There is much to admire about the direction Paul Lambert is taking his Aston Villa side.
In an age where people lament the lack of home-grown talent coming through Premier League clubs, the fact Lambert is trusting Villa’s survival on the club’s academy products and signings from the lower leagues is commendable. The only problem is, it might end up in relegation.
The side that started against Manchester City on Monday night had an average age of just 23. Against the Premier League champions, Villa more than held their own, enjoying good spells, defending stoutly, with Brad Guzan impressing in goal. However, one slip from Ciaran Clark ultimately proved costly as Carlos Tevez finished and City left with the three points.
"I thought we played well enough in spells," Lambert told Sky Sports.
"We had a right good go at it and had one or two half chances such as when Christian (Benteke) had one cleared off the line. We gave them a game that's for sure but the goal was ridiculous.
"I don't think it's a foul [by Edin Dzeko on Clark]. I know what Ciaran is trying to do but you don't take a chance like that when there are only two of you at the back. You can't make that mistake.
He'll certainly learn from it.""But Clarky has been great for me. You've got to hold your hand up and come back strongly. Over the course of the season he's played to a really high standard.
Lambert went on to say: "We played well at Arsenal last week and didn't get anything. And we were well in it here against a very good side vying for the title.
"I couldn't ask for any more in terms of effort. We wanted to create more chances but we were in the game against them. They're on another level from us at the moment.
"We've got to compete with the teams around us and if we keep playing like that we'll win more often than not."
Villa have two massive games against Reading and Queens Park Rangers coming up and if they can win both of them and avoid relegation then there is plenty of hope for the future. But can they?
While there are plenty of positives, good periods like the first-half against Tottenham (0-0 at half time, 0-4 at full time), all bar the last ten minutes against Arsenal, and the first hour at Everton where they led 3-1, only to end up drawing, the Villans are yet to put together a complete 90 minutes.
Individual errors are natural when youngsters are put in the fray. A lack of leadership is natural when so many inexperienced players are put together, and the few senior players Villa have, like Stephen Ireland, Darren Bent, Ron Vlaar and Charles N’Zogbia, have all struggled to play, for one reason or another.
The absence of Richard Dunne has had a massive impact on Villa’s season and while his presence would not see Lambert’s side in the top half of the table, they would not be so rooted in the relegation zone.
Lambert does not escape criticism entirely. Early on in the season his tinkering of formation and line-up, which proved so effective in his previous job at Norwich City, did not help the team gel, and even now with the 4-2-3-1 formation the Scot has settled on, the full-backs can be exposed a little too easily and the two in midfield can find themselves overloaded. Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann are more strikers than midfielders but lack the clinical finishing to make Villa an expert counter attacking side.
Stiliyan Petrov is a big miss in the middle of the park and his absence could never be planned for. While the owner Randy Lerner looks to cut costs to ease Villa’s debt, the increased TV deal for next season would allow Lambert to buy in one or two experienced heads to help the talented youngsters, while also allowing him to sell the likes of Bent, Ireland, and Shay Given, whose wages sit heavy on the club’s books.
The medium to long-term future at Villa Park does not look too bad, but it is not what’s on the horizon that worries the Holte End. The club can have a bright future but relegation could extinguish the light at the end of the tunnel.
They may pay for the inexperience of youth, but it would be a shame to football if a club that is giving home-grown youth a chance loses out.
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