Aston Villa – giving 110% would be a start

Dave Woodhall on Villa’s 4-1 defeat to Leicester, and happier memories.

It was never going to be an ordinary match. The news of Ron Saunders’ death made sure of that – and has been said elsewhere, there could be no more fitting time for such an old-school football man to pass away than at three o’clock on Saturday afternoon.

I still hold that a minute’s silence would have been more appropriate than the applause, although all the tributes paid were hearfelt and poignant. We shouldn’t mourn the death of such a man, but rather, celebrate his life and his achievements.

Dean Smith’s early years were spent watching his greatest predecessor, Jack Grealish was brought up on tales of his successes, and both must have been desperate to put on a display that would have even had Ron cracking a smile.

That was the idea, but anyone hoping for a fitting send-off was quickly disillusioned. Villa started off brightly but were soon found out and spent the remainder of the match chasing shadows.

The great man would appreciate this Leicester side. They don’t have many big names and their success is built on selling well and buying better. They’re hard-working, do the simple things right and punish mistakes with ruthless efficiency.

Villa, being Villa, made enough mistakes for the game to be over before half-time. Tyrone Mings was clearly struggling for Leicester’s opener and their second was caused in part by Villa’s midfield being unable to get to grips with their counterparts throughout.

Jack Grealish, a player Saunders would probably have fallen out with often enough to get the best from him every week, gave hope for the second half with a goal seconds before the break, although Leicester still came out the stronger side and restored their two goal lead soon after.

Their fourth could have been the signal for a rout but instead they seemed content to conserve their efforts for harder battles ahead.

Keeping Douglas Luiz and Ahmed Elmohamady in the starting line-up showed that Smith knew Villa would be coming up against a team full of confidence and in top form. He couldn’t have anticipated just how easy Villa made their club record eighth victory.

This was the first time Villa seem to have given up all season and it’s going to take a massive change in attitude to be able to make the most of the supposedly easier run of games between now and the New Year.

And as for Ron Saunders, many tributes have been paid and all are richly deserved. I’ve been lucky enough to speak to a few of his former players and they all gave variations on the same theme – Saunders was a complex character who knew how to get the best out of his charges.

He had an absolutely single-minded determination to be the best and nothing was going to get in his way. He was ruthless, yet he was also capable of tremendous kindness and as one of them said, “He would always have been there if he was needed”.

The facet of his personality I found most fascinating was confirmed by several players – that he didn’t seem to particuarly enjoy football. He would never attend other games, he rarely watched the Villa reserves and was never to be seen in the company of other football people.

When Ron Saunders was building the best team in Europe there were some big name managers in Midlands football; media-friendly personalities such as Ron Atkinson and John Bond were regulars on TV and courted the press, grabbing the headlines along the way yet Saunders wanted none of it. As he once said, he went to work, did his job, then went home. And what a job he did.

The rest of the season is going to be difficult, no doubt about that. It was always going to be. Do you want to bet against us?

2 thoughts on “Aston Villa – giving 110% would be a start

  1. Ron, you were dearly loved by the Villa fans, and respected by the wider public of Birmingham and beyond.
    our greatest ever manager, who built several sides in his time at the helm, and made a grand old name of football great again.
    Saunders never talked anything but sense, instilled a belief and sense of togetherness in the team and club as a whole, and the fact that he suffered fools gladly reflects on the way the winds were blowing in modern football, with the Directors and increasing role of the media, how he would ever have coped with today’s agents and assorted hangers-on, god only knows…
    his brand of football was exhilarating, and more-to-the-point, winning…. it brought cups and the top prizes, and since we know what happened to our imperious club once the great man walked out and his successor turfed out by the ultimate megalomaniac, i can only summise that i would gladly have exchanged the League Cups we went on to land for a few more seasons of Saunders-ball because i am confident he would have kept us at the top table.
    one of my ultimate memories of Ron Manager however has little to do with what happened at Villa Park, but the stamp he left on the city as a whole, as when unemployment was the blight of the early 80s, he ordered the gate to be opened at Bodymoor Heath for local youngsters to train there…. now THAT garnered respect from not only the people who followed what had become one of the country’s top clubs – in his time Saunders hauled us up there, and kept us there….
    and boy do i miss those times……!

  2. and on to events on the pitch…..
    we need to talk about Tyrone Mings…..
    i am more worried when our erstwhile new international central-defender chooses to pass back to the goalie than tries one of his crossfield diagonal passes – what he could get away with in the Championship he can no longer with the press that particularly top sides exert higher up the pitch.
    one bad pass back and any livewire striker or attacking midfielder is onto it and you are under pressure in front of goal – it happened at Old Trafford and then again at home in this game, and it isn’t the first nor second time.
    as supportive as we are when Tyrone is throwing himself into the fray or blocking a shot heroically, we have to be critical of him for thinking he can carry on at anything other than 99-100% against a top team who play at speed and with precision, and so it went.
    similarly, we must be equally critical of Dean Smith and the coaching staff, with both Smith and John Terry former central-defenders, surely alarm bells were ringing for a player in that same position who was up against top opposition who were on fire, and who had already got himself a yellow card, all of the numbers were there to make a snap decision which was easy to justify and haul Mings off, particularly when his former defensive partner has recovered from injury and is a ready-made replacement on the bench.
    Smith appears to me to be too concerned about keeping his players happy and loathe to change – i tell you what keeps them – and more importantly the fans – delighted, and that’s getting the results.
    if one of your top players is having an off day, surely one of the prerequisites of manager or coach is to ensure a bad situation doesn’t become worse.
    changes have to be made from game to game, and teams have to be freshened up during the match to ensure that we match the freshness and zest of the opposition, and if possible, outsmart them or make them look the more weary.
    thank god there are some games coming up that are easier on paper, but they have now become must-win with little margin for error – there is no cushion allowing us to experiment, and the pressure is on the coaching staff to ensure that we get the results that will mean we can breathe easier.
    there is a dip in form in several of our key players, and for the first time this season, i really am worrying…..

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