Writer: Barry Worthington
Date:Monday January 24 2011
With Wigan Athletic set to face Aston Villa tomorrow in what is a crucial Premier League clash for both clubs I thought I`d grab a chat with someone from Vital Villa, Mike Field nipped round (cyberly) and the rest as they say is, well, written below:
worbo - Good to see you Mike, hows it all going, the Villa just three points off the bottom three, not what you expected I`d take it, the poor form, is it all down to Houllier or the fact that O`Neill left when he did?
Mike - When I popped onto Vital Wigan and waved, and you didn't give the two finger salute back it made me feel more comfortable about returning and answering a few of your questions, so yeah this experience of mine (I'm sheltered your know, JF rarely lets me out of Vital Villa) of visiting fellow sites is becoming quite enjoyable.
Oh you mean how's it going in terms of our season, sorry I was having a me, me, me moment then - possibly because it means I can ignore what I've seen so far this campaign :-)
Erm it's not been good has it. You've got lucky only seeing the highlights, or is that lowlights of our season so far, and whilst your own campaign has been equally as disappointing I would guess you haven't died and rolled over quite as often as we have during games thus far. Compared to the confident Villan, it's probably a good question for me because I thought we'd struggle this season anyway - long before O'Neill walked - too many players living on reputation, too many players with their hearts just not in the club anymore and so on...but never in my wildest nightmares did I expect to see what we've served up so far. We've had enough chances in games we've lost to gain possibly an additional 12 points but 'couldn't score in a brothel' crossed with our defence being easier to penetrate than a $2 dollar...you get the idea...has cost us massively.
But what I expected was midtable as opposed to top 6 again...I would never have bet we'd fall so far from grace.
As to who is to blame, O'Neill takes a huge share for me. He assembled the squad, he demotivated so many players and then ultimately walked out and whilst I won't ignore the good he did for the club, at the moment, the bad he did the club is a little too fresh in the mind.
I reserve special attention for the players themselves though, irrespective of the manager, whether he is liked, and what have you, the bottom line is with a little bit of effort they wouldn't have turned into amateurs overnight, and pretty much to a man they did. Our highlight of the season really is the youngsters because they have played with desire and passion and shown up a lot of our players for what they are. It's all dandy and well looking interested when things are going well, it's another to show that same commitment when they aren't...and a number of our players fell into that trap.
But as for Houllier. He underestimated the job he walked into. He completely misjudged the feelings of the fans, and he seems to have misjudged the players (whether the players were right or wrong there) and it's only been recently he seems to have returned to setting us up to take the best of what we had under O'Neill and then try to start improving us tactically and correct what O'Neill had wrong.
That said, he's now playing Gabby Agbonlahor on the left wing and I've yet to speak to anybody who understands that decision! So O'Neill's days of playing people out of position for no real benefit haven't quite left us yet!
Houllier has played his part no doubt, but he's not completely to blame - just as O'Neill isn't. Thankfully maybe the players have suddenly realised it is within their power to change our fortunes regardless, if they'd realised that beforehand we wouldn't have slipped into the bottom 3.
worbo - Well spend big, get big results, Darren Bent, are you surprised you went after him, are you surprised he came and are you surprised you spent, was it £18 or £24 million?
Mike - I think I'd become a little too accustomed to the previous managers transfer dealings, so yes Darren Bent came as a huge surprise to me. It only took the club 4 years to sign a proper striker after all, and with Bent many fans have been crying out for somebody of his talent for longer than 4 years, so seeing us almost immediately address that concern was very surprising and hugely appreciated.
The fee is £18 million rising to £24 million with add ons. Houllier has apparently joked that it'll only reach £24 million if we win the league, but I've had good trust in our board and owner since they joined, so seeing us spend those sums wasn't a surprise in itself. O'Neill was backed hugely and clearly they are giving Houllier the same backing, only difference being I assume the board trust Houllier to keep an eye on the wage bill and from my perspective Houllier is prepared to spend big on big players, and with no disrespect meant, not the likes of Knight or Harewood.
Surprised he joined though...no. With the best respect to Sunderland, why wouldn't a Sunderland player join us. I'd like to think we could've - had we been prepared to meet the fee - signed him from Charlton or Spurs without needing the involvement of Steve Bruce. He's a clinical finisher, and one thing we have at Villa are players who can create chances for strikers.
From Bent's perspective I'd imagine he looked at us thought simply, this could be a dream.
worbo - So Bent is the man of the moment, how did he fare on his debut, I know he scored by the way.
Mike- You know he scored, so do Man City but I'd imagine you are slightly happier in that knowledge than they are :-)
Reasonable debut simply because he did what he was signed to do, and he looked up for it. Stats will show things like a single shot = a goal and 24 odd touches all game or something like that, but he mixed in well in holding the ball up and drawing attention and then laying the ball off as he hit the channels...but he scored, something we very much need in a striker.
worbo - I see Richard Dunne is back in the side, as he sorted his differences out with the boss?
Mike - Whatever caused Dunne to moan originally I doubt is sorted, but it seems he accepts Houllier makes the decisions now and in return Houllier accepts that Dunne on form is a massive asset for us.
Richard to be fair, even allowing for the fact very early season he was carrying a knee problem, has been very substandard for us so being dropped was understandable, and to be honest didn't happen quick enough. Since he's come back into the team though he's looked far more like the Dunne we fell in love with when he joined, so even if the initial blow-up isn't water under the bridge, both parties are thankfully thinking of the club.
Following City Houllier name checked Dunne as playing particularly well, so at least efforts are being made.
worbo - How do you see the rest of the season going for Villa, are you likely to pull up the table or is it going to be nervy right through to the end?
Mike - I actually have faith we are now going to go from strength to strength. I wouldn't have said the same thing a month ago, and it's not just related to the signing of Bent. The players are starting to put the effort in again and whilst we aren't always as pretty as we should be when you look at the players on paper, they have started to battle again for the cause - which really has been the missing link for us.
Hopefully we are going to get back to back wins when we face you and the more we pull away from the bottom 3, the better confidence will be.
Of course given how tight the table is this year, it both makes me kick the cat thinking how in previous seasons our form would see us potentially clear in first place, as it does help my faith that with a little run of back to back wins we will rocket up the table.
worbo - This season has been very close down at the bottom, all the teams staying in touch with each other, this time last year Pompey were cut adrift and Hull were really struggling, no such signs this time round, how do you see the bottom three finishing Mike and do you think that both of us, Villa and the Latics can stay up?
Mike - Oh difficult. As above it's that tight that anybody not sitting above Sunderland could potentially find themselves in the bottom 3 come the end of the season. As you say nobody is actually adrift yet and a dead cert to take one of the places.
We'll be safe, I have faith and prior to Man City I had copious amounts of alcohol which helped. I can't see Wigan going down if I'm honest - even though I know saying you will would make this particular question far more interesting.
If I had to put money on it at this moment in time I don't think Wet Spam are going to rally quick enough with all their troubles, Big Mick at Wolves is just having hardly any luck and I don't see it changing sadly (obviously I want Midlands teams to stay up to counter the London effect in the Prem) and I can't help but wonder if Ian Holloway may be going the way of Phil Brown lately - strange for me to say that as I actually wanted Holloway to replace O'Neill.
But it's that tight and 3 wins changes the table dramatically it's almost impossible to answer.
worbo Villa in town always excites me, I am of a certain generation and I remember the team of Withe, Shaw, Morley, Cowans etc and I look forward to seeing the Villa of today and if they compare, who should I watch out for on Tuesday and will they excite me as much as the team of `82?
Mike - You see this is where the niceties end, I'm not that old you codger! lol. You`ve got better memories of my team than I have!
Simple answer is no they won't. The 82 boys stand apart and even my love for our youngsters like Albrighton, Bannan and Clark have a long way before they can be considered for comparison....but there's plenty of known players in our team that you'll be watching for. Ash, Downing, Bent, Gabby for attacking flair if they turn up. But you've got to look at Albrighton, he has been a revelation this season and even though he is making the obviously youthful errors at points, the kid has a big big future. If Bannan comes near the team you'll get the chance to wonder why we are after Charlie Adam when you see the passes he can spray around, and Clark at the back who is filling in at left back despite being my pick as a future England captain (until he chose Eire!) is showing the raw energy in tackles that gets any crowd going and groaning, whilst the next minute showing composure of a 35 year old.
I think the man we'll both be watching (who! as you quite rightly said lol) is Jean Makoun. I don't watch that foreign football so I really don't know what to expect from him either. Could make life interesting if he lives up to the reputation I'm hearing.
worbo - Well prediction time, how do you feel the game will end?
Mike - If we play as we can given the high we should be on, 5-1. If we play as we have done too often this season, 2-3. But my head would take a 1-1 simply to see us not follow a great victory with an immediate loss.
I've hedged my bets rather well there haven't I?
Ok, heart says 2-1, Bent and Clark with that annoying Roddy bloke getting your consolation.
worbo - Thanks for the chat Mike
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Date:Monday January 24 2011
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