Under new management

Villa’s bright new future didn’t get off to the ideal start. Dave Woodhall reports.

It’s one of football’s great clichés that the worst time to play a newly-promoted side is at the start of the season. I’ve no idea if that claim’s got any basis in fact, but sides that have just come up do seem to pull off surprise results in the opening weeks. Villa’s defeat at West Ham, therefore, wasn’t the biggest upset of the weekend.

In fact it was a bit too predictable. Villa defended reasonably well, but when you don’t look like scoring one mistake is always likely to prove costly. The big problem, as has been seen throughout pre-season, is that our midfield can keep the ball all day in the areas where it doesn’t matter, but the killer pass isn’t there. It was one of those afternoons when nobody played badly but neither was anyone outstanding or looked likely to deliver that one moment of inspiration that changes a match. In fact, as the game went on it grew increasingly like the sort of turgid 0-0 draw Alex McLeish dreamt of, except that West Ham had already scored. The most worrying aspect of the afternoon was Villa’s lack of urgency in the final minutes. Given that we had four new signings in the team, the least I expected was a bit more desire. In fact, and going off the subject a bit, the whole of London appeared to be a bit lethargic. Maybe it was the weather, or possibly a post-Olympics hangover.

The result wasn’t a disaster – look in the direction of Norwich, Shepherd’s Bush and, if you can stop sniggering, Liverpool for those. Villa’s problems are obvious, comparatively minor and nothing that a bit more wheeling and dealing in the transfer market over the next couple of weeks can’t put right. I don’t think anyone expects huge sums to be spent by the end of the month, but some more money has to be found by the board in order to continue the spirit of optimism which heralded the arrival of this year’s new manager.

Speaking of whom, for Paul Lambert the pressing question must be how he will bring some shape and balance to a team which seems lacking in both. His biggest dilemma seems to be what to do with Darren Bent, who if he doesn’t score contributes nothing else to the game. Bent either has to have a team built round him, or Lambert has to think seriously about selling one of the deadliest goalscorers in the country. Villa’s season may depend on the manager’s decision.

And a final message to West Ham’s owners, who seem to have spent years touring the country alternately begging and demanding that someone gives them a new stadium for whichever club they happen to be running at the time:

Despite a heavy press advertising campaign, and despite the combination of promotion, good weather and a sold-out away section, your first game back in the Premier League still didn’t sell out. So why do you need something twice the size?