be a 'huge, huge fall' for me. If we fail I'll look forward to next season, because I see enough reasons to be optimistic for our long term future. Perhaps this explains our difference in perspective?

What bothered me about the article is the fact that you totally right off our chances of even competing with the top 4 and your absolute negativity. I don't think we're certain to finish in the top 4, but I think we'll give it a go.

EDIT: Just to add PB, that you have clarified your opinion in your most recent post. Perhaps you didn't express your opinion fully as you intended in your initial article?

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It's really odd, reading stuff like this.

Yes, of course it's too early to be suggesting that Villa could win the league. .....it's not about O'Neill particularly. It doesn't matter who is in the manager's chair. If that person isn't one of the recognized, proven, eighteen-trophies-on-the-shelf, top 10 managers in the game, then he's a guaranteed failure. Pay no attention to the things he does right, folks, anything that can be remotely ascribed as his fault (whether it actually is or not, whether there's any real evidence for it or not) is what we need to harp on.....Maybe he is stuck in the 80's and maybe he isn't. Maybe he'll never bring in the top-class players we'll need to push things over the top. But there is no goddamned proof of that in anything that's occurred so far. What we have seen is an influx of quality players, steady improvement in the standings, and very careful, thoughtful work by the manager on all fronts......It's the repeated, continuous, and utterly baseless insistence that he's already demonstrated that he's the wrong guy that I can't respect.

Well said. three things in particular irk me.

1. The idea that we, or MO'N are stuck in the 80s. This is the utmost gibberish. Since I've been watching football (since the 70s) it hasn't changed much, as a game. Sure players are fitter and faster, the ball's lighter and they no longer eat steak and chips as a pre-match meal - it's all broccoli and pasta - but the fundamentals are the same. 11 men (plus subs) a goal at each end, stop them scoring, score yourselves.

We have a very modern and excellent training ground. There are stats from pro-zone on how hard the players work, when they pass, shoot, tackle, what their heart rate and blood sugar levels are. The science is there, but the ability to manage players, as people, remains a key factor. It always will. They can also watch video replays of all the games, of opponents. SO to level an accusation that MO'N is stuck in whatever era is thoughtless and ignorant of what he has and uses.

2. As Grunthos says, the closed minded outlook that says anyone who isn't one of a select bunch of Morinho, Wenger, Benitez, Ferguson, Hiddink....cannot possibly win anything or do anything right. Again, utterly thoughtless. There are more than half a dozen or so top managers. Those that have been at Clubs where they have the wherewithall to compete for the big prizes can then use their abilities to make the difference. Looking at Villa there is a great deal in place, thanks to Randy, to enable MO'N to do his work, to make the difference for Villa. Again, Grunthos is right - concentration on percieved negatives, at the expense of a more rounded appreciation of both the good and bad brings an unduly pessimistic overview of where the club is. It's a sport for hecks sake - it's supposed to be enjoyable. So enjoy it, don't let it make you miserable when things are going well.

3. the repeated, continuous, and utterly baseless insistence that he's already demonstrated that he's the wrong guy - This. I mean why? What on earth is it that leads people to this conclusion? There are many and varied comments on this site, in the grounds, and on the internet along those lines. Managers get accused by us know nothing fans of "tactical niäivity", of being "idiots" of being unable to do or see this or that (4-5-1 or 4-4-2). Yet none of us have a fraction of the insight that the managers do, certainly not that MO'N has. By all means have whatever opinion you do, but the force of some accusations levelled bears no relationship to the levels of knowledge we have compared to what MO'N (in Villa's case) has. It fails to recognise where we were and where we are. He doesn't even get a chance from some people.

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...there is absolutely no chance, zero, nil, nada, nowt, none of Villa acquiring more points over a 38 game season than .. Manchester United and Chelsea, never mind the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and even our old friends Tottenham. Our squad cannot match the quality and depth of those squads, and over a full season that will be exposed, as it was last. .... believing little old Villa with our superior team ethic and our work rate ... have what it takes to compete..[is].. a delusion....

...There is a chance we'll finish top four, of course there is....I don't personally believe we will ...and I don't expect us to be really...

Strange, Pete. First there's no chance of finishing above the Sky 4 plus Spurs and Man City, then there is, then....

Basically, there is a chance, a half decent one. It might not happen, it might happen. Who knows. I reckon enjoy the ride, and then at the end either celebrate or drown our sorrows, but most of all enjoy it, have fun. Things are good today, who knows what tomorrow brings. I do feel that at the games a set of fans who express their joy and happiness with the players and manager will enjoy the games more, and better still help spur on those people to greater efforts. If we're going to play a part it might as well be a supportive one, rather than the role of doomsayers.

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