What a difference a matter of months can make. With the dust now settling on the calamitous 11-month tenure of sacked Steven Gerrard, Villa must now act decisively to avoid an embarrassing miss-step from undoing years of rebuilding.
Villa head into a Sunday afternoon clash with Brentford reeling from a dismal display and drubbing at the hands of Fulham (3-0). After the away support loudly vocalised their displeasure against the manager, and co-owner Nassef Sawiris ‘stormed out’ of the director’s lounge, the writing was on the wall for Gerrard.
DANKS DEPUTISESEmbed from Getty Images
The clear-out didn’t end with the manager; Gary McAllister, Tom Culshaw, Jordan Milsom and Scott Mason have all since left the club. Current Scotland assistant coach Austin MacPhee remains in post, in a move that surprised many, and will assist caretaker manager Aaron Danks for Sunday’s match at home to Brentford alongside Neil Cutler.
First-team coach Danks has been at Villa Park since September 2021, arriving prior to Gerrard’s appointment from Rangers. Whilst the club’s hierarchy is now scrambling for a suitable permanent replacement, the priority now must be to stabilise a league campaign that risks getting worse before it gets better.
The reality is that whilst Gerrard was charged by club CEO Christian Purslow with ‘continuous improvement’, the football and the club have in reality gone backwards.
The results are even worse than a year ago, the squad have lost any discernible style of play and we’ve witnessed the steady erosion of a connection with the fanbase they’d worked so hard to nurture. It’s a hard reset to a project of considerable expense.
Danks’ length of stewardship at Villa remains decidedly unclear, but his first task has to be avoiding getting embroiled in a relegation battle. This won’t help a squad already looking dejected, nor any incoming manager who is capable of both arresting this worrying slide, whilst also meeting the ownership’s lofty ambitions.
BRENTFORDEmbed from Getty Images
The arrival of Brentford acts as a timely reminder of what can be achieved with stability, a consistent strategy and prudent player acquisitions. There can be no doubt that both clubs’ ambitions might be different, but the visitors represent another of ‘those teams’ whom clubs like Villa peer in at and could do worse than pick elements from which to emulate.
Danish manager Thomas Frank, a calm and thoughtful manager, arrives with his side in good shape. A goalless draw against Champions League chasing Chelsea and a decisive win over top-half Brighton impresses. However, a drubbing at the hands of Newcastle (5-1) including some notable defensive howlers might provide optimism for Villa.
Douglas Luiz will be available after the hapless red card issued by professional village idiot Michael Oliver was rescinded. Villa do however remain without long-term absentees Carlos, Kamara and Digne through injury. Pontus Jansson, Aaron Hickey, Christian Norgaard and Thomas Strakosha won’t feature for Brentford either.
This is not a straightforward test for Villa, but it marks the first opportunity to draw a line underneath a dark period of disappointment for the club. We have to hope that any number of under-performing key players are re-energised and that the Danks/MacPhee/Cutler trio can first and foremost muster three valuable Premier League points.