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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

One 'Eck of a Year at Villa Park

Alex McLeish.  The man that twice won the SPL title with Rangers as a manager along with Carling Cup success at Birmingham was sacked from fellow midlands side Aston Villa.

HAPPIER TIMES: McLeish with the Carling Cup
It wasn't a great 11 months for club or manager at Villa Park.  After Gerard Houllier left the club due to a heart scare, McLeish was appointed boss just five days after leaving arch rivals Birmingham City.

The appointment didn't fill Villa fans with joy, anti-McLeish graffiti was sprayed on the walls of Villa's training ground and fans protested when news came through about the move a few days prior.

His arrival came less than a week after winger Ashley Young's reported £20million move to Manchester United  and by the looks of things, there was money to spend on new players; this was enhanced by the sale of another winger, this time Stewart Downing making the move to the north-west however, he joined Liverpool, the fee, again being £20million.

EXIT DOOR:  Young (L) and Downing (R) headed north
The Scot set to work on finding suitable replacements for the duo and, a year after trying to bring Charles N'Zogbia from Wigan to Birmingham, McLeish finally got his way with the Frenchman joining in a £9.5million deal.

Next was Shay Given; a consistent performer with Newcastle United previously in his career, the goalkeeper completed his cut price £3.5million move from Manchester City - An astute move from McLeish in his bid to replace fellow veteran 'keeper Brad Friedel who moved to Tottenham Hotspur on a free transfer.

That was about that though in terms of high profile signings incoming through Villa Park.  There were tools to work with though; Of those left behind there were the likes of Stiliyan Petrov, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Darren Bent and Richard Dunne - Standard type of players for a club such as Villa in my opinion.

Things started off well for 'Eck as he tried to shake off the Birmingham cobwebs; the team went unbeaten for the first five Premier League games, albeit only one win from these five.

However, things didn't really happen for him or his team with a lot of draws and defeats in a season of disappointment and a season that saw Emile Heskey play twenty nine times in all competitions! (No disrespect to Emile but he really isn't very good!)... added to that is that he was played left wing for a chunk of it I suppose one goal in twenty nine (Against Blackburn!) is a good record for a "striker"! (Stop laughing!)

The final table showed a massive SEVEN Premier League wins out of thirty eight under the guidance of Alex McLeish and, with just FOUR home wins all season, can you really blame the Villa fans slagging him off when they have had recent "success" and high finishes under Martin O'Neill?

The likes of N'Zogbia, a goalscoring attacker for Wigan, only found the net twice but, if it wasn't for Given throughout the season I really do feel that Villa would have gone down (Pulled off an absolute masterclass when Newcastle came to Villa Park IIRC).

N'Zogbia has been poor all season
The same could be said for the departed Downing however who managed a whopping 0 goals and 0 assists in his first full season at Anfield.

McLeish withstood the heavy Villa pressure all season however, just one day after the season finished - Villa themselves lost 2-0 away at Norwich, the former Scotland manager was sacked, just eleven months after he was appointed.  Trying to keep hold of his job was not helped by the news of James Collins, Chris Herd and Fabian Delph being involved in a nightclub scuffle before the season was even over and before they had secured Premier League safety.

So who do they turn to now? Many bookmakers are predicting the arrival at Villa Park of Norwich boss Paul Lambert, others reckon Mick McCarthy, Wigan gaffer Roberton Martinez is another; he was the man that Villa wanted last season before McLeish got the job - Could they bring him to Villa this time around? Finally, my own choice - Rafa Benitez - Out of work and likes England, good manager who knows the game well and you have to remember, got Liverpool so close to winning the league not so long ago.

NEW GAFFER?: Benitez gets results
Until next week...

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