What on earth is going on down at Villa Park?
That's the question on every Aston Villa fan's lips as they they watch their beloved club grind slowly to a halt, finishing the 2013-14 season—one that promised so much!—with nothing more than a whimper and a scowl.
On Tuesday, March 15, the club suspended assistant manager Ian Culverhouse and Head of Football Operations Gary Karsa pending an investigation. The Mirror have suggested they're being quizzed on allegations of bullying in the work place.
This, on the back of Villa's putrid 1-0 loss to Crystal Palace at the weekend—their fourth defeat in succession, and the result in which manager Paul Lambert categorically lost the crowd—has drawn immense focus on the club's struggles this season, and it's all boiling over at the worst possible time.
Villa sit on 34 points and have five games left to play in the Premier League. After securing consecutive home wins over Norwich City (4-1) and Chelsea (1-0) back in March, not even the most pessimistic fan believed the club would still be on the same tally some 30 days later.
This campaign was supposed to see Villa take one big stride forward, back toward where the club truly belongs in the ranks of English football; trophies are expected in B6 despite the team's dormant status.
The summer of 2013 could hardly have gone any better for them: Jores Okore and Leandro Bacuna, among others, signed for the club and a number of key players from the previous season signed new contracts.
Chief among them was Christian Benteke, who withdrew a transfer request to sign a big-money deal and commit his immediate future to Lambert's project.
But a dream start in beating Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium and taking Chelsea all the way at Stamford Bridge faded away very quickly, and the dominoes began to fall.
Okore tore his ACL, Benteke hurt his hip flexor, Charles N'Zogbia tore his Achilles tendon, Libor Kozak broke his leg and a number of others battled persistent injuries. Lambert chopped and changed the formation a little too often in trying to work around the losses, and the football soon became unattractive; the atmosphere inside Villa Park morose.
One of the men in question, Culverhouse, took it upon himself to swear at his own fans from the managerial dugout during Villa's home loss to Palace on Boxing Day. From that moment, fans have been willing his exit from the club.
Lambert's situation in among all of this is fast becoming untenable. Villa are just four points off the relegation zone and need to squeeze some points out of Southampton, Manchester City, Swansea City, Hull City or Tottenham Hotspur to survive.
Three of those sides are comfortably better, while the other is on a high after reaching the FA Cup final this weekend. Without Benteke, who has now torn his Achilles, goals aren't exactly flowing.
Villa have been an unhappy club for several years, but what's kept them alive is that they've maintained a regular course while the season is running. In the summer they do their chopping and changing—and there's been no shortage of it, in truth—but it's confined to the walls of Bodymoor Heath.
This time it's unraveled a month early, and that could be devastating for the club's future in England's top tier.
As we enter the final four games, Lambert will lead a disgruntled team who believe there is a serious disconnect between management and playing staff. Shay Given—the man Lambert has been trying to force out of the door for around 12 months—has been appointed as his assistant in the dugout on a temporary basis.
That's a move that reeks of chairman involvement, and this could well be Randy Lerner's last-ditch attempt to re-sew seeds of trust between the two groups.
It promises to be an uncomfortable final few weeks for Villa fans, and if the club do get relegated, all hell will break loose in the direction of chairman, chief executive and managerial staff.
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