Dave Woodhall on the fledgling spirit of optimism at Villa Park.
A few weeks ago, in fact prior to Villa’s game with West Ham, I said that five wins and three draws should see the team safe. That would have given us 39 points, which is more than enough to avoid relegation most years, although it seemed a tall order at the time. In fact, there were some who were predicting no more wins and relegation to be confirmed well before the end of the season.
We’ve now got four of those wins and if we can’t get another six points between now and the final whistle of the campaign we don’t deserve to stay up. There are a few reasons for this change in fortunes, but I like to think one of them is the fact that the club has kept plugging away, doing the same things they have all season and refusing to panic. The board have told Paul Lambert his job’s safe – contrast that with events at Reading and Sunderland – while the manager has carried on with his philosophy of trying to play football and placing his faith in the players he has either signed or nurtured. Some of them may ultimately fall by the wayside, but there’s a semblance of a plan at Villa Park now, in contrast to the boom and bust days of Martin O’Neill or whatever the idea was last season. Lambert’s rallying cry of “we go again” came in for some derision during the dark days of winter, but it’s been seen as more than glib words. He kept the same ideals and although it’s early days yet, progress is being made.
Villa’s last two wins, in fact, have been against clubs with very marked and different philosophies. QPR’s ludicrous spending versus Villa’s controlled investment saw a victory for the forces of sanity, with Rangers surely heading for administration via the Championship. On Saturday Villa’s main (only?) tactic of outscoring the opposition travelled to the headquarters of anti-football and came away with three points thanks to some superb teamwork, a flash of genius from an unlikely source and a third goal that summed up Lambert’s beliefs – 2-1 up in stoppage time and still four Villa players broke forward to be involved in the final goal. It might get caught out sometimes – and it certainly has on occasions this season – but it shows that manager and team all want to do things properly. There’s a spirit of togetherness amongst the players and the supporters appear to appreciate what they’re doing and be on their side – again in contrast to other clubs, where management and fans are in conflict. When a chorus of “You’re getting sacked in the morning” echoed around the Britannia as the game ended on Saturday afternoon it wasn’t just the away section that were singing.
I’m not saying that the crisis is over, any more than we should be celebrating should Villa now go on to avoid relegation. We should leave that to other clubs. But we have two distinctly winnable games coming up at Villa Park, against a Fulham side with patchy away form and then the newly renamed Paolodicanniossunderland. With the latter and Stoke seemingly unable to see where their next point is coming from we could be safe before the month’s end and even the most optimistic amongst us would never have predicted that.