Not too long ago, Aston Villa were competing for Champions League qualification.
However, as the 2012/13 season draws to a close, it seems they could well be heading into the Championship. Though things look bleak for Aston Villa fans right now, I truly believe that if they manage to survive this season, they'll go onto great things in the years to come.
With an average age of only 24, Aston Villa were always going to be in for a testing season - and that has certainly proved the case. An 8-0 thrashing away to Chelsea was perhaps the most humbling experience of them all.
But despite all the setbacks, Villa's youngsters have refused to lay down and die. Their fast, free-flowing football has been a delight to watch at times, and their courage must be admired in refusing to revert to a more direct style.
This style of football was most laudable at Villa Park on Monday night as they tore fellow relegation candidates, Sunderland, to shreds. Since Paolo Di Canio took charge of the Black Cats they've had an emergence of energy and belief, resulting in many having Sunderland as favourites.
However, Villa's young side seemed unfazed, winning the game 6-1. Amongst the goals was a hat-trick from Christian Benteke, who is perhaps the central figure around which future success will be placed.
Benteke has been a revelation this season. Signing from Standard Liege in the summer for a fee of around £7m, the Belgian has surprised most this year, scoring an impressive 18 goals in a relegation threatened team. Many people's choice as PFA's Young Player of The Year, the 22-year-old will only improve next season, and so we can expect even more from the youngster in next season.
Benteke has also built up an imposing partnership with Austrian Andy Weimann, a partnership that has given Villa every chance of survival. In only their first season playing together they've accumulated 25 goals, so one can only imagine to what extent that partnership will improve as they move into their second year together.
Other youngsters that have impressed this season include Fabian Delph, Matt Lowton, Nathan Baker and Joe Bennett. Of course these players have experienced severe lows at points this year, but Paul Lambert must be commended for the faith he's shown in this group of boys. If they avoid relegation, you can be sure that by next season they all would have developed as footballers, taking the experiences learnt this campaign into the next one.
You mix the fearlessness and exuberance of youth and the free-flowing football they play with a patient, experienced manager like Lambert, and you're left with a very promising outfit.
Aston Villa are a remarkably run club who have experienced a painful couple of years, most notably the illness of their club captain Stan Petrov, but I believe if they avoid the trap-door this season, their young team can really kick on next season and give the Holte End something to shout about once more.
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