At least the weather was nice

By Dave Woodhall.

I have a theory that supporters of local teams all traditionally have different aressd where they place the blame when things are going badly. Blues fans target the players, with Albion it’s the manager and Wolves fans complain about anyone who isn’t Steve Bull. With Villa it’s a longstanding custom that the chairman gets stick for everything, from the team losing to the weather. We very rarely criticise the manager, and if they’re being honest none of the previous incumbents can say they were unfairly treated by the bulk of our support.

That’s why Saturday’s criticism of Gerard Houllier was so out of character. To start with, the banner before the game was ridiculous. In the previous match at Villa Park the manager had been cheered as the team put in the best performance of the season. Even last Saturday we were unlucky to get beaten at Bolton so abusing the manager before the game was a bit short-sighted.

It was totally understandable 90 minutes later, though.  I’ve seen worse Villa performances, but I can’t think of one where a collection of top quality players (four of whom have since been named in the England squad) has under-performed to such catastrophic lengths. There was no idea, no determination, no inspiration either on the pitch or off it. Throw in a couple of mystifying substitutions and the conclusion to be reached is indeed that Gerard Houllier, you don’t know what you’re doing.

It’s not entirely the manager’s fault. Martin O’Neill’s role in the debacle that is 2010-11 has still to be taken into consideration, but this excuse is running out. Randy Lerner and the rest of the board can also be blamed to some extent, not least for their reluctance to provide a public assurance that things are still running smoothly. While it’s good to have a chairman whose public profile is a lot lower than that of his predecessor, Villa badly need someone to be seen to be in charge. The players are also getting away with far too little criticism. Whether Houllier has lost the dressing room or not, their professionalism should be making them put in better performances than Saturday’s debacle. It’s not even a matter of the obscene money they earn – I can’t understand how someone who is so good at anything can want to give less than their best at it.  And while this is in no way an attempt to take the blame away from the quarters in which it belongs, I can’t help also thinking that there were people at Villa Park on Saturday who would like the club to get relegated so they can say “Told you so.”

Houllier, as with all managers, bears the ultimate responsibility. Whether Villa stay up or not (and with the players we can call on, irrespective of our seemingly never-ending injury crisis, that shouldn’t even be a matter for debate) matters seem to have gone too far for his presence as Villa manager to be anything but a divisive influence on the club. Whether he should go now or later is a separate matter for debate, but the noble idea that he can lead us into an era of success built on promising youngsters and stylish football, is a flawed one. The experiment has failed; time for a re-think.