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2009/10 season review part 2


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by Blandy

Next up in our season review is Blandy and his positive but balanced thoughts on the season just gone.

It's been our best season for around a decade, the Club has continued to improve its' fortunes on the pitch, more work has been done on the facilities for supporters, the players have given their all, and we've had some trips to Wembley to boot. We've surpassed last season's points tally with a game still to go and yet....

And yet there's still a feeling about, among a wide swathe of supporters that ranges from unease to disappointment. There are of course a lot of happy people, very pleased with the season, but I think it's worth looking at the unease, disappointment and even anger to try and understand if it is justified?

Taking things at face value, from my perspective it's hard to agree, in fact impossible to agree, that anger is in any way justified - It's just a step too far. Disappointment that we came up just short, I do fully accept, but anger could only be valid if we'd failed in a major way to "have a go". At no point did this happen.

There have definitely been (with hindsight, and occasional foresight) a few occasions when mistakes were made. The selection for the first game against Wigan was the prime example - Most supporters I spoke with at and before the game felt the team selection was wrong, particularly in midfield. And so it turned out. Other instances occurred during March (again) when fatigue caught up with a few players - Downing, Warnock and a couple of others, but still they were picked ahead of others who might have done better. That's one of the lessons not fully learnt from last season. When players are either carrying injury, or are out on their legs - rest them. It doesn't mean wholesale rotation, the clamour for which has both baffled and irritated me, but it does mean taking a player out for a game, perhaps two to get their wind back and let the muscles and mind heal.

And there we have pretty much the full scale and scope of what has "gone wrong" that is self inflicted - Perhaps 3 or 4 games where the team clearly was not the right one for the game. Then again, there's not a manager in the country about whom similar accusations could not be made.

The happier side of things is that for every Wigan at home there's been a Man Utd away. We've yet again (walloping at Chelsea notwithstanding) improved our competitiveness against the top 4 sides. Gone are the times when we'd turn up and be thankful for a shoeing from a Sky 4 side, doffing our caps as they kicked our bottoms.

We've had good runs in the domestic cups and made a (thankfully from my angle) early exit from Europa drudgery. The Europa league is worth far less than the hassle it causes. The Cup runs have been a major highlight for me, we'd gone far too .long without so much as a sniff of Wembley.

There's been a season long debate about our style of play - is it too predictable? is it one dimensional? some people even say it's not entertaining. I'd give half a mark to the claim for predicability - but then I know how Arsenal or Stoke or Hull will play, too. The very best sides have the players in every position that can threaten from all angles and directions. We don't, but we do have players that are very good in several positions. As you go down the league, the number of these really good players, per squad, drops. It's players that make the difference, much more so than managers, or tactics, in my view. For me the way Villa play is entertaining when the players have the legs and confidence, but when tiredness sets in we can be not much more than doggedly determined to hang on to whatever we have.

I go to the game for the enjoyment. I can enjoy a game if we lose - as long as we try, and under Martin we always do. It's rare to see the team look like they don't believe, at any point in a game, that they can't get something from it. There's a great deal of mental strength and will and togetherness in the side, and that's down to MO'N.

From a personal perspective I've really enjoyed this season. I've loved it in parts - Blackburn at home, 6-4 was one of the great Villa Park nights, and the Cup win at Ewood was also memorable. I've loved swanning off down to Wembley twice. I loved, after years and years of going there every season, finally winning at Old Trafford, and deserving to, as well. I've loved sitting in the pub, talking things over, before and after games. There's been bery little to complain about in terms of the football - it's been another positive season. If it weren't for some iffy refereeing we might have had a trophy, too.

We're not good enough for the top 4, as it turns out. We draw too many at home. Mind you nor are Liverpool and my least favourite manager, Rafa. Ha ha. Good club, good fans, shame about the board and the manager. Sorry, schadenfreude is not a nice thing. It's the Barry saga that caused it.

Turns out though we haven't missed him. James Milner has been inspired and inspiring in his role in the middle of midfield. The Martin Laursen sized hole has been well filled by Collins and Dunne. 3 masterful pieces of player recruitment and management by MO'N.

Any concerns I have don't centre around players, or managers or the board, they centre around other things - ticket prices, players wages (the two are related) and re-arranged games for TV and Europe. These are the things that need sorting for me. More than 40 quid for a game of football is a scandal, frankly. With money pouring in from TV, the re-arranger of so many games. It's unacceptable to be charging people 43, 45, 48 quid to go to a game. Especially away fans, whether Villans or fans of other sides at VP. Add in travel costs, early or late journeys, a sclerotic road system and sometimes unreliable trains and....words fail me. The issue is one at Premier League level, rather than a Villa specific one - in fact we're one of the better clubs at trying to keep games affordable, though the odd decision on pricing has disappointed - For the Wolves at home, on TV, early on a Sunday, we should not have been charging up to 43 quid for a ticket.

With reasonable ticket pricing all the time, not just most of the time, we've would have one of the best set ups going - A great owner, committed and skilful players, an approach that tries to win every game, a charismatic manager, a good reserve and youth system, a passionate support that yearns for success and will out-sing anyone - the din at Wembley when behind against Chelsea was superb, and the sustained 90 minutes of bedlam in the Darwen end for the cup game was superb. We've also got in the background, people working for the club who genuinely care about giving supporters the best service they can, and they deserve a lot of thanks for their efforts.

In summary, each season we've done better than the last, lessons have been learnt, not every lesson, but most of them. So as much as ultimately ending with no tangible reward is disappointing, it shouldn't overshadow the further progress made all over the club.

A final wish is that while I'm distracted by the cricket and maybe even the world cup, I'd like Villa to act a bit quicker than has been the norm in the transfer market, reshape the squad and get ready to do what they've done every season under Martin and Randy - push on and improve. I've no idea if they'll succeed, but I know they'll try, and that's all you can ask.

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agree with most of that Mr B, including the bits where you feel MON could perhaps learn/do things a bit better

Other instances occurred during March (again) when fatigue caught up with a few players - Downing, Warnock and a couple of others, but still they were picked ahead of others who might have done better. That's one of the lessons not fully learnt from last season. When players are either carrying injury, or are out on their legs - rest them. It doesn't mean wholesale rotation, the clamour for which has both baffled and irritated me, but it does mean taking a player out for a game, perhaps two to get their wind back and let the muscles and mind heal.

This has been one of main bugbears with MON, and where i feel he has failed to learn from previous seasons.

His team selections and tactics are very rigid, and where I call out for rotation, I ask for it along the lines the you espouse here, and not some wholesale rotation policy (not sure who has called for that though?!). Squad/team rotation need only be at the edges, and at the right times, to be extremely useful to certain players throughout a season, as you suggest.

Going forward, i would dearly love to see MON more disposed to rotating his team. I'd also like to see the occassional variation in tactics/formations against different teams and at different points in the season, and perhaps greater use of substitutes too.

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Completely agree with Jon.

As for your points, Blandy, I would make the following observations:

- I am amazed that you cite Downing and Warnock as tiring but not Stan, who at times this season has looked out on his legs for second halves.

- As for anger, I think what most people feel is not anger but frustration as we appear to keep making the same errors.

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Good post Blandy.

Even though we all wanted Champions League, I still believe we had a better season then either Man City or Tottenham. We played a lot of extra games over those pair because of cup runs and I think it made the difference in the end.

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