Big six-pointers so vital for Villa

Aston Villa head to Reading on Saturday before hosting QPR next weekend - and FanZone's Villa blogger Peter Cameron is feeling rather nervous.

Last Updated: 07/03/13 at 15:43 Post Comment

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I've never believed in karma - but I laughed when Newcastle were relegated in 2009.

I thought it was really funny, in a kind of perverse way, to see a big historic club with a large fanbase relegated under the very manager a large portion of the fans had wanted.

Four years later, and it's safe to say it's not quite so funny when it's happening to you.

It's called schadenfreude - taking pleasure in the misfortune of others - and I've done my fair share of that over the years. But I've spent the past 18 months choking on my own bitter medicine and, whichever way you slice it, Aston Villa are now about to play two of the most important games of my 17 years as a fan - a trip to Reading, followed by the visit of QPR.

There's clich├ęd talk of six pointers all the time, but these two matches genuinely lay claim to that title.

Ahead of the Villa Park meeting in two weeks' time, QPR's victory at Southampton last weekend means that they have managed to pull the one foot that looked firmly in the Championship, back into the Premier League. As for this weekend's opponents, Reading sit just one point below us and three above Rangers.

There's a level of naivety to the way both Villa and QPR have conducted their transfer business over the last nine months. While QPR threw money at experienced and expensive mercenaries, Paul Lambert opted for the young and hungry approach with an attempt to build a team that could grow together, improve together and move forward. It was a risk. One which I think it's safe to say hasn't paid off (can I caveat that and add 'yet'?)

The Specials once sang about Too Much, Too Young, and that could easily be the anthem to our season. Good individual and team displays have been there but too fleetingly. The inconsistency and fragility of having so many young players in the side at the same time has been obvious on a number of occasions, most evidently by us throwing away leads far too often.

There's a school of thought that Lambert might have been preparing in advance for a spell in the Championship with his signings. It's wrong. If he expected Villa to go down, he would never have left Norwich. He anticipated a much easier job than we've proved to be. The truth is, so did I. He bought players with ability and potential (and Jordan Bowery) with the expectation that in time they'd step up and do enough to keep us in the league this year and improve next year. We'd have undergone a team overhaul on a budget, all in the space of one season.

I'd been calling for things to be ripped up and rebuilt myself but with the absence of enough experienced players, enough leaders, enough fighters and enough winners, this was too much in one go.

It needed at the very least two seasons to successfully and safely usher in a new set of young inexperienced players and slash the wage bill to the extent we have done.

Lambert has made mistakes and the signings in the January transfer window smacked of stubbornness and someone compounding those mistakes with another set of subsequent mistakes. But for some reason, I still believe he'll get it right. Possibly because, who else is there?

The other thing to remember is that the club was a mess this year. I've talked in depth in the past about the wages-to-revenue issue and expensive players not playing games and a lack of a long-term vision, so I won't go into that again. But it all adds up. Could anyone else have done a better job, with a realistic plan for long-term success and stability?

So will we be able to do enough to stay up this year? And what will represent 'enough'? With no one cut adrift, the spread of the points between the relegation rivals has been fairly even, which normally means that a relatively low points total will suffice. In fact, out of the past 10 seasons when the league has finished with the bottom three separated by four points or fewer, 35 points has been enough to stay up. On only three occasions in the same period has 38 points been insufficient to retain Premier League status.

So somewhere between 10 and 14 points from the last 10 games should be enough to do it. Win the next two games, and we'll be on 30 points with eight games remaining, a lovely position to be in considering the figures above and our current plight. The added bonus from the next two fixtures is obviously in the 'six-pointer' swing. Beating a direct rival effectively doubles the difference between the two teams, while inflicting a bit of goal difference misery on someone else wouldn't go a miss. The anticipated figure could prove to be even lower.

But fail to win either of those games - or worse yet, lose both - and I think it's time to start seriously preparing for the Championship. Given his recent promotion exploits, Lambert seems like the right man to take charge in that eventuality. Whether or not this team would be able to cope with the mental blow of being relegated and the physicality of the 'fizzy pop league' is a different story.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Going down would be a disaster, particularly with a record increase in revenue from Premier League TV rights coming next season. In fact, this could prove the most expensive year to be relegated. The club needs to fight to stay up this season and with the right blend of experienced additions next year, we could be in a position to move forward.

If we were to go down, there's a chance we might come straight back up. But there's a chance we could end up in that purgatory of former Premier League clubs now toiling in the Football League without a hope in hell of getting back to the top table any time soon.

So far this year, I've changed my mind back and forth repeatedly from thinking we will be relegated to thinking we'll stay up depending on whatever the latest results are. But I get the feeling that after the next two games, I'll know for certain where we stand.

By Peter Cameron, FanZone's Aston Villa blogger. Follow him on Twitter at @Cameronesi - and don't forget to follow @FanZone too!

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