‘Your Nightmare Returns’.
The banner that the Rapid Vienna fans unfurled ahead of the kickoff last night looks prophetic now. After the humiliating 6-0 defeat to Newcastle at the weekend, surely things could not get worse for Villa?
An injury to Agbonlahor, a missed penalty, more sloppy defending, all culminated in a pathetic elimination from the Europa League.
Villa has been eliminated at this stage by Rapid Vienna two years running now. For a team hoping to be challenging toward the top end of the Premiership, losing once to a side that could only finish third in the Austrian division is unacceptable.
To do it twice in consecutive years is unforgivable.
Once again, all the hard work of last season to qualify for Europe has been thrown away. The decision of the club to play a reserve team in the first leg and to rest several players last night is disrespectful to the tournament, and a kick-in-the-face to the fans who look forward to a European campaign.
More to the point, surely players cannot need resting at this stage of the season?
The likes of Stewart Downing, Richard Dunne, Luke Young and Stephen Warnock were all rested last night. However, we are only three games into the new season, and there is an international break following Sunday’s match with Everton.
How can the players be tired already?
Kevin MacDonald has been a part of the club for many years now, and nobody wants to see him leave. However, last week proved that he is simply not good enough for the top job. MacDonald has said he wants to wait to decide whether he wants the job full-time, but the decision may now be out of his hands.
Under Martin O’Neill, Villa were never particularly high scorers.
However, his team was always strong and difficult to break down at the back. Now Villa have conceded nine goals in only two games while looking distinctly porous in defence. Three individual errors—two from Habib Beye and one from Curtis Davies—led to the goals last night. The entire defence was poor against Newcastle.
This is something that needs to be sorted out quickly.
Furthermore, arguably the European exit has made the club less attractive to any future manager. Seemingly the new manager will be taking over a side that has crashed out of Europe, was humiliated by a newly-promoted side, and that supposedly has little money to spend.
Hardly an appealing prospect. Hopefully somebody fancies a challenge.
The lack of any apparent progress on the appointment of a new manager is causing disruption within the club. Following the match last night, Stiliyan Petrov admitted that the uncertainty is difficult and that the players hope that the situation is solved as quickly as possible.
He went on to give a fairly honest appraisal of the game.
'It really is unacceptable from us. We worked so hard last season to get into Europe and we have blown it. We need to get better all over the park. We need to put things right. We are not doing something right.'
Rumours that Ottmar Hitzfeld was at the game last night are likely to be wishful thinking, and Martin Jol is firmly out of the frame following Ajax’s qualification for the Champions League group stage. The jury is still out on Bob Bradley’s credentials, whilst Sven Goran Eriksson would appear to be the best choice out of those managers that are available.
Similarly, Alan Curbishley would not be the most glamorous appointment, but would provide a safe pair of hands and plenty of Premier League experience.
Unfortunately the decision has seemingly been left too late for the new appointee to have an opportunity to use the transfer market—deliberately left too late if you believe the conspiracy theories.
The club could do with a keeper, a striker and possibly cover at fullback.
Brad Friedal has been a wonderful keeper for almost two decades, but is beginning to lose his edge, whilst Brad Guzan is inexperienced and has looked a little out of his depth at times. Given the frailties appearing in the defence, a quality keeper is needed behind them.
Up front, Emile Heskey simply does not score the goals required for a striker. John Carew seems to spend a disproportionate time injured, and looked off the pace when he has played this year. Agbonlahor is the main striker, but has a tendency to go on long runs without scoring.
However, without a new manager, these problems are unlikely to be solved until January at the earliest.
MacDonald will almost certainly still be in charge for the game against Everton on Sunday, but then the international break gives the club the opportunity to get the new man in and give him some time to work with the players.
There are the first rumblings of discontent amongst the fans with the ownership of Randy Lerner. It is crucial that he gets this decision right if he is to retain the support of the supporters. And even if he does, the timing of the appointment will still lead to the conspiracy theorists suggesting that he is simply there to make a profit for himself.
Only time will tell, but he needs to act quickly to prevent all the good work of the last four years being thrown away in the space of a month.