Why we should all wish Paul Lambert well:
Lambert’s team produced some blistering football at the weekend in earning a 3-3 draw at Champions League hopefuls Everton, a side which has suffered only one defeat at their Goodison Park ground this season. Villa repeatedly cut through the Merseysiders’ usually resilient ranks. Looking at the attacking threat contained in the Villain’s side, their pacey and inventive football should be of little surprise.
Behind Benteke, the speed, imagination, movement, and hard-running of the triumvirate of Gabby Agbonlahor – seemingly ready to flourish again -, Charles N’Zogbia, and the fast developing 21 year-old Austrian Andreas Weimann will ask questions of the toughest of opponents. League leaders Manchester United will testify to that fact having been run ragged in falling 2-0 behind at Villa Park, before taking advantage of the customary Villa naivety to win 3-2.
There is light at the end of the tunnel concerning Villa’s rear-guard with the knowhow of Ron Vlaar – another Lambert recruit at over £3m – now restored after a season disrupting calf injury, and the wily Richard Dunne closer to returning after his own long-term ailments. With greenhorn Irishman Ciaran Clark being forced to learn very quickly on the job, Lambert will welcome some additional savvy and organisation at the heart of his defence, while hoping of course that these qualities will go some way towards eliminating the errors which are undoing so much encouraging work.
At 27 Vlaar is in the older bracket of Lambert’s Villa acquisitions. The raw Jordan Bowery, yet to make his mark in the top division, was brought in from Chesterfield in the summer. With a small amount to play with in the January window Lambert sought the strong defensive midfielder his unit is crying out for in France’s Ligue 2, in the form of 22 year-old Yacouba Sylla. Most intriguingly, Simon Dawkins, a 25 year-old Spurs forward, still to play a game for the London club and having recently had a loan period at San Jose Earthquakes, will bolster Villa’s attacking artillery for the remainder of the season.
With the decision to release experienced heads such as James Collins, Alan Hutton, and Stephen Warnock, along with the marginalisation of Darren Bent, the Scottish manager has left no doubt as to his Aston Villa vision. To anybody who watched Lambert’s career at Norwich which was an unqualified success the one time Champions League winning midfielder’s approach won’t amaze.
Lambert’s Norwich side which took to the field against Villa in the final game of last campaign’s impressive top-flight return included fresh British talent such as; John Ruddy, Ryan Bennett, Kyle Naughton, Bradley Johnson, Elliott Bennett, Jonny Howson, and a revitalised Grant Holt. His Villa adversaries that May day contained Shay Given, Warnock, Dunne, Carlos Cuellar, and Emile Heskey in their starting eleven.
After displaying a great deal of admirable early patience with their new boss – Lambert benefitted slightly simply by virtue of not being Alex McLeish – there is a growing sense of agitation on the Holte End. That is to be understood. Any set of supporters who see their team so apparently entrenched in the mire will be disillusioned and angry.
Now, however, is not the time to panic. Lambert has a proven body of work. More importantly, he has a plan which is evident in all his moves in the transfer market, and in the manner in which he is seeking his team to perform. The Scot has made some controversial decisions, particularly regarding Bent, and in side-lining Shay Given – selecting instead Brad Guzan, eight years the Irish ‘keeper’s junior. In that goalkeeping choice the clarity of Lambert’s thinking is clear.
Essentially, this is going to be largely a season to forget in terms of results for a huge football club. Nonetheless, it could yet prove to be the year in which Villa started to breathe again. The suffocating 12-months under McLeish were notable only for the team’s turgid form and a lack of forethought. If Aston Villa stand by their current man they will enjoy a few good days yet before May, but most preciously they could reap considerable benefits for a long time to come.
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