Villa fans know the real truth: relegation from the top table is all too thinkable
Villa are six points behind Norwich with an inferior goal difference that makes it effectively seven points. Can that be turned around in 15 matches? The answer is a theoretical yes. But as Lambert met the press on Thursday to discuss last night’s trip to Millwall, and to reflect on Bradford and just where the club are, he did not make any kind of suggestion that new players will arrive before the window closes. That means the answers must lie within.
This has the fanbase thinking. One thought is that in bringing down ages and wages, Lambert embarked on a club policy that will take the hit of relegation if it has to. From the Championship, Villa will rise, young and (relatively) cheap.
This sounds all very long-term and financially responsible until the club accountant steps in to show next season’s proposed €70m TV revenue and the slicing of season ticket income that usually accompanies relegation.
The fanbase has actually stuck with Lambert and the club through this season, and there was a cracking atmosphere as Villa and Bradford emerged on Tuesday. There are positives, there is a recognition that had Christian Benteke taken more of his chances against Bradford then Villa Park would have a most different mood about it. Similarly, victory over Newcastle could alter the landscape.
Then reality checks in: Villa have won two of their last 16 home league games, dating back to last March. They have already had home games this season of the must-win variety – losing 3-0 to Wigan last month was one of them.
Locals see, feel and understand these defeats more than the rest of us, distanced as we are.
We think of Aston Villa, the institution; they think, well, they think the thinkable.
The unthinkable final
What probably does count as unthinkable is what Bradford City and Swansea City have achieved in reaching the League Cup final.
At Bradford, even as Watford, Wigan and Arsenal were being overcome, no-one thought the Bantams would be at Wembley next month.
There were other things to think about, such as life in League Two and how they afford the reported €820,000 annual rent at Valley Parade.
At Swansea, too, even after they won at Anfield in October, they would have been thinking of Premier League survival – after all they’d never been beyond the fourth round of the League Cup before and had no relationship with it.
But now Swansea City can contemplate a first major trophy (outside the Welsh Cup) in their history.
Congratulations are merited everywhere but in the boardroom at the Liberty Stadium in particular.
Sitting with chairman Huw Jenkins in his office 18 months ago, a man who had seen Swansea 92nd in the four divisions a decade earlier, we spoke about what the club had done and how.
Jenkins referred to “various chairmen who have been patronising. Some even made fun of us and the way we play, even though we’d just beaten them. It was as if they were saying: ‘You are nothing.’
“That stays with you, in our board meetings it’s mentioned. Now we get more respect.
“But you don’t forget. Some of these people have more money than us, but I think we’ve shown that thought needs to go into it as well.”