After being relegated from the top flight in English football for the first time in 29 years and with the club in such a mess, I don’t think anyone expected an easy season but is finishing in the bottom half in the Championship good enough? For me, I don’t think so. This is going to be broken down into three different parts so firstly I am going to take a look at the positives of this season.
Dr. Tony Xia
I honestly don’t think there is a Villa fan who dislikes our new owner. Chinese businessman Tony Xia ended Randy Lerners torrid tenure which came to the delight of all us fans. He came with the promise to take Aston Villa back where it should be and put his money where his mouth is by spending £50m-£60m in the summer.
Xia had to get the fans on his side quickly and did exactly that by communicating with them, which was sorely needed after the silence of Lerner, doing this by being a big presence on social media. He also turned up to quite a few games over the season as well as offering a few competitions for fans to win the chance to sit with the owner at certain home games.
Something that had been missing over the past few years was football men high up in the club and with the arrivals of Keith Wyness, Steve Round and Brian Little, this quickly changed. Dr Tony then sacked Roberto Di Matteo just 11 games into the league season after admitting it was his mistake by hiring him in the first place and brought in Steve Bruce.
Whether this was a good decision remains to be seen but you can see why the ex-blues boss was brought in. Dr. Tony has breathed a new lease of life into this football club and hopefully he can take us back to where we belong.
I think it’s easy for me to say that Kodjia was one of, if not, Villa’s best player this season. After signing from Bristol City for a fee that could rise up to £15m, many questioned the price, especially after paying £12m for Ross McCormack earlier in the window. He soon proved his doubters wrong.
The Ivory Coast international made a good impression on his debut showing his strength, pace and skill as well as being very unfortunate to not get on the score sheet however this was just a glimpse of what was to come. He bagged his first goal in Villa colours at home against Brentford and what a goal it was, cutting in from the right and bending one into the top corner with his weak foot.
Kodjia earned Steve Bruce a point in his first game after scoring from the spot against Wolves before helping the new manager pick up his first win at Villa Park after scoring a memorable scissor kick towards the closing stages of the game. Villa’s new talisman then went on to score a further five goals before heading to the Africa Cup of Nations in January, in which for me was a big factor in the winless streak after the new year.
When he returned earlier than expected, as Ivory Coast were knocked out in the group stage, he notched a brilliant 11 goals in just 14 goals. Kodjia’s season didn’t end according to plan unfortunately. After getting sent off against Fulham, he was forced to miss the second city derby.
Only needing to score one more goal to be the first Villa player to score 20 goals in a league season since Peter Withe, Villa fans were hopeful he would do it against Blackburn or Brighton. Unfortunately the forward suffered a huge injury in the penultimate game against Blackburn which forced him to finish his season slightly early. If it wasn’t for his goals though, I dread to think where we would have been.
Wishing you a speedy recovery Jimmy Danger!
The Stubborn Defence
On the 25th of February Villa beat Derby 1-0 to end a winless run of nine games but also started a streak of eight games with clean sheets. Mile Jedinak played a big part in this after being out injured and coming back in the previous game against Newcastle. The Aussie screened the back four and was a rock at breaking up play and winning the ball. He rarely lost an aerial battle and led by example despite not being captain.
James Chester, the man who played most games for us this season and for me Villa’s most consistent performer, was also vital. Bringing calmness to the backline, he just seemed to always be in the right place at the right time to stop attacks as well as grabbing a couple of important goals himself. His centre back partner Nathan Baker was putting his body on the line and his head where it hurts. He has shown that Championship is very much his level and going on loan to Bristol City in 2015 certainly did no harm.
Sam Johnstone in goal was finally starting to flourish and look more commanding in goal and showed that with a man of the match performance against Wigan making several very good, vital saves. Neil Taylor quietly went about his business and his importance was proved when he got injured and missed two games, in which we conceded six goals. He used his experience and his coolness on the ball to start attacks as well as breaking them up when called upon.
Finally, the resurgence of Alan Hutton. ‘The Scottish Cafu’ was having the best performances in a Claret and Blue shirt in this period. He seemed more astute when it come to defending and he started attacks with his powerful surging runs but it just shows what confidence and fan appraisal can do for a player.
The inclusion of youth players
The likes of Andre Green, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy and Kienan Davis were all given run outs this season which was refreshing to see. Green was given his debut under Remi Garde last season but it wasn’t till around January this year where he started to make a mark on the first team. He gave the team a different dimension with his direct runs and pace and was very, very unlucky t not get his first Villa goals after hitting the woodwork twice in back to back games before being hit with a hamstring injury which would see him on the sidelines for the rest of the season.
Hepburn-Murphy was given some game time by Bruce but with a plague of injuries and the contract-saga he didn’t make the impact we were all hoping for this season but it was still good to see the youngster in and around the first team when fit. Hopefully he can push on next season and put pressure on the likes of Kodjia and Hogan.
Kienan Davis is another player who was only given short cameos off the bench until the final game of the season when he come on for Hogan late in the first half. He put himself about, held the ball up and proved to be a handful for the Brighton centre halves. It would have gave him a lot of confidence to hopefully push on from that next season.
Beating those from down the road
Admittedly we were expected to beat Blues with them landsliding towards the relegation zone but with Kodjia out, Villa looking poor in their previous two games and Zola walking out the week before there was always an air of uncertainty about the game.
There was a fitting tribute for the passing of former Villan Ugo Eghiogh before the match and the atmosphere was how you expected it to be. The first half proved to be a dull affair but when Gabby came on it changed the game and it just had to be him that scored.
In my opinion he shouldn’t be anywhere near that first team but in games like these he can be a very good sub. The celebrations after the game were some of the best I’ve taken part in at Villa Park for a while and now that Blues have stayed up and will be in the league next season I hope we can have a similar outcome.
I wanted to include the fans at the end because after all a club is nothing without the fans. We have had a higher average home attendance than quite a few Premier League clubs despite being in the league below as well as having the highest average away following in the league. There was controversy with the whole Blackburn saga but we can’t let that get in the way of the fact that the fans have been amazing this season.