Fight, Fight, Fight: Paul Lambert

Whilst Daniel Storey believes that Paul Lambert has not taken Villa forward enough, Matthew Stanger believes the Scot deserves patience and perseverance. So they fought...

Last Updated: 09/01/14 at 16:24 Post Comment

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The Prosecution
Aston Villa are 11th. They have a young, inexperienced squad and Paul Lambert was forced to take on the rather dirty residue left behind by Alex McLeish before him. It may seem harsh to sack their manager at such a juncture.

But the Premier League doesn't judge by reasonable standards. It judges by standards decreeing that Villa simply cannot afford to be relegated unless they want to risk the financial abyss. It judges by standards that determine a run of 14 points from 14 games unacceptable. And it judges by standards that make 30 goals in 29 home games utter dross to watch for supporters.

Aston Villa are indeed 11th, but they are just six points above the relegation zone. More worryingly, of their six victories this season, three could be described as 'freak' - Manchester City and Southampton both dominated but somehow contrived to lose, whilst Arsenal on the opening day just felt like Villa stumbled into the right place at the right time. More indicative is the form that has seen Villa take two points from five matches against Stoke, Fulham, Crystal Palace, Sunderland and West Ham.

In addition, Villa look completely toothless when faced with the task of breaking a side down rather than being able to counter-punch, as they did against City and Arsenal. There just isn't a Plan B, and it has become excruciatingly apparent.

Lambert has continuously bemoaned the lack of experience in his squad, both in age and previous Premier League football, a valid point undermined by the fact that in 2012 he chose to buy eight players, none of whom had ever played in England's top flight. Given the chance to put things right this summer, Lambert did exactly the same, and has now spent £38million on players aged 24 or under since the beginning of last summer.

The sad conclusion is that Fabian Delph is the only player in Aston Villa's first team squad that has improved on last season. One or two and you could blame the troops, 10-15 and you question their leader. Surely the point of managing younger players is that you improve them? Without that, he has nothing, and standing still is rarely good enough.

Lambert's future probably rests on whether Randy Lerner trusts his manager to spend more of his funds after an already significant outlay - that Lambert currently sits as second favourite behind Allardyce to be the next Premier League manager sacked hints at an answer to that question.

The Defence
Given the craving for instant success in the Premier League, it's little surprise that Paul Lambert is under pressure at Aston Villa only half-way through his second season in charge. However, despite calls from supporters - and Daniel Storey - for a fourth fresh start in as many years, Randy Lerner should back his man to see through the transition his role demands.

Lambert inherited an enormous task when he replaced Alex McLeish in 2012. Villa finished just two places and two points above the relegation zone in the previous season and, after mustering only 37 goals - the second-lowest in the division - morale was at an all-time low. Sir Alex Ferguson's recommendation had failed spectacularly and it was left to Lambert to pick up the pieces.

His first job was to try and shift the high earners as Lerner sought to reduce expenditure, but this forced the manager to gamble in the transfer market in order to plug the gaps in his small squad. Lambert's young signings have certainly been hit-and-miss - as is the case with any clubs shopping in that bracket of the market - but Villa's injury woes this season have vindicated his decision to opt for quantity.

As Storey writes, for an outlay of £38million one might expect more from Villa - at least in terms of playing style - but estimations of £25million on Benteke's head last August underline that there is sell-on value to be found among Lambert's buys. Jores Okore also impressed before his unfortunate season-ending cruciate injury and Leandro Bacuna has shown flashes of his talent. Give the manager the time he deserves, and those flashes could develop into something more consistent.

Perhaps Lambert should have looked for more experience to help Villa kick on this year, and signing the shaky Antonio Luna to replace the shakier Joe Bennett raises doubts over his ability to address the team's weaknesses. Another way to view the situation, however, is to look at Villa sitting in 11th after 20 matches, only four points behind a vaunted Southampton side. And this has been achieved with only a half-fit Benteke and without Ron Vlaar for much of the campaign.

It's also worth noting that Villa improved markedly in the second half of last season, winning five of their last ten matches to climb away from the bottom three. Lambert will be looking for similar progress in the coming months, but in order to achieve that he must augment the club's impressive away form - which is better than City and equal to Chelsea - with more free-flowing football at Villa Park to appease home supporters.

Quotes about needing a No. 10 to link the midfield and attack suggest that the manager has heeded frustrated shouts from the stands and fans should show patience so he can see the job through. It took Crystal Palace a month to replace Ian Holloway while West Brom stand at 26 days and counting in their search for Steve Clarke's successor. Who is going to come in and do a better job than Lambert? If any club has provided an example for the failings of the Premier League's sack culture in recent years, it's Aston Villa.

Daniel Storey (prosecution) and Matthew Stanger (Defence). They're starting to cook for each other.

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