Villa fans know the real truth: relegation from the top table is all too thinkable
SOCCER ANGLES:Casual observers don’t realise just how serious things are at Villa Park, writes MICHAEL WALKER
Unthinkable: it’s the new unbelievable. Judging by the number of times “unthinkable” has been used in the past week or so, its stock has never been higher. It’s unbelievable how much air-time unthinkable gets these days.
It was mentioned on Thursday again, in the Birmingham Mail about Aston Villa. In an “Open Letter to Randy Lerner”, Villa’s owner, the newspaper employed the line: “Going down is unthinkable.”
The thing is, the most worrying for the Villa fans in Birmingham is the situation, the prospect of relegation, is just the opposite. It’s a serious possibility, it’s thinkable.
That is why newspapers write open letters. The concern is so great because Aston Villa suffering a first relegation since 1987 is believable, thinkable, foreseeable.
There is a league table to study to persuade any doubters: Villa have 20 points (after 23 games) and last season Bolton were relegated with 36 points.
Aston Villa feel a long way from 36 points just now. Over their last 38 league games, they have taken 30 points.
Just as bad is that the season before last, Birmingham City – tellingly – were relegated with 39 points.
Finishing above that latter tally could once again be the required mark come May, which means that with 15 league games left, beginning at home to Newcastle United next Tuesday night, it is obvious Villa must start improving.
Yet this week’s aggregate defeat by Bradford City in the League Cup semi-final and last night’s FA Cup exit at Millwall demonstrated that improvement is not forthcoming from Paul Lambert’s increasingly young squad.
It could be argued they are withering, rather than blossoming – Villa have two points from their last six league games. This leaves them fourth-bottom and while that is a position they would take with a warm, grateful handshake in May, one of several problems is the three clubs below are each eager to have the same embrace with 17th place. And each is displaying more signs of life and greater resistance to gravity than Lambert’s new team.
From the bottom up, over the course of the same six-game Premier League period, QPR earned five points, Reading 10 and Wigan four.
QPR also have a new €10m striker, Loic Remy, who scored on his debut last Saturday.
Reading have a rather different goalscorer – €350,000 Adam Le Fondre, who has five in his last three appearances, including the brace that beat Newcastle at St James’ Park a week ago.
That makes Wigan sound vulnerable – and they could well be – but a demoralising aspect for Villa is that three of Wigan’s most recent four points were won against them.
A further lack of reassurance about Wigan’s plight is that three clubs, not just one, go down.
So the search for comfort goes on.
Newcastle, the team directly above Villa, have four points from their last six but have just gone on a January spree since the Reading result.
Southampton, next up, have eight points and have not lost in the league since before Christmas.
Does their abrupt change of manager signal uncertainty?
Then it’s Fulham – five points from last 18 – and then Norwich City. Lambert’s former club have one point from their last six, the only team in the bottom eight with a worse record over that spell than Villa.