It’s not just the Aston Villa players that are lacking in confidence lately, Simon Bunn has seen changes in manager Lambert that also suggest the same.
After a series of humiliating thrashing’s over the Christmas period, and an embarrassing loss to League two Bradford City in the first leg of the ‘Capital One’ Cup semi final, Aston Villa’s young side would be clinically insane to be displaying signs of unflinching self-assurance. The Villa faithful too would no doubt be disturbed if that was indeed the case.
Against Southampton on Saturday it was obvious for all to see that Villa’s youth tinged team are seriously lacking confidence. From the moment the whistle left referee Mark Halsey’s lip’s, to signal the start of the match, Villa’s players looked as nervous as a bag of kitten’s being dangled over a river bank. As a unit they held about as much shape as a jellyfish and lacked more ideas going forward than a teenager in remedial class. All too often, when Villa’s back line did actually retrieve possession, they chose to play the cowards ball and launch it skyward. Ignoring the use of metaphors they are classic signs of a team playing without confidence but, on recent form who can blame them.
More worryingly however, is that I have now witnessed signs that manager Paul Lambert may even be suffering from a lack of confidence himself. It is true that little under two weeks ago the Scot made a statement declaring that ‘Villa will not go down.’ But two weeks is a long time in football.
At the start of the season Villa’s young team were at least trying to play football. It was clear that Lambert had instilled on the players the need to keep possession and work the ball. Little clues came from the fact that the goalkeeper was constantly passing the ball short to his defence, to build from the back, rather than hoof the ball forward. Match statistics also began to show pleasant reading in terms of the amount of possession the team had achieved. In some cases even having more of the ball than the home team. That now feels a long time ago, in recent games the change in Villa’s footballing approach is clear to anyone possessing the gift of sight.
The first half of Saturday’s game, against relegation rivals Southampton, blatantly underlined Lambert’s change in tactical approach. Gone was the idea of any form of short passing, replaced by the strategy of trying to use Christian Benteke’s head as a football magnet. It was a sickening flashback to the traumatic days of Alex McLeish, also summed up by a radio commentator that felt moved to comment, ‘Villa play more long balls than Stoke.’ To be fair Villa played far better football in the second half, without getting anything from it, but Lambert’s instructions to play long ball from the off struck me as the actions of a man that has lost belief in his early season philosophy. Particularly as Villa shouldn’t be fearing a fixture with Southampton at home. Maybe I am wrong and Villa’s nervous young players are simply ignoring Lamberts instructions? Maybe he simply felt it would be a more effective tactic to use after being thumped 4-1 in the reverse fixture, when Villa were trying to play football. But whether I am right or wrong, they are other signs that Lambert may be losing confidence, and part of that may stem from Randy Lerner’s likelihood of not backing him financially during the transfer window.
When questioned about the likes of Joleon Lescott or Scott Parker moving to the club being a case of Villa fan’s living in dreamland Lambert’s answer spoke volumes, ‘I think that’s the reality of it. We can’t do things like that - It’s finance. We are going to have to build.’ It’s not exactly the response of a man confident of being able to bring the right players to the club in January.
Throughout most of the season Lambert had also been a show of dignity when dealing with the media and any potentially awkward questions. No better displayed than his reluctance to be drawn into a slanging match during the disagreements with his old board members atNorwich. Yet after Saturday’s defeat Lambert lost his cool in the post match interview, quickly lambasting Mark Halsey’s decision to give a penalty that never was.
Perhaps the biggest clue that Lambert may also be suffering from a lack of confidence was his face at the final whistle. As boo’s bellowed out around Villa Park it was the first time that I have seen the Scot look truly rattled. His face looked red and menstrual, his eyes bulged like a rabbit hypnotised by headlights and his shoulder’s tensed, as if being hit by a pensioners hand bag. It was a sight that may have hurt many to see, it was also probably the moment when Lambert finally realised the mammoth task that lays ahead of him.
image: © ell brown