Villa’s Eternal Midfield Struggle
In terms of entertainment for supporters, this season has frankly been dismal so far.
Villa have scored 5 goals in 11 games with none of the central midfielders getting on the score sheet. The failure of the team to score goals has cranked up pressure on Aston Villa’s current manager Paul Lambert with the ‘E’ word now regularly mentioned on social media and in forums – Eck!
During Alex McLeish’s tumultuous time as Aston Villa manager his team averaged a goal a game, 37 goals in 38 games. This was agreed by the club and fans to be a pitiful return of goals for a team that grinded its way to a draw on 17 (tedious) occasions.
In their statement announcing the dismissal of McLeish, the club itself lamented the lack of “compelling play” and results that “instilled a sense of confidence,” as reasons why McLeish was fired, but by anyone’s standards nothing has changed much under Lambert.
Paul Lambert’s 2014/15 team are currently averaging a goal every two games, not every game like McLeish’s much maligned side. Lambert’s job is safe according to various journalists with sources at the club, but why? The club appears to have forgotten their promise to fans in respect of “compelling play” as fans are asked to accept dull and impotent football on a regular basis, particularly at Villa Park.
Villa’s New Hope…Again
Away from the doom and gloom, there is one midfielder who has been scoring goals this season, but unfortunately they have been for Brighton. Solihull born academy player Gary Gardner is continuing his road to recovery on loan and it is heart-warming to see the young midfielder back on the pitch enjoying his football again after so many set-backs.
Villa fans expecting to see a completely ‘fit’ player will need to be patient. In the example of Fabian Delph, it took many months for Delph to regain match fitness after two lengthy injuries. Delph’s road to recovery included an unremarkable loan spell at Leeds during McLeish’s season and the player struggled to make an impact in his first four or five months under Lambert. Patience in Delph’s case has been rewarded after the former Leeds academy player was awarded his first senior England cap recently by Roy Hodgson.
Gary Gardner deserves the same patience from fans.
Gary Gardner Brighton Loan
Gardner was loaned out last season to Sheffield Wednesday but an injury, this time his foot, hampered the youngster’s progress during the season. Gardner’s current manager, Sami Hypia, liked what he saw however in Gardner’s appearances,
“Gary has had a tough couple of seasons due to injury, but he showed during a spell with Sheffield Wednesday last season that he is over those problems. We hope this loan spell will benefit everyone: Gary, us and Aston Villa.
“He is the type of midfielder who is active and mobile, but very importantly he has real quality on the ball – and is also capable of producing things from set-pieces.”
Prior to his loan move to Brighton, Gardner had been working hard with personal trainer Jamie Reynolds this summer in order to be fit for the start of pre-season. It was obvious to Villa fans that the player looked fitter, sharper and stronger in pre-season games.
Gardner now needs plenty of football in his legs and to stay fit for a sustained period of time as he is the sort of player who, like Delph, needs to be sharp in order to play the box-to-box midfield role to the best of his abilities. Gardner can play an active role for the team in defensive and attacking transitions and his signature skill is his ability to arrive late in the box, find space and score goals. Gardner, like Carlos Sanchez, is particularly dominant in the air and wins many aerial duels in midfield.
I can remember a particularly drab performance from Fabian Delph in a home draw against Norwich in the early days of Lambert (1 – 1), where the player’s mobility was limited and Norwich dominated the game. Later in the season Delph regained his match fitness and was moving much more freely and dominating games on his own. We can only hope that Gardner will regain the sort of mobility that saw him dictate a pre-season game against Chelsea where he tackled, passed, ran, intercepted balls against Chelsea’s star studded players. Gardner observed recently that whilst he is gradually returning to his old self, he is not quite there yet,
“That’s what I like to do, break forward and score goals, and as my fitness is getting better with the more games I play, I’m able to do that,” he said.
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