Aston Villa went from top 4 contenders to flirting with relegation within one year; which way will McLeish go?
It was 4.45pm on 9th May 2010, Steve Bennett’s whistle signals the end to Aston Villa’s season, a defeat for them but a defeat for Liverpool ensured that they finished in 6th place for the 3rd successive season, cementing their place within the top 6 in the English Premier League. Surely Aston Villa were to build on this and finally make that 4th spot in the league, the holy grail that is Champions League football, as they finished just six points shy of Tottenham Hotspur. Everyone was in agreement that with another 6th place finish, 2 Wembley visits with one being a cup final and for the 2nd successive year a player winning PFA young player of the year, with James Milner following Ashley Young with the award, that Aston Villa would break into the ultimate club known as the ‘top 4’.
Martin O’Neill joined the club in August 2006 on a rolling one year contract, signalling his short term ambitions but not cementing anything long term, in case he feelings changed dramatically, which they did.
Martin O’Neill’s resignation in August 2010 shocked everyone associated with Aston Villa. They were set to lose arguably their best player in James Milner and had now lost their manager just days before their 1st league game of the season. Such a massive blow to the club for whom so many had high hopes, despite for the second season the club were set to lose their best player.
Kevin MacDonald, the then youth team coach, was appointed in charge of Aston Villa and had a big task ahead of him in such a short space of time. With MON leaving the club so close to the first game of the Premier League season, against West Ham United, McDonald had to work quickly and efficiently with what was available at his disposal, which for now, included James Milner. McDonald had an impressive record with the youth team and reserve at Aston Villa, helping the club bring the likes of Gabby Agbonlahor, Nathan Delfouneso, Marc Albrighton as well as the now departed likes of Gary Cahill, Darius Vassell and both Luke and Stefan Moore. However well he had done in the past, this was completely different and he faced an uphill struggle.
Macdonald and Aston Villa faced West Ham United at Villa Park on the opening day of the 2010-2011 Premier League season. He made a bold decision to play Milner in the Villa midfield as the ongoing transfer saga meant that he was yet to complete his move to Manchester City.
He opened with an impressive performance and score line with a 3-0 win v West Ham. His stats for his caretaker stint as showed below.
Macdonald’s spell as caretaker lasted 5 Premier League games, before being replaced by Gerard Houllier in September. His stats would have been more impressive if Villa were not so comprehensively beaten by Newcastle at St James’ Park, by a 6-0 score line. This for many sealed his fate, even before he had managed to get a 1-0 win against Everton. He did take charge for the 2-1 defeat to Stoke and the 1-1 draw with Bolton, but Houllier had already been given the job, but was serving his notice with the French Football Federation.
Comparably to Martin O’Neill, his win percentage and points per game weren’t too dissimilar, Macdonald’s 40% win percentage compared to MON’s slightly better 40.13% win percentage. MON enjoyed an average of 1.55 points per game and Macdonald’s average was just below at 1.4 points per game.
Obviously Macdonald was only in charge for 5 games but was surely showing signs of what he could do.
Houllier on the other hand didn’t have a particularly good record at the club.
Compared to MON and Macdonald Houllier had a much lower win percentage of 28.57% and just 1.18 points per game. No Villa fans really had faith in Houllier and the stats showed why. The goals conceded outweighed those scored and Houllier failed to get his team going until a good mini revival in February after the summer signing of Darren Bent had started getting them so much needed goals.
Houllier had lost support from all stands. He had a great win at the start of his reign against local rivals Wolves at the Molineux, but failed to make any impression with just 2 wins at the start of his reign, the other coming against West Bromwich Albion.
|Houllier’s Aston Villa Start|
In his first 10 games at the club, Houllier’s Villa were averaging just one point per game and performing well below the standard expected around Villa Park. The fans made their feelings known after Houllier’s old club Liverpool defeated Villa 3-0 at Anfield, where he scored an ‘own goal’ by talking mainly about Liverpool and very little about Villa, applauding the Anfield faithful who once adored him. Houllier was very quickly losing his own popularity contest.
Things didn’t get any better as they suffered a heavy defeat to Manchester City in December and suffered a poor defeat to the hands of Wolves at Villa park, somewhere where they hadn’t won in 31 years, helping their relegation fears but adding more to Villa’s. Things did show improvement in the new year after the acquisition of Darren Bent which helped gets the fans back on board, Bent getting a debut goal against Manchester City and Villa showing brilliant character to draw 3-3 against champions Chelsea. They managed to avoid a defeat against Birmingham City at St Andrews and get wins against Blackburn and away at Wigan, but still were unable to see off teams such as Fulham and Blackpool.
|Houllier’s start of 2011|
Houllier and Villa were showing improvement, with a points per game average rising from 1 to 1.3 from his first 10 games at the club, with an improved win percentage of 30% rising from 20%.
But despite a mini revival Villa continued to flirt with relegation under Houllier and so many Villa fans were rapidly losing faith in his ability to keep them up. Everyone was looking at the games in the final part of the season, local rivals West Brom and a trip to Arsenal and a home game against Liverpool to end.
However Houllier had an unexpected turn for the worse and his heart problems that had seen him out of the game in the past had risen again and he had to take a leave of absence for his health’s sake. This led for the 3rd person to sit in the hot-seat at Villa Park, with Gary McAllister taking temporary charge in Houllier’s absence.
McAllister had a great record of leading Villa to 2 greats wins against Arsenal and Liverpool, with his solitary defeat against West Bromwich Albion. Although Houllier’s wins at Newcastle and West Ham effectively saved the club, McAllister guided Villa to a top 10 finish.
Although it was just over 5 games McAllister proved to have the best record across the 3 managers through the season. No Villa fans expected a top 10 finish, many won’t admit it but they believed Villa were heading for Championship football.
But with a decent start and a solid finish and a below average middle part of the season Villa managed a top 10 finish. Not a top 6 finish many had hoped for but a finish outside the bottom 3 which many seemed certain.
Statistically as shown, McAllister just about, was the most successful with the best record. As shown in bold he had the best win percentage, joint with Macdonald, but the best lose percentage and the most points per game and least goals conceded per game.
|Macdonald v Houllier v McAllister|
As everything I’ve written so far shows, Villa went from having a very successful manager at the helm to one who had been out of the game too long to succeed at this level.
The two other managers proved to be fairly successful, both with comparable records to MON, as shown below.
|Macdonald v MONv McAllister|
So why did Aston Villa’s board not stick with Macdonald, after 5 games his record was decent enough and as shown above, a similar one to MON and so was McAllister, for whom they decided not to keep at the club when Houllier left.
I’ve compiled everything above to assess last season for Aston Villa across the 3 managerial changes and compared them to MON the look at how successful they all were next to arguably the best manager Villa have had for a very long time.
The personnel at Aston Villa hasn’t changed too much, the majority of the players that were at the club with MON and are still at the club going in to Alex McLeish’s reign, suggesting that the players aren’t to blame for the poor patch we had last season during Houllier’s management and that it was down to the manager, as the other 3 are all similar statistically.
So how will McLeish fair compare to the four managers named in this article? If he ruffles the feathers too much as Houllier did then surely he will go the same way, but if he sticks to the principles that, I hate to say it, MON instilled then he may perform the same as Macdonald and McAllister did.
With Stewart Downing and Ashley Young having left Villa McLeish will be looking to Darren Bent’s goals and the creative ability from the midfield with Marc Albrighton and the back line with the newly added experience of Shay Given to prove strong.
In his 100 premier league games McLeish achieved a mere 26% win percentage, with just over 1 goal scored per game and 1.5 goals conceded per game. These are poorer than all the managers mentioned, with the lowest goals per game rate and win percentage. Although his goals conceded average was not the highest it was higher than MON and McAllister, with the poor Houllier’s 1.61 GCPG and the noticeably higher 1.8 GCPG from Macdonald, but taking into account the Newcastle game would have been a lot lower if taken out.
McLeish is spoken about as building on from a solid defence, but a shown above his defence wasn’t that brilliant and didn’t compare better than the other four managers in this article.
The question is, after all the turmoil of last season, the errors from the Villa board in not appointing Macdonald or McAllister then appointing a man who was very much past it in Houllier, is Alex McLeish the man to take the club forward, or has that man been overlooked from under the board’s nose?