What a mixed season for Aston Villa. They began the campaign with some okay form which saw Paul Lambert land a new long-term contract, however they soon followed with nine winless games including a run of six straight losses. It went from bad to worse for the Villains when they went from Boxing Day to mid-February without even scoring a goal. This prompted the end of Paul Lambert’s three-year tenure at Villa Park. Welcome Tim Sherwood. After being rejected by Spurs last season, Sherwood had been linked with almost every job in England throughout the first half of the season, but it was Villa who finally gave him his opportunity.
The infamous gillet returned to the Premier League, and after a “moving in” period of two games, Villa started to score goals again, and more importantly, win football matches which would see them move away from the relegation zone and find themselves in their first FA Cup final in 15 years.
What Sherwood did best in the short period of time he’s been at the club is get top goalscorer Christian Benteke firing again. The Belgian had just two league goals under Lambert, but with a run of 11 goals in 13 games, Benteke has become a much sought after striker once again. Behind him, Sherwood has given the midfield duo of Tom Cleverley and Fabian Delph license to roam and that has paid off with the two of them getting some vital goals and assists on Villa’s road to safety.
Key Player – Christian Benteke
It has to be doesn’t it? No one excelled for Villa in the first half of the season where they really struggled, and in particular Benteke, who only netted twice in the league in a half-season ruined by injuries. As already mentioned, Tim Sherwood came in, and much like he did with Emmanuel Adebayor at Tottenham, he revitalised the big, Belgian forward and turned him back into a goalscoring machine. 11 goals in 13 league games, Sherwood gave him the freedom to play as a striker and score the goals, and to forget his defensive duties as such. Once again, this proved extremely effective in guiding Villa toward safety.
The big question for Villa fans now is, can they keep hold of him again? Since joining the Villains, it seems like every transfer window the former-Genk man is linked with moves to all over Europe, but yet always seems to end the window as a Villa player. It remains to be seen if he’ll leave this time around, but with Villa demanding the £32million release clause in his contract, I can’t see too many teams willing to pay that kind of price for anyone, let alone Christian Benteke.
If Villa are to improve on this season’s 17th place finish, they need to keep hold of the forward and build the team around a relatively strong core of Guzan-Vlaar-Delph-Benteke. You never know, there could be more exciting times ahead at Villa Park.
Most Improved Player – Jack Grealish
It’s hard to pick anyone who featured heavily in the Lambert part of the season purely because of how poor Villa were. Grealish is just one of a number of players who have been given a new lease of life by Tim Sherwood, and bar his FA Cup final performance, it appears to be paying off both for the player and the club.
Yet to decide whether he’ll represent England or Ireland at international level, Grealish has to focus on becoming a regular next season and then the sky is the limit for the 19-year-old. Having said this, Grealish also needs to start making even more of an influence on the goals Aston Villa score. He did come into a side that wanted to get the ball out wide and cross it in for Benteke, but Grealish picked up just one assist and didn’t score a goal in his seven starts.
Fans’ View – Lewis Gallagher (Aston Villa Season Ticket Holder)
Overall, a disappointing season with a few highs, culminating in being embarrassed on the biggest domestic stage in the country. The season started with a few wins in a short period which led to the Villa fans thinking we were going to finish in the top half. After rewarding the manager with a new bumper contract everything seemed to go downhill and put Villa fighting a battle until he was sacked.
Tim Sherwood arrived and injected a bit of life into the team and just about secured enough points to keep us safe, during which there was the significant twice in one week against West Brom that saw us reach the FA Cup semi-final, which we won. Along came the final and a chance for the first FA Cup final win since 1957, which we all believed we would achieve. Unfortunately the side never turned up and led to us losing with an abysmal display and a 4-0 defeat to overall top off a poor season with eyes being opened to a very very important summer.