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Half a Year Away - 6 months into Martin O'Neill's Reign


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by blandy

This post is unashamedly going to focus on the changes our manager has brought to the club.

It's 6 months to the day, today, that Martin O'Neill signed on the dotted line. Of course there have been many many other changes to the club, not least the long, long awaited and dreamed of take-over, and enough has been written about that, so this one's for Martin.

What's he "done" then?

Well, pretty much the first thing he did was to get Gareth Barry to stop thinking about leaving and to sign a new contract. He told him that he could achieve his ambitions at Villa, that he was an important player, part of his plans and that he could definitely get back in the England squad.

Gareth believed him, and believed in him.

And guess what. England play on Wednesday and Gareth, after being our best player consistently over the season to date, is in the squad.

Villa benefit, GB himself has benefitted and England will benefit. Brilliant. It set the tone, and could turn out to be the best bit of "business" he'll do while at Villa.

Luke Moore had also been unsettled, but before his injury he was back in the team and happy.

Some players have been allowed to go and play elsewhere, but the majority of the inherited squad have stayed and have by and large raised their games.

We "knew" when Martin O' Neill came that players rate him. Now we've seen it for ourselves.

Of course, we were also told that Martin O'Neill is a miracle worker. This has turned out (unsurprisingly) not to be true, despite early suggestions that he might be.

We drew the first game at the Emirates. Usually in recent years we have been roundly horsed at Arsenal. But this season it was different. Backs to the wall it may have been, but it just wouldn't have happened without Martin O'Neill. It led to usgoing on a long unbeaten run - results were frankly beyond any expectations, particularly as he was unable to bring players in, as he might have liked. The takeover wasn't completed until well after the August transfer window closed. He did manage to get Stan Petrov in, and Chris Sutton and Didier Agathe as they were "free agents".

These three have had differing fortunes. Petrov started superbly, faded with injury and has only just come back into the side.

Chris Sutton looked handy, but suffered a head injury before Christmas and hasn't played since. He's apparently still unable to play for medical reasons.

Didier Agathe came and looked decidedly average, and went away again.

The team struggled on, wins became somewhat rarer, draws became defeats, extremely hard draws in the 2 cups meant early exits at both Chelsea and Man United - where our emergency on-loan 'keeper slipped up somewhat.

Injuries took their toll. Some fans started muttering darkly about "another false dawn" and began to ask questions about the manager's tactics or ability. Others, the majority, pointed out the state the club had been in when Martin took the job - players forming a disorderly queue to leg it, totally fed up with what had become of the place They pointed out the squad had hardly proven itself adequate over the previous 2 and a half years or so.

But with the the January transfer window allowing the club and the manager to further demonstrate how things have changed and to actually "do it" rather than "talk about how they can't compete/promise and not deliver (delete as applicable)" we signed 3 forwards and an on loan right back.

We've struggled to score goals all season, so the front players were naturally the issue most fans wanted addressed. Luke Moore injured, Baros disappointing and disinterested, JPA having faded and Gabby bright, but perhaps tiring needed some help (or shipping out in the case of Milan).

2 of the new 3 have played 2 games each. The partnership has brought 2 goals between them, a promising ability to link up with each other, pace, skill and physical presence. It's far too early to make accurate judgements, but they look like part of the solution to our problems. Most impressive.

The third forward, Shaun Maloney, was signed only at the last minute, and sat on the bench on Saturday.

What about the rest of the side, then. How has Martin changed that?

First off, the spirit of the team is massively superior. We fight back. We don't give up.

It's one of the major plusses for me - it shows that the club is "whole" again. It's great.

Supporters believe in the manager, they see the players fighting to do well, the players respond - a virtuous circle is beginning to emerge from the depression and negativity of the past. It was more noticeable in the away games to start with. The core of the club's support could see the change and we weren't backwards in roaring our approval. At home, things have been a bit slower to catch the mood, but it's being caught.

All this is opinion and intangibles, but to me it's important. It's stemmed from 2 things, or 2 people (but involves a lot more than that). The 2 people are Martin O'Neill, with his passion, humour, openness, intelligence and eccentricity and from the previous owner, chairman, finance director and God knows what else, finally, finally doing the right thing and leaving.

Martin O'Neill, for me has done everything and more, that could reasonably have been expected of him. He talks to us lot, more than just talking he communicates and invigorates us, he doesn't patronise us, or moan about us. He's the same with the players, I'm sure.

Throughout the period we were struggling for a win, there was never the sense that there was any "Oh, Crikey , I don't know what to do" or "It's not my fault". There was no bickering, no unattributed talk of players bickering, or criticising.

It was hard to take, but I'm proud that the club kept it going, that the fans didn't turn on the team or the manager, that the players got up, dusted themselves down and gave it a go again.

It's not all been roses, the league game at Old Trafford was galling - the team selection and tactics didn't work, the players seemed beaten before they started. We were, by all accounts, rotten against Manchester City, at home. But show me a side that doesn't have a stinker or two over the season, and I'll show you the league Champions, and even then....

There's a massive way to go. No one knows what will happen over the next few years. No one knows if the last 2 wins over relegation threatened sides, in Watford and West Ham, will turn out to have been the start of the next stage, or still part of the end of the last stage.

But I'll tell you what, It'll be fun. Relish this fun, it's been in short supply at Villa Park for too long.

Thanks Martin.

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Pete for all that MON has and will do for the club, for me Randy Lerner will be seen in the future as the more important. don't get me wrong MON and the new coaching staff are doing a good job, but you get the feeling now that they are being allowed to do so and the other tasks around the club are being picked up by professionals who basically get the job done. So many of the previous managers have complained about the circumstances they had to work under, add that to the "lack of ambition" quotes that players always seemed to come out with and you can see why now MON is able to reap the benefits of a happier bunch of players and backroom.

Players will always be happier knowing injuries are dealt with properly, investment in training facilities isn't at the expense of something else, quotes in the press will be supportive of them rather that making something out of nothing etc.

MON great bloke, will (should) do very well and as the general always says is part of the team.

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yes Ian, Ellis was a facotr, however DOL never had the backbone to stand up to him, they were as bad as each other
Ian dont want to stray into a DOL good/bad sort of discussion but can you imagine how different it might have been for Villa say over the past 10 years if Randy had taken over the club in 1996.

At last we are now seeing the right people doing the jobs that they are good at at VP. All will benefit from that.

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Great piece Blandy.

Pete for all that MON has and will do for the club, for me Randy Lerner will be seen in the future as the more important. don't get me wrong MON and the new coaching staff are doing a good job, but you get the feeling now that they are being allowed to do so and the other tasks around the club are being picked up by professionals who basically get the job done. So many of the previous managers have complained about the circumstances they had to work under, add that to the "lack of ambition" quotes that players always seemed to come out with and you can see why now MON is able to reap the benefits of a happier bunch of players and backroom.

Players will always be happier knowing injuries are dealt with properly, investment in training facilities isn't at the expense of something else, quotes in the press will be supportive of them rather that making something out of nothing etc.

MON great bloke, will (should) do very well and as the general always says is part of the team.

I share similar semtiments. For all the great, great work MON is doing it would be unfair to exclude the new board from praise.

The entire club is on the up and its thanks to MON, Randy, RF, the General and every other member of the "team". The club is united in a common cause and it's wonderful to witness after years and years of turmoil.

I wonder how far they can take us?

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Pete for all that MON has and will do for the club, for me Randy Lerner will be seen in the future as the more important. don't get me wrong MON and the new coaching staff are doing a good job, but you get the feeling now that they are being allowed to do so and the other tasks around the club are being picked up by professionals who basically get the job done. ...etc...

I agree with you Ian. But that's another subject - The thread (I wrote)

is unashamedly going to focus on the changes our manager has brought to the club.
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Excellent piece Peter. I ve heard a rumour that there might be a compendium of your pieces to be published by VT publishing for Christmas 2007 with a foreward by John Cresswell and the working title is ‘Blandy’s Best Bits’?

"foreward" is 'forearmed! or something.

Thanks, but Steve Wade is worth publishing, my ramblings,bluntly, aren't. They're occasionally diverting maybe, in a pass a few minutes, semi-coherent outpouring type way.

They're what the internet is for.

Click on "fish" in my sig line and they're there for free - or the past few years ones are, anyway.

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Pete, this is a perfect summary of a fantastic first six months of MON's tenure. Sometimes I get frustrated and downhearted with some of the negative posts on VT, but thats all part of the scene i suppose. When I read the positive type of post that you have submitted together with the one's sent to the General regarding recent Villa Park visits from supporters who really make the effort and the response they receive it makes it feel good to be a Villa man. Let's all stay positive and contiue to back MON and the new regime and I am more convinced then ever in the fifty+ years I have supported the Villa that really great times are ahead.

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A great summary of the new regime's first six months.

Although there have been ups and downs, the future is looking so positive, and MON and his staff have already contributed much to the improved attitude of the team.

When I changed my signature after the takover, I hoped that great things would happen and so far, we are moving in the right direction, with a sense of a well managed and controlled club. Our horizons have truly widened. :lol:

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I have supported this great football club since 1962 and over the years I have experienced the highs and lows as every football fan does.

In the late sixties/early seventies there was a revolution when the old board resigned, but initially things did not work out and the club was relegated to the old third division.Despite that there were some highs,particularly the two semi final legs of the league cup against Man Utd, a wonderful friendly against Santos( including Pele) and a record third division crowd of circa 48,000 against Bournemouth which Villa came back to win after conceding a wonderful goal by Ted Mcdougall. I was at college then and and didn't miss a game home and away all season.

In the seventies we won the league cup twice. The highlight of those two finals for me being the final game at Old Trafford when Chris Nicholl scored a 40 yarder with his left foot.I went to Wembley, Hillsborough and Old Trafford.

In the eighties, well I don't need to tell you what the highlights of that decade were, my only regret being that I couldn't get to Rotterdam, I simply could not afford it.

The nineties had highs of further league cup wins in 1994 and 1996 and the team Atkinson built played some very good football.After the league cup win of 1996 thats when the rot,imo, began to really set in. It has been stated that Ellis stayed 10 years too long and that would ring true as if he had sold out in 1996 then I firmly believe that this football club would be vastly further on(I know that's probably an obvious statement.

Football for me has changed dramatically since the late seventies( Imagine Derby getting promoted, winning the title and then winning the champions league two years running. It will never happen, but Forest did it in the late seventies, ask MON)

Anyway maybe I'm rambling on a bit but what I'm trying to say is that this wonderful football club is once again moving in the right direction, with excellent owners and a excellent manager and coaching staff and I have thoroughly enjoyed the last six months as I know have thousands of other Villa fans and can't wait for the next instalment.Let's all hope that we can fill Villa Park as it used o be filled and generate the noise that used to be generated in the past.

Come on you Villa boys.

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