After months of protests, Aston Villa fans finally got their wish yesterday with the sacking of manager Paul Lambert. The Scot, who has managed Villa since 2012 leaves the club languishing in the relegation zone of the English Premiership with only 13 games left. It has been torrid season for Villa despite a positive start which saw them pick up ten points from a possible twelve in their opening four games. Why the wheels so spectacularly fell off so early on in the season is hard to say but the stats for their season so far hardly make for pleasant readings for the Villa faithful. 5 wins, 7 draws and 13 defeats highlight some of the problems but the most obvious one is the lack of goals scored. In 25 games, Aston Villa has only scored 12 times. That’s eight goals shy of Derby’s 2007-2008 record season low total of 20. Based on their current goal scoring form, Villa are on track to take that unwanted record away from Derby and finish on 18 goals. More importantly, failure to improve on their ability to hit the back of the net will result in relegation and an end to Villa’s Premiership legacy.
So what has gone so wrong? Many will blame the early influence of Roy Keane who spent the first half of the season as Lambert’s assistant manager. His explosive temperament eventually led to a breakdown in the dressing room and his subsequent departure at the end of November but by then the damage had been done. Although Villa did rally in the two games following Keane’s exit, it wasn’t long before they returned to losing ways. Injuries to key players like Christian Benteke have not helped Lambert in his quest to turn around the clubs fortunes. The Belgian has spent most of the season on the treatment table and has only recently returned although his goals have not. This has been the fundamental problem for Villa and something that Lambert is guilty in failing to properly address.
Goals win games and Villa’s return of 12 so far is abysmal. Whilst the focus of much of the criticism has been placed on the shot shy strikers who have only contributed eight goals in total, the real issue is the lack of goals from midfield with only Joe Cole registering a single goal this season. It says a lot when the defence has scored more goals than your midfield all season. In truth, Villa’s midfield has simply not been in the position to score goals due to Lamberts keen use of a narrowing 4-3-3 formation. Against sides that traditionally play through the wings, Villa have failed to match them in the centre of the park which has on more than a few occasions led to defeats. Added into this Lamberts decisions around squad management have been called into question after some very strange moves. In the transfer market, Lambert had money to spend despite Lerner’s ambitions to sell the club. At total of six players (four midfielders and two defenders) arrived at the club for just over £10million but strangely he allowed two strikers (Darren Bent and Nickolas Helenuis) to leave on loan deals. Given that Villa’s goal issue existed last season, it would appear to be a very unusual decision not to strengthen that department. Lambert’s issues with Bent are well documented with the forward spending much of this season and last on the Villa fringes. Helenius, a £1.2m signing last summer from Danish side Aalborg arrived with a pedigree for scoring goals but has been quickly shipped back out on loan for this season. Whether either could have fixed Villa’s goal scoring problem is unknown but Lambert’s reluctance to give either a shot at it could have ultimately led to his downfall.
Villa need to find a new manager and quickly if they are to avoid relegation. The breakdown in talks between Tim Sherwood and QPR could present an opportunity for Aston Villa with the former Tottenham boss keen to get back into management. Hiring a manager who is currently unattached is the most likely option given that owner Randy Lerner is proactively trying not to spend any more money that he needs to as he looks to sell the club. However a small investment now in the proper manager could save the club from relegation and with it keep the valuation of the club at a level that Lerner is happy with. Newcastle owner Mike Ashley found out the hard way when his side was relegated in 2008. Keen to sell, his then Championship side was valued considerably lower to potential suitors than Ashley would have liked. He held on to the club after several failed bids were submitted and has taken them back into the Premiership and back to a valuation more in line with his thinking. Villa’s American owner Randy Lerner does not want to stay much longer at the club and will realize that his chances of a sale are much stronger if the club he has is a Premiership one. He will need to think carefully about who replaces Lambert as the wrong choice could be disastrous for one of England most famous clubs.