Villa season review
A spirited finish to the campaign ensured Paul Lambert's determination to blood youngsters didn't end in disaster after lengthy spells in the bottom three and humiliation in the cups. Stephen Mills picks the bones out of the Scot's first season in charge of Aston Villa.
Last Updated: 22/05/13 9:44am
On January 22, Aston Villa's season slumped to a low so devastating it looked impossible to recover. Deservedly beaten in the Capital One Cup semi-final over two legs by League Two Bradford City, Villa's inexperienced players slumped off the Villa Park pitch with the scars of an 8-0 thrashing to Chelsea and damaging home defeats to Spurs, Wigan and Southampton fresh in the memory. Days later they crashed out of the FA Cup to Championship strugglers Millwall and a subsequent home defeat to relegation rivals Newcastle left most observers in little doubt that Villa's 25-year stay in the top flight would soon be over.
However, Paul Lambert - the supporters' choice to replace Alex McLeish last summer - maintained that his policy of bringing through eager young pups would steer the club to safety and he was proved right. Just about. Clean sheets were a rare commodity, but the attacking trio of Christian Benteke, Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor thrilled in the closing weeks of the campaign and vital springtime victories over QPR, Reading, Stoke and Norwich turned the season on its head. However, it was the sizzling 6-1 demolition of Sunderland that will convince many that Villa's young guns can set their sights higher next season.
Player of the Year
There's little doubt that Christian Benteke and Brad Guzan have been the stand-out performers and, despite failing to keep a clean sheet since the start of December, it's the American goalkeeper who was voted as the top man by both players and supporters at the club's end-of-season awards. His seemingly impossible save from QPR's Christopher Samba in March was the springboard for Villa's late revival.
Ratings Player of the Year
Christian Benteke caught the eye of the Sky Sports reporters throughout the season, boasting an average rating of 7, but Brad Guzan was the pick of our readers. The consistent goalkeeper averaged a mark of 6.09 throughout the campaign as he provided class and presence behind a shaky back four.
Breakthrough Player of the Year
Matt Lowton was part of the back four that leaked 15 goals in three disastrous Premier League games over Christmas, but as the season went on the full-back's performances became increasingly self-assured. He still has work to do defensively, but his sharp, precise crossing has become a key component of Villa's offensive arsenal and THAT goal against Stoke has already become the stuff of Villa Park legend.
Signing of the Year
It's hard to think of a Premier League player who has been more valuable to his club this season than Christian Benteke. Before the red card that ended his season against Chelsea he'd scored 19 and assisted four of Villa's goals this term. That's more than half their total. Without his eye for goal, Herculean strength and charismatic cool Villa would have been relegated by Easter.
Could do better
Joe Bennett's awkward performances at full-back can be excused on the grounds of Premier League inexperience, but Fabian Delph can no longer claim such leniency. This was his fourth season at Villa Park and his inability to shield a brittle back four was the source of countless defensive dilemmas. His laxity in possession and rash tackling impressed nobody but those shrewd gamblers with money on him to pick up the first booking of any game.
Never has a manager of a club the size of Aston Villa taken a squad through so many disappointments and yet received so little criticism from his own supporters. The simple fact that he wasn't Alex McLeish was perhaps his saving grace early on and his stubborn insistence on focusing on youthful offence when so many in the media were calling for experienced solidity was regarded as admirable by many. His major selection decisions - jettisoning Darren Bent to allow Christian Benteke to thrive and inserting the relatively inexperienced Brad Guzan between the posts in favour of Shay Given - would have been seen as foolhardy had Villa gone down. Instead, he emerges from his first season looking like a bold, principled manager of a squad that should move forward next term.
Jamie Redknapp's view
Aston Villa's young side will be much stronger for coming through this tough relegation battle. I like Paul Lambert; he stuck to his principles, didn't bow to the pressure to bring in Darren Bent and Christian Benteke has been one of the signings of the season. I'm really pleased they've stayed up and feel they'll get better next year. They're still one or two players short and they do need to get a couple in to provide a bit more power and pace in midfield. But I'm sure they'll be extremely relieved they're still in the Premier League.
Fan's view (Peter Cameron)
Where do you start? Losing 8-0 in a match when your goalkeeper has played out of his skin was definitely a low point not just for this season but in my 17 years watching Villa. Having said that, the general performances of Christian Benteke, Matthew Lowton and Ashley Westwood, and the utter dismantling of Sunderland have provided reasons for optimism. It's just a shame Martin O'Neill had already been relieved of his duties at the time. All in all a frankly exhausting season but one from which we'll emerge much stronger.