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Thursday, 07 February 2013

Aston Villa: Is this the worst side ever?


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With the current crop of Villa players constantly being referred to as the worst in living memory perhaps it’s time to have a look back at seasons gone by to see if it’s really the case.

The performance against Everton over the weekend by Villa’s 2012-13 squad gave fans another glimmer of hope that Premier League survival may not be a completely lost cause.

But how have other Villa teams over the last two decades compared with the present squad?

Having been born in 1983 myself it would not really make sense to go too far back so I’ll start with the first season I can remember  - which just happens to be another of Villa’s worst ever seasons.

Dr JoeThe 1990-91 season was two years before the start of the Premier League renaissance and it was Dr Jozef Venglos at the helm. Villa just survived being relegated finishing in 17th place and Venglos was soon on his merry way.

Strangely that side consistent of Steve Froggatt, Dwight Yorke, Nigel Spink, David Platt, Paul McGrath, Tony Daley and Gordon Cowans - so it was no surprise Villa finished seventh the following the season and were soon challenging for the league title a few seasons later.

The next huge blip in Villa’s quest for domination was again a strange one because it followed another title challenge and a famous victory over Manchester United in League Cup.

The 1994-95 season began badly and just seemed to gradually get worse.  No-one believed Ron Atkinson would get sacked half way through the campaign having, in his own words, given the then chairman Doug Ellis the best success of his reign.

But there was no hiding behind the fact Villa were in serious trouble of going down and it was the ageing side that seemed to be the reason behind the slump in form.

It seemed Dalian Atkinson had stopped scoring, John Fashanu was perhaps not the answer, Graham Fenton and Phil King were mere flashes in the pan, and the likes of Earl Barrett, Ray Houghton, Gary Parker, Kevin Richardson and Shaun Teale were passed their sell by date.

Even Dean Saunders was on his way when Brian Little took over at the helm as he brought in the likes of Ian Taylor, Tommy Johnson and Mark Draper, which soon saw Villa begin competing with the best of the best once again.

Villa fans had to wait a few more seasons until 2002-03 before they could begin worrying about relegation again, and sadly it came with the not-so-triumphant return of Graham Taylor.

The man who had given such hope from 1987-90 came back to a woefully under strength Villa side and nearly took the club down, eventually finishing in 16th position – two places below Birmingham City!

It was another time of transition as stalwarts of the previous John Gregory era were beginning to feel their legs. The likes of George Boateng, Dion Dublin, Mark Delaney, Paul Merson, Steve Stone, Ian Taylor, Alan Wright and Steve Staunton were soon on their way.

But not all was lost because coming through at a rapid pace were Luke Moore, Peter Whittingham, Liam Ridgewell, Darius Vassell, Jlloyd Samuel, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Gareth Barry and even a young Peter Crouch.

OlearyVilla soon raced to sixth place the following year under new manager David O’Leary who replaced Taylor after one season in charge but he was unable to hold the side together and three years later, during the 2005-06 season, Villa were again back in 16th place.

The team was not much different and again new additions such as Wilfred Bouma, Martin Laursen, James Milner, Kevin Philips and Nolberto Solano, along side more youth players like Gabby Agbonlahor, Steven Davies and Gary Cahill, meant relegation was a threat, but never really a reality.

The next time Villa were staring down the barrel was under McLeish last year, which still doesn’t seem right. That seems like a lifetime ago. Even though it’s been less than a year since McLeish was at the helm it has led to a huge number of changes in 12 months.

Villa finished 16th last year and it seemed the side which usually included internationals like Shay Given, Alan Hutton, Stephen Warnock, James Collins, Richard Dunne, Stephen Ireland, Emile Heskey, Robbie Keane, Darren Bent and Gabby Agbonlahor had woefully under achieved.

But with the defence seeming fairly resolute behind some of the most boring football ever seen at Villa Park, relegation was just avoided.

Fast forward one year and there is an almost entirely new side lining up each week. It’s a side that has been hammered, humiliated and hounded – and yet it’s a side that has gone away to a very good Everton and been unlucky not come away with a win.

Players like Gabby Agbonlahor, Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann are very effective on their day – but after that, other than looking at potential, it’s a struggle to see where the rest of the quality lies.

It’s perhaps a bit harsh to say this current Villa side is the worst in recent history but looking at the squad, the results and the strength in depth it’s also hard to argue against it.

The last two performances this season has shown there is a glimmer of hope Villa can stay up, but it’s also clear the squad is the weakest it has ever been in the Premier League. 

Is this the worst Villa side in recent history? I’d have to say it is.

Article by James Fisher

Calling all Aston Villa fans: We are looking at possibly producing our worst ever Villa starting XI and would love your input. Would Alan Hutton get in? Who would you start up front? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

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