We’re getting there. A three-word sentence that pretty much sums up my synopsis of all things Villa. Following the 1-1 draw at QPR on Saturday, it’s five points from a possible nine, a return that all Villans are more than content with. Furthermore we’ve only conceded a single goal in the last 270 minutes of football, although on the flip side our lack of goals is becoming increasingly worrying.
As expected, QPR came out all guns blazing determined to prove a point to new gaffer Harry ‘Houdini’ Redknapp, however Brett Holman’s 8th-minute goal against the run of play soon put an end to the roaring atmosphere ringing around Loftus Road. Villa’s lead didn’t last long though and just 10 minutes later Jamie Mackie netted to lift the crowd once again. An entertaining first period ensued. The fast pace forced many passing errors and interventions in a half that was played end-to-end. The second 45 minutes seemed to drag as Villa were hemmed in for much of it, yet El Ahmadi could have snatched the three points with a late effort that flew just wide of Rob Green’s post. QPR hit the woodwork twice and certainly created the best openings in a game that had very few clear goalscoring chances.
I felt that if either side had committed fully and gambled then they’d have gone on to get a win. I’d have been very tempted to throw on Darren Bent for a 20-minute run out to see if he was capable of mustering up something from nothing, but Lambert, who did use all three substitutes, chose to ignore him yet again.
The whole Bent debate brings me nicely onto the eagerly anticipated January transfer window, which opens in just 27 days’ time. I’m yet to find anyone that can give me a definite answer surrounding DB. Some say it’s internal politics, others say it’s financial and that not only are his wages not wanted on the wage bill but also should he make three further appearances then we owe Sunderland a further £6 million. The Mackems, along with Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle, and QPR have all been linked with a January swoop.
Once Bent departs we must find a replacement. An attacking quartet of Benteke, Agbonlahor, Weimann and Bowery just isn’t good enough in this division. Burnley’s current joint top Championship goalscorer Charlie Austin is a name that has been mentioned more than once, but one player I’ve always had great admiration for is in fact the man who scored against us on Saturday: Jamie Mackie.
If Redknapp does choose to strengthen his forward line then Mackie may become surplus to requirements, and at 27 years of age he’s just hitting his peak. He wears his heart on his sleeve and is a willing runner who always gives 110%. He’ll also chip in with a few goals. Mackie is a player that would suit Lambert’s hard-graft ethics down to a tee. I can’t see how another Robbie Keane six-game stint will be of benefit to us.
There’s a rumour doing the rounds that Liverpool’s £20 million flop Jordan Henderson is a man on Villa’s radar. A few weeks back I backed the argument that we could do with another central midfielder but I’ve been so impressed with young Westwood that I no longer think it’s a necessity, I’d rather we spent any funds we may have on a forward and a winger.
It would seem that Tom Ince is going to be out of our reach as a number of bigger and better clubs are in the mix for him, however his Blackpool teammate Matt Phillips has the potential of being a steal at just £6-8 million, especially if we can find a taker for N’Zogbia.
I’d also like to see us enter the market for some defensive cover. I doubt Richard Dunne will feature for Villa ever again, and so a centre-half wouldn’t go amiss.
In-form Stoke City are the visitors this weekend in a match that wreaks of ugly. This will be a tough battle, particularly for our lightweight midfield, but I am very much looking forward to the battle between Benteke and Robert Huth. The key to this tie will be getting bodies in and around the Belgian powerhouse. We won’t be expecting to win much in the air but our pace going forward can cause any side problems.
I envisage that both Vlaar and Stevens will be back fit this weekend and available for selection. If so, I’d like to see Stevens come back in at left back with Baker retaining his spot alongside Clark in the middle, although the gaffer may well feel that experience should rule in what will be an extremely stern test both aerially and physically.
I’m backing us to continue with this little unbeaten run we’ve got going, and I can actually see us pipping it 2-1. Fingers crossed.
FA Cup Draw
Villa were handed a favourable third-round draw at home to Mick McCarthy’s Championship strugglers, Ipswich Town. It certainly isn’t a gimme and will be interesting to see what side Lambert opts to go with. I guess it all depends on where we’re at come the New Year, and whether or not we’re still in the Capital One Cup, because if we are that’ll mean we’re semi-finalists and in with a shot of some silverware.
Our fifth-round tie takes place next Tuesday evening as we lock horns with Norwich at Carrow Road, Lambert’s first return to the club he left in the summer. It’s sure to be a feisty affair, one where Villa will hopefully come out on top.
Up the Villa.