Aston Villa have had a great start to the season
Aston Villa are a great old club with a rich tradition, but a whole new generation of fans has yet to sample the glory days their parents and grandparents almost took for granted.
It is more than 30 years since Villa won the European Cup (now the Champions League) and more than 20 since they chased home Manchester United in the inaugural Premier League.
There have been a few decent years since then, notably when Martin O’Neill took them to sixth place three seasons in a row, but in the main they have been pretty much in the doldrums.
One win and two defeats at the start of this season is hardly the stuff of dreams for their long suffering supporters, but look beyond the results and there is a definite sense that a corner has been turned – Villa are on the up again.
Paul Lambert’s young team were at rock bottom last Christmas when Chelsea hammered them 8-0 at Stamford Bridge and then Spurs and Wigan both beat them heavily at Villa Park straight afterwards. We all wondered whether they could recover, but they showed spirit to survive relegation and demonstrated how much they have improved when giving that same Chelsea side a proper game last week.
Three points out of nine would be a worrying start in normal circumstances, but Villa were dealt a bad opening hand by the computer that spits out the fixture list and I expect them to start climbing up the table as the season settles down.
It was important that Villa kept hold of striker Christian Benteke, who looked like leaving for a while in the summer, and they are also being well served by Gabby Agbonlahor, now shining in a slightly more withdrawn role.
But it is impressive youngsters like Nathan Baker, Joe Bennett, Ciaran Clark, Matthew Lowton and Ashley Westwood who are really setting the Villa fans pulses racing and Lambert has other youngsters on the verge of breaking through. It’s still a work in progress, of course, but I’m confident Villa can look forward to a top ten finish at the end of the campaign (6/4 with Coral) with the promise of even better to come next season.
At the very least they have a great chance of turning the tables on midlands rivals West Brom, who finished seven places above them last time. Steve Clarke’s team did brilliantly to finish in the top half of the table, but Romelu Lukaku, the provider of 17 of their goals, is now back at Chelsea and the Baggies badly need to find a replacement while the transfer window is still open.
Written by Jon Freeman