American Born Villan

Aston Villa, From Chicago to the Holte End of the World


October 2014

Queens Park Rangers 2 – Aston Villa 0: Tom Hanks Reconsiders

I really don't know what they're moaning about
I really don’t know what they’re moaning about

I know something about losing. I know what it’s like to come to the field week after week, hoping for a win, a draw, or even an honorable loss—and, week after week, to go home disappointed. I know what it’s like to sift through shit looking for the gleam of a coin that was swallowed long ago. I know what it’s like to say, “We’ll get ’em next week” so often that no one believes it, no one even pretends to believe it, but you say it, because you have to say something. And, when you’re losing, any senseless noise is better than silence.

And I’m not even talking about Aston Villa here. I’m talking about the AYSO teams I’m coaching, teams with players capable of kicking the ball backward, teams with goalkeepers whose attempts to catch the ball sometimes resemble an attempt to throw the ball into their own net. I have coached 10 different AYSO teams and always before managed to shape even the most rag-tag teams into a unit capable of a balanced season.

But this year is different. This year, I have some players who cannot run, dribble, pass, catch, bend at the waist, or understand the simplest instructions: play the ball out wide, don’t pass in front of your own goal, don’t reach for the ball if you are not a goalkeeper.

And yet my U10 team, the team that has won one game in eight, has STILL MANAGED TO SCORE EIGHT GOALS AGAINST SUPERIOR OPPOSITION.

As opposed to Villa, who have managed four.

*     *     *

During Villa’s rough run of form against last year’s top teams, I had been content to count positives and bide my time. Weather this storm, I reasoned, and we’ll be sitting pretty—bottom half of the top half of the table, easy. Villa were defending well, passing better, and at times even showed a little swagger. However, with playing Villa away at last-place QPR, yesterday marked the day when we could no longer look for silver linings.

The 10 points from our flying start was now good enough only for 15th place—hell, even Newcastle had 10, courtesy of their weekend win over Tottenham. Villa supporters found themselves doing some familiar math: counting the teams that seem certain to be lousier than ours.

With playing Villa away at last-place QPR,
yesterday marked the day when we could
no longer look for silver linings.

Villa started brightly, as they often do, and seemed to have a shaky QPR back on their heels. Checking the mood of the supporters on Facebook (I confess to watching from work), I found them optimistic. It was only a matter of time before we scored!

But, as luck would have it, it was Charlie Austin who scored first for the other team, completely against the run of play in the 17th minute. It was early, though, and Villans still believed we would break through. Not just one goal, but two, or more!

As the game went on, and Villa still seemed to have the better of the play, they couldn’t break through. And when Austin struck again in the 68th minute—cruelly, off a poor pass from Sanchez, who was previously having a man-of-the-match performance—reality set in. The announcers did their best not to call the game over (being down by two goals was said to be, in the Premier League, “a not insurmountable problem”) but it was over. I did something I never do: I stopped watching ten minutes from the end.

For the day, I had had enough.

*     *     *

On paper, we don’t look bad. Unfortunately, as a man once observed, games are played on grass.

But it’s still hard to believe that a team with internationals such as Benteke, Vlaar, Senderos, Delph, Guzan, and Hutton can be so utterly woeful. (Yes, I’m including Hutton; and little of this is Guzan’s fault.) And I really don’t know what to think. The team have played good, attacking soccer at times this year. They defended brilliantly in the first bunch of games. I don’t think they’re even that badly managed. But they are shit, and we once again must take the threat of relegation seriously. If they don’t start scoring some goals, they’re going to be setting some records it will take years to live down.

In yesterday’s game, Villa had 65% of the ball to QPR’s 35%, outshot them 15 to 11, had more shots on target (6 to 4), and had twice as many corners (4 to 2). Hell, they even committed more fouls! And yet . . .

  • We have now lost five games in a row.
  • We have not scored in any of those five losses, the first team since Derby County to manage that (however, we are not in danger of breaking their lowest-total-points record).
  • We have conceded 13 unanswered goals.
  • Have played 8 hours and 51 minutes without scoring.
  • Villa may be in 15th place in the league, but are 20th in number of goals scored, 20th in shots (56), 20th in shots on target (18), 19th in possession (38%), and 19th in conversion (7.1%).
  • Just 14% of our crosses are on target, 19th in the league. (Only pattern-weavers Arsenal are worse.)

Here are some other stats you may find interesting:

  • There have been babies born into Villa families who have lived their entire lives without Villa scoring a goal or earning a point.
  • You have a slightly higher chance of contracting ebola from a hug than Villa scoring from a crossed ball.
  • If you do contract ebola, you still have a better chance of surviving it than Villa has of converting a cross.
  • Tom Hanks was overheard at a posh Hollywood eatery saying he fancies a team called “West Sandwich Albion.”
  • Gabby Agbonlahor bought his blazing speed in a deal with the devil. The price was his ability to score goals.
  • Everything that has happened over the past three years is part of a minutely detailed rebuilding plan by Paul Lambert. The plan is proceeding perfectly and will come to fruition in the fourth year of his contract, when we will finish seventh, and he will be rewarded with an eight-year contract.

Up the Villa, and as Lambert said, we’ll pick ourselves up and go again next week.

Against Tottenham.

Who were beaten by Newcastle.

Which surely means we’ll fail to score again.



final stats?

Last Year’s Top Five Teams 11 – Aston Villa 1

Brad Guzan
Just watching the ball go round: Brad Guzan shows he’s human after all

Damn the schedulers. After our flying start (Four games undefeated! If you don’t count the League Cup loss to Leyton Orient! Third place in the league!) Villa’s momentum has ground to a shuddering halt with five games in a row against last year’s top five teams. First Liverpool, then Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Everton. We nicked a goal and three points against Liverpool and then went 0-for-the-rest-of-the-top-five while making our bed with four clean sheets for the other teams.

I mean, just look at the way our last five opponents ended last season
I mean, just look at the way our last five opponents ended last season

I was philosophical about the losses to Arsenal, Chelsea, and City but had hoped for at least a point against Everton. Even though Everton is obviously better than this year’s table position has suggested (they were 17th before the game), we were struggling, they were struggling—why couldn’t we both struggle to a draw?

Alas, it was not to be, and our current lack of threat in front of the net reminds me of another dire stretch last year. In fact, if my calculations are correct, since Gabby’s ninth-minute tally against Liverpool, it has now been 441 minutes, or or 7 hours and 21 minutes, since we found the back of the net. Unless we score in the first nine minutes this weekend, we’re going to do last year’s seven-and-a-half hour goal drought one better.

We were struggling, they were struggling—
why couldn’t we both struggle to a draw?

Given our start to the season, I had been looking at the QPR fixture next Monday as a get-well game, a chance to regain form against a bottom feeder after a tough run of five. And yes, QPR is sitting dead last, but after watching the fight they showed in a wild game against Liverpool, I wouldn’t put it past us to drop more points. Yes, Liverpool beat them in the end, and we’ve beaten Liverpool, but I’m still anything but sanguine. With Delph out, Senderos, and Baker out, we’re likely to see Ciaran Clark in action again, so we’re bound to see more misadventures on the back line. We need a big response from the rest of the team and we need it now.

Here’s an idea! Maybe we can shave Roy Keane, style and mousse his hair, and sneak him onto the field—we could say he’s Jack Grealish’s big brother or, better, uncle—and let him bark orders from midfield? Who knows, he might even get us a goal!

Right, right, I know. No one’s touching Roy’s beard—or anything else.

Aston Villa 0 – Manchester City 2: By the Hairs of Roy Keane’s Mighty Beard, I Still Believe

Having started the season playing five games unbeaten, a run that saw them reach the giddy heights of third place, Villa have come crashing back down to earth as they play five games against last season’s top five teams. They nicked three points away at Liverpool but the results since then have been grim:

  • A 0-3 loss at home against Arsenal.
  • A 0-3 loss away to Chelsea.
  • A 0-2 loss at home to Manchester City.

Roy Keane and his mighty beardIt’s Monday, we’ve fallen to tenth place, and yet I remain sanguine. What’s wrong with me? Have I learned nothing from last year? Have I been drinking Paul Lambert’s Kool-aid, which is an elixir of optimism brewed with three parts denial and flavored with a whisker from Roy Keane’s mighty beard?

Well, look. With Weimann playing as a lone striker against Man City in the absence of an ailing Agbonlahor, I didn’t expect us to score any goals. Benteke’s just getting back and will need some minutes to find his feet. And Villa defended brilliantly for 80 minutes against a top-flight attack. We came within a hair’s breadth of taking a useful point.

Against Chelsea, hell, they actually didn’t look too bad for a team ravaged by a virus. Against an in-form Diego Costa, the scoreline could have been far worse. And we played Arsenal without Vlaar or even the vastly improved Baker.

What’s wrong with me? Have I
learned nothing from last year?

Here’s why I think this season will be better, and why I think a tenth-place finish is an eminently achievable building block:

  • This year’s defense is still much better than last year’s defense. Once Vlaar and Senderos are side by side again, with Baker as a capable substitute, they’re going to be tough to unlock. (And, who knows, we might even see Okore on the field again!)
  • They have played well for large parts of the games they’ve lost, pressuring the offense and fighting to regain lost balls.
  • The midfield is beginning to gel, to pass and hold possession better than we’ve seen for a few seasons.
  • Benteke is back. He will score some of the goals we’re sorely needing.
  • Roy Keane’s beard is really impressive. Put this one under “intangibles.”

I would expect us to be outclassed by teams possessing individual players who cost more than our whole starting eleven. Last year, we overperformed against the top four teams and underperformed against everybody else. I suspect that this will be the year when we invert that formula, taking our beatings like everybody else from the top sides, but beating more of the teams we should beat. (Hear that, Palace? We’re not your punching bags anymore!)

And with two weeks to prepare for a trip to a sputtering Everton—time for Benteke to heal and build his strength—things really don’t look that bad. Villa has already proven that they enjoy playing in the city of Liverpool!

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