Aston Villa Show Guts Galore to Surge into Fifth as Fans Face Tone Deaf Commercialism

The Good, Bad and Ugly of Brentford and Fulham

Aston Villa are Fifth… At the back-end of April. Breathe it in, but try not to choke on the air at this altitude.

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The Good

It’s all about the results at the business end of the season. If the Newcastle United game was a generational performance in terms of entertainment and overall play, the two games against Brentford and Fulham were down to grit and intestinal fortitude (Pun intended for Emi Martinez there).

It would do most of the football media good to take a look at the performances of big, successful teams towards the end of the season. Arsenal’s 2003/3004 ‘Invincible’s’, who went the whole season without losing a league game, drew 12 games that season. They weren’t always at their best, but found a way to avoid defeat.

I’ve also lost count of the number of times Manchester United under Alex Ferguson, were outplayed, yet somehow managed to win or draw on the run-in to the title.

So it is with Unai Emery’s first draft of Aston Villa. The DNA needed to be successful over the course of a season is being instilled into the club and the last two games have been it in a nutshell.

Brentford should have beaten Villa. No question. After shading a close first half, Brentford battered Villa for a good 30 mins after the break. After Emi Martinez was replaced with Robin Olsen, Villa just looked like a throwback to the later days of Dean Smith and Steven Gerrard.

Of course, this is a different manager. Emery, through experience, knows that things aren’t always going to go to his plan, so he accepts change is needed.

Against Brentford a triple substitution, taking off Moreno, Young and Dendoncker. Three of the previous weeks’ top performers, and replacing them with Digne, Chambers and Traoré, did enough to earn Villa a point.

Fast forward to Fulham, and Villa dominated the first half, but were only one goal up. In the second half fatigue and
an unadventurous Fulham side meant that the match fizzled out. The work was done in the first half, so it was all about seeing it out for a big three points.

This is the way of a top-tier manager and it is now the way of Aston Villa, results are what count in the final games of Premier League seasons.

Villan of the Week – Douglas Luiz

What a turnaround it has been for Villa and Luiz since the reverse fixture at Fulham. That day, he was wrongly sent off as the Steven Gerrard reign came crashing down in a painful 3-0 defeat.

Now, Luiz is every bit the player that some Villa fans would spend countless hours on Youtube and Football Manager, scouting and saying ‘Villa should be all over this!’

He still has a moment of casualness in him, but it’s easy to forget he is still only 24-years-old and with over 100 appearances for Villa under his belt, he would cost a fortune to replace.

It may turn out that one of the only good things to come from the Gerrard reign was keeping Luiz away from Arsenal on transfer deadline day 2022.

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The Bad

Looking at the last two games, you can see that the small Villa squad is starting to feel the pace.

Ashley Young, while still excelling, is getting caught for pace and mentally looks like he needs a break. The lapse in concentration that allowed Ivan Toney to give Brentford the lead and a few more fouls that have crept into Young’s game, are symptoms of his overuse as pacey wingers, some 15 years of more his junior target him more regularly.

There’s also strain showing on the midfield and attack. Jacob Ramsey is getting battered in the middle, McGinn is always in the thick of battle and both are then needed to spring counterattacks.

Games like Fulham, which feel flat are where Bailey, Cash, Coutinho and Kamara, would lift the tempo, through sheer energy and desire to break back into the starting line-up.

Let’s hope some of them are available soon.

The Ugly

The decision taken by Aston Villa to raise season ticket prices, and presumably all match day tickets by 15% (more in some sections of the Upper North Stand) isn’t pretty, especially after an increase the previous season.

While the cost of living crisis rages on and everyone continues to feel the pinch of surviving, let alone going to football matches, leaving a price increase this late in the season is a cynical move by Villa’s hierarchy.

The real issue with it is that there is no tangible, visible benefit achieved by doing it.

The increase will generate the club less than three million pounds based on gate receipts based on Companies House declarations.

If you cast your minds back, there has been another commercial decision recently that looked bad. The proposed front-of-shirt sponsorship deal with gambling firm BK8, that is due to proceed when the current deal with Cazoo ends.

A less ugly move would have seen this cash-grab gambling deal, being used to offset the price rise in season tickets. Something like, ‘We took this gambling deal and all the associated bad press around it, so we could afford to maintain your ticket prices at the current level.’

Sadly, this is not the case and the bad optics of both are now in play.

I think most reasonable fans would expect the price of tickets to increase as and when needed due to success on the pitch, but Villa clearly are striking while the iron is hot.

The club is riding high, there is a season ticket waiting list, and the fanbase is ripe for plucking.

It’s an ugly approach but increasingly the way of modern football, where fans are now distilled down to a number of data entries on surveys and internet history to see how much money can be squeezed from them.


Follow Phil on Twitter here – @prsgame