So the curtain has drawn on the 2016-17 season, a season of highs, lows and everything in between. In this post I will be looking back on Aston Villa’s key moments this season, which I think defined it.
I’ll go in chronological order.
1 – The sale of the club and the appointment of Roberto Di Matteo – at first I thought this was great, getting rid of an American who had no interest in making the club better at what it should be good at, and replacing him with a fairly unheard of Chinese businessman by the name of Tony Xia, who came in and immediatley impressed the fans with RDMs appointment and his sense of direction – up. Di Matteo did the right thing in making sure the right players for the job came in and making sure whoever didn’t fit the bill left.
RDM and Xia
2 – Our early season run of 7 draws and 2 losses in 9 games – I went to a few games in this spell and watched a few on telly; and in almost all of them we threw away a lead, and in almost all of them we threw that lead away after the 75-minute mark. RDM had a plan of score early and sit back and defend it. It didn’t work, at all. In games againt Huddersfield, Forest, Brentford and Barnsley, we scored first and failed to build on it. It was also painful to watch as the only man who couldn’t see constant pressure leading to a goal seemed to be Di Matteo. The fans almost turned on him and at one point I thought we were going to be in for a painful season of booing and yelling at the board. However after a 2-0 loss to Preston, he was sacked; and probably just in time.
3 – Ex-Blues manager Bruce appointed – we hate our rivals there’s no two ways about it. But when Steve Bruce was appointed during the international break in October, we sensed a breath of fresh air. He’d been out of football since the start of the season (albeit to lose weight), but came back all guns blazing. We then went on a run of winning 7 games and drawing 3 (losing 2) before the new year turned, lifting us up the table to be in with an outside chance of reaching the play-offs.
Steve Bruce at his first home game against Wolves
4 – January – The African Cup of Nations came round. We missed star-striker Johnathan Kodjia, as he went off to AFCON with Ivory Coast. Defeats to Cardiff and Wolves – two teams we should be beating, set up a miserable run of 5 straight defeats leading into the middle of Febrary. All that hard work Bruce and the team put in before the New Year was in tatters. Mile Jedinak, our defensive midfield rock, picked up an injury, and we just didn’t look the team we were beforehand. Also the January transfer window was not a resounding success – with only Henri Lansbury and goalkeeper Sam Johnstone making any sort of impact, in my eyes.
Sam Johnstone and Henri Lansbury
5 – The run of games from the end of February to the start of April – This was probably the best time of the season for me. An entirely fit squad, everyone playing with confidence and results being well-earned rather than grinded out. This was a mini 9 game period in which we won 7, drew one and lost one, only conceding two goals in the process. Wins against Derby and Sheffield Wednesday being the highlight moments, with the only blip being a 1-0 defeat at high-flyers Huddersfield. Whebever I went to Villa Park during this time it was also buzzing with confidence from the fans.
6 – The bragging rights – The two previous games before the game with Birmingham were both 3-1 defeats to two teams battling in the play-offs. Bruce even said we hadn’t been playing well. Not something the fans wanted to hear. However come derby day (I did a seperate post on this a few weeks back), we couldn’t wait. In many Villa fans’ eyes this was the showpiece game of the season, being the second-to-last home game of the season at a packed Villa Park. It didn’t disappoint. An abysmal display against Blackburn and a solid effort against 2nd place finishers Brighton rounded off a decent first season in the second division since the 80’s.
I’d just like to add a little player of the season nomination for James Chester – our centre-back who stepped in as captain when Bruce took charge was immense. I don’t know where we’d be without him.
The next post will be on the summer and next season, so please look out for that.
Thanks for reading.