First things first.
Thank you for visiting VillaUnderground.com, for sharing, liking, following and Supporting in 2018.
It’s been a long road for us all since The Villa Underground began in 2011.
In that time we’ve had the momentary highs of the Martin O’Neill era, experienced relegation under Randy Lerner, been on the brink of ruin with Tony Xia and are now in the infancy of the Dean Smith era.
Following Aston Villa is a rollercoaster of emotions – 2018 was no different.
From being just 90 minutes from the Premier League in May, to then a mere 7 days from administration. Only at the Villa.
Below includes some of the highlights…and lowlights…as seen through the prism of VillaUnderground.com in 2018:
All seemed so rosy in New Year 2018. Villa were on the ascendancy, apparently having learned from our mistakes in January 2017, where the promotion challenge ran out of fizz between January to March.
However, this time around, things seemed so much more different. Adomah was firing, John Terry was Captain, Sam Johnstone was steady between the sticks…and we had even managed a shrewd loan signing in Lewis Grabban.
Robert Snodgrass, then a total write off from West Ham United, was becoming a Holte End hero.
Over 32 thousand Villa Underground subscribers took in Snoddy’s last minute goal against Sheffield United, a strike that lifted us to third in The Championship:
Would this be a promotion season after-all? Almost 350,000 engagements with Villa Underground suggested there was suddenly hope amongst the fanbase…
February certainly built on the feeling of promotion becoming an genuine possibility.
A competitive Bristol City side were humiliated at Villa Park 5-0.
Next saw an inspired win over Blues, a result that lifted Villa into second and the automatic promotion places.
Over 33 thousand viewed The Villa Underground’s post match video from The Holte End:
But February also saw the first signs of potential issues behind the scenes, with the rumour of Sam Johnstone’s permanent transfer to West Brom refusing to go away (and remaining one of the highest viewed posts on VillaUnderground.com).
Villa continued to March on (…bad pun)…
Wolves, the divisions stand-out team and runaway leaders were completely destroyed 4-1 at Villa Park. It was a remarkable result that felt as if the club has finally turned a corner and from which the only direction would be upwards.
A combined 45 thousand of you viewed footage of The Holte End singing Don’t Look Back In Anger & “We’re Taking The P*ss” from the Wolves victory:
Alas, it ultimately wasn’t to be.
Despite Villa looking like being only a trajectory towards automatic promotion, consecutive defeats to QPR and then Bolton brought us firmly back to earth.
Villa cemented a place in the playoffs places in April, but couldn’t make up for the lost ground upon the automatic spots conceded across the season.
The highlight of the month has to be Jack Grealish’s last minute volley to defeat Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City at Villa Park. Cardiff would go on to finish second behind Wolves, pipping Fulham, and securing automatic promotion to the Premier League with it.
The Villa Underground had a different vantage point for the fixture against The Bluebirds, being situated on the touchline with a superb view of The Holte End scenes following Jack’s unbelievable match winner:
There was another rendition of ‘Don’t Look Back With Anger’ belted out from The Holte, with just shy of 25 thousand of you engaging in some way with both videos.
May saw Villa overcome Middlesbrough & Tony Pulis in the Playoff semi’s.
The two fixtures are in part remembered for Alan ‘The Scottish Cafu’ Hutton making former Villa man (& all round billy-big-time) Adama Traore look distinctly average:
The victory over Middlesbrough thus set up a tantalising playoff final against Fulham. The small prize for the victor being Premier League football and significant revenue, with the game dubbed the ‘Richest Game In Football’.
However, Villa didn’t read the script and lost 1-0 to Fulham.
In truth, Villa never got going at Wembley. Inevitably, there were talking points, like an unpunished stamp on Grealish, but ultimately this was a tepid performance in what should’ve been Villa’s glorious return to the top flight.
Then the trouble really began.
Following the Playoff final defeat, the reality of Tony Xia and Villa’s dire financial position truly began to unravel:
From the expectations of the Playoff final, to getting the facts around Villa being at genuine risk of going into administration, just shy of 450 thousand supporters engaged with The Villa Underground in May 2018.
June saw Villa’s financial circumstances become even starker with the club teetering on the unthinkable: administration.
Tony Xia desperately sought bridging loans to keep HMRC from the door, whilst Keith Wyness found himself unceremoniously removed from his position as the clubs CEO.
With the facts on Aston Villa’s precarious financial position becoming clearer, ‘The Wizard of Xia’ Podcast was released, remaining one of the most listened to episodes to date:
Never listen nor subscribed to the podcast? Find out more here.
This was a very strange month on reflection.
After the Playoff final defeat, it has been assumed that Steve Bruce might walk or even get the sack. However, with Villa’s financial problems and off-field chaos, Bruce returned for pre-season.
Villa were initially thought to be in such a poor monetary state that this prevented any player movements. What later transpired, is that the EFL had imposed a transfer embargo upon the club until a satisfactory business plan had been both submitted and fully scrutinised.
The Villa squad lost a number of key loan players who returned to their parent clubs, John Terry retired and Jack Grealish was stalked with below market value bids by Spurs.
Pre-season commenced, Villa lost 3-1 to West Ham (with former loanee Snodgrass scoring to rub salt into the wounds…) and we then despatched relegated Burton Albion 4-0.
And then the world went mad again.
Villa were purchased by billionaire Egyptian Naguib Sawires & American basketball owner Wes Edens:
A new dawn?!
After the dreaded vote of confidence from the new owners, Steve Bruce embarked upon another Championship campaign with Villa.
It all started so well with victory over Hull, before Villa and Bruce badly lost their way over the following ten games. The club, despite the summer difficulties had still managed to bring in new faces in the final hours of the transfer window. However, we had deteriorated into a negative, anti-footballing team that looked ill-prepared for competing with the teams around it, let alone mounting a credible promotion challenge.
This month saw Bruce’s stock drop game on game at the club, perhaps at the worst possible time, with the arrival of new CEO Christian Purslow.
The brighter moments of joy were largely rooted in last gasp goals to salvage a point or the odd screamer, but the football continued to deteriorate along with results.
A 4-1 away defeat at Bramall Lane saw the travelling support turn on the manager, with the first loud and vocal calls for Bruce’s sacking being heard:
The discontent with the Bruce regime continued to build, emphasised with the above video and VillaUnderground.com receiving a combined 550 thousand engagements on this topic alone throughout September 2018.
Conor Hourihane rescued a point away at Ewood Park with a sublime free-kick (115k of you watched this strike defy the laws of physics):
Almost 65 thousand visitors took the time to appreciate Ahmed Elmohamady’s acrobatic skills, with the Egyptian showing how to leapfrog Jack Grealish. This was amidst one of the few highs in September, a 2-0 home win over Rotherham (yay):
This was also the month of ‘that’ John McGinn piledriver (…overshadowed by a home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday):
But the writing was on the wall for Bruce, with him now being routinely heckled from The Holte End with his approach simply failing to deliver:
A drab and dour 1-1 draw away at Bristol City did nothing to improve matters:
This was the month that saw John Terry retire from playing, Steve Bruce getting sacked, Dean Smith being appointed, John Terry re-joining as Villa coach, Orjan Nyland got dropped (for a game), Glenn Whelan thinking he could take a penalty & some really *really* inconsistent results.
A 3-3 home draw with Preston was the final straw for the new owners with Steve Bruce…
*That* Glen Whelan “penalty” in all it’s glory….endure that again here if you must.
Bruce not only lost large portions of the fans with the standard of football on display, he also isolated himself from others with some targeted post-match comments. This included referring to dissenting supporters as “The Mad Few”:
Dean Smith’s arrival saw an abrupt change of formation, players and style. This reaped instant reward with a home win over Swansea, but the scale of the task ahead was underlined with defeats to Norwich and QPR consecutively. It was clear that a change of management had stoked the fires again for many supporters, with over 450 thousand interactions with The Villa Underground in just this period.
Smith really started to get his teeth into the job at Villa Park, turning our playing style on it’s head and taking 10 points from 12 available in November.
This included beating Bolton at home, thrashing Derby 3-0 away, routing Blues 4-2 at Villa Park and a scintillating ten goal thriller with Forest.
13 thousand of you took in The Villa Underground’s Blues motivational derby day preview:
Over ten thousand tuned in to find out just what it feels like to be Kings of the Second City:
And thousands more couldn’t believe what they were seeing when Alan ‘The Scottish Cafu’ Hutton ran the length of the pitch and through the entire Blues side to bury the ball at The Holte End:
Villa negotiated a banana-skin run of festive fixtures relatively well – losing only to Leeds United (3-2) at Villa Park.
Whilst only being defeated once in nine games, injuries to Grealish, Taylor and Tuanzebe took their toll, as other sides in the division began to jockey for position.
Villa were in 9th and five points adrift of the playoffs as 2019 dawned.
There was the build up to a the derby with West Brom, with over 16 thousand supporters taking in The Villa Underground’s pre-match build up:
Villa performed well at The Hawthorns, with El Ghazi the star of the show, before ‘The Hand Of Rod’ intervened to level the score at 2-2.
December also saw The Villa Underground successfully launch its first ever ‘ugly’ Christmas jumper.
Many of you got involved with the competition run on Twitter, with one lucky winner getting their free Xmas top in time to show it off in all its glory at Villa Park:
Embed from Getty Images
December also marks the beginning of the transfer window merry-go-round. Many visitors were interested in the link to Gary Cahill as well of news of Dean Smith’s first signing, Lovre Kalinic, both stories being the most read transfer related posts on VillaUnderground.com across the month.
What will 2019 bring Aston Villa?
Thank you once again for being a part of The Villa Underground.
Your support has enabled VillaUnderground.com to grow from a casual Tumblr and Twitter account in 2011, to a sprawling website that documents the happenings of our fine club, now over many years, in type, video and audio.
Please consider becoming a Supporter.