December 12 2013 Latest news:
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Not sure about anyone else, but the trip home from Villa Park at the weekend saw a deviation in the debate over Paul Lambert.
It wasn’t so much centred around the view on him, his departure from Carrow Road and all things Norwich City-related; it was more about what he has let himself in for.
Those who were at the final game of last season can hardly forget the abject performance from an Aston Villa side which looked happy enough to embarrass itself, as long as it provided the final push towards the exit door for their then manager, Alex McLeish. If you were there, then you will recognise the same sort of traits in the current Villa side.
I’m not suggesting player power has already turned itself on Lambert, just that his side still lacks any sort of commitment to their leader.
The biggest surprise of Saturday was that there was no evidence in that side of the characteristics that were a feature of his Norwich City teams. Aside from the League Cup defeat at home to MK Dons it is hard to think of a Norwich performance under Lambert when you came away, whatever the result, thinking that the team hadn’t given everything they had. Nothing was left on the pitch. Ever.
Perhaps it’s the man himself. When Villa opened the scoring, against the run of play, Lambert’s reaction was – according to a local newspaper man – more animated than any other this season. The goal, the match, clearly meant a lot to him. So why, when Villa were reduced to 10 men following the dismissal of Joe Bennett, did his side not make any attempt to threaten City? Why did they park the bus and try to prevent any damage?
The Lambert of old wouldn’t have taken Gabriel Agbonlahor off: his pace would have been utilised for the ‘out’ ball. (Although a season after terrorising Russell Martin, it must have been a blessed relief for the City right back that Lambert, for some reason, opted to switch his role to one down the middle – and he was awful). The Lambert of old might not have put a defender on for him either.
When City equalised, with 11 minutes to go, Lambert had used his three substitute options – given that a City goal was, in the circumstances, more likely than not to happen, I was surprised he then left himself without any options. His mantra always was that you do everything to win the game. Even with 10 men. Villa didn’t.
It wasn’t long after that Villa fans began drifting away. It didn’t matter, we didn’t really notice them anyway. The atmosphere was dreadful – except for the 2,500-strong yellow and green pocket in one corner. Four minutes before kick-off we began to wonder whether we’d turned up on the wrong day. And that’s something else unfamiliar in a Lambert team – at Norwich, he had three years of near deafening backing from the stands.
City fans never deserted him or the team. He always said it was all about the players and the fans. It was and it worked.
At Villa Park, it appears the fans haven’t bought into the Lambert way of doing things. And some of the players haven’t either.
Look at Villa’s bench on Saturday: it included Darren Bent, Stephen Ireland and Shay Given.
Bent and Lambert are clearly on some sort of collision course, and you suspect the other two aren’t happy bunnies either. Between them they are probably earning upwards of half a million quid a month; Bent is reportedly on £70,000 a week. He had four years at Ipswich, where he started, then two years at Charlton, two years at Spurs, two years at Sunderland and … see a pattern emerging? It’s time to leave.
The thing is, Bent and Co don’t owe Lambert anything. They were playing in the Premier League at the same time as Lambert headed south from Scotland to try his luck in management with an English club.
Lambert’s forte was bringing in players from either the same division or below that of Norwich – Russell Martin and John Ruddy were exceptions. Bent, Given and Ireland don’t look at Lambert and think “I owe him everything, he has given me a chance so I will bust a gut for him”.
The Lambert Way doesn’t cut it with them. But can he afford to use his tried and trusted methods at Villa Park? It worked at City because they really couldn’t go anywhere but up – and a long way up as well – could they? Villa have further to drop than rise.
Don’t know about you, but I left Villa Park thinking that Paul Lambert has a lot more problems than Chris Hughton. Not that it bothered me.