Posts Tagged ‘Martin O’Neill’

The Trouble With… Mike Ashley


The news yesterday that Newcastle, or more specifically Mike Ashley, had sacked Chris Hughton was something of a shock to say the least. After leading them back to the Premier League with a 102 point Championship winning season, Hughton has overseen comfortable start to the season with Newcastle lying 11th with 19 points from 16 games.

You're better off without him Chris...

Ashley cited the need for someone with more managerial experience to take the club forward which is reasonable if Newcastle were struggling but not in the current circumstances.

It’s not as if Newcastle are marooned in the bottom three, they’ve been mid-table all season and had impressive league victories over Arsenal, Aston Villa and Sunderland amongst others. Chuck in a League Cup win away at Chelsea and you’ve got the basis of good start to the season.

Perhaps there was the feeling that the current run of one win in six was a sign of things to come, but if that was the case then surely Chelsea would be sacking Carlo Ancelotti right now, given he has the exact same record over that period. If  Ashley looked at the table he’d see Everton and Liverpool below his side too.

The whole reason Newcastle were regarded  as a joke club for so many years was that there was always something ridiculous going on. Whether it was poorly thought out signings, directors making inappropriate comments, or hiring Joe Kinnear as manager, you always felt glad your own club wasn’t as stupid.

Hughton brought some stability and more importantly some dignity back to Newcastle. Conducting his business with little fuss, and managing to pretty much unite one of the most divisive squads in recent memory, he was doing well in his first shot at full-time management. Ashley obviously felt otherwise.

Let's shake on it. It won't make a difference but it makes me look good.

Perhaps he felt this season offers an opportunity – it’s a tighter league than normal so a higher than expected finish is achievable.

Perhaps he looks at how well fellow promoted sides West Brom and Blackpool are doing and feels Newcastle should be doing better having last season finished 11 and 32 points ahead respectively.

Perhaps he still plans to sell the club sooner rather than later and wants a bigger manager to attract higher bids and better players. The thing about most of these options is that if anything Newcastle are punching above their weight at the moment.

Ashley may feel that they should resume their place at the higher echelons of the league but times have long since changed from the heady days of title challenges. The main reason is the lack of investment in the team. I know Ashley has spent £300million since buying the club (including the cost price) and he the right to do what he wants but much of this was wasted on poor players and a big fat payoff to big fat Sam Allardyce.

This summer they spent around £6million and that’s being generous as a third of that was just to loan Ben Arfa. Considering how small the squad was to begin with, to currently be 11th despite a poor run of form isn’t to be sniffed at. A promoted side should be looking at staying up first and foremost. Who knows what changing manager now will have.

Mr & Mrs Average

In fairness, despite the difficulty in doing so, judgement has to be reserved until the next manager is named. If Newcastle end up with say Martin O’Neill (unlikely) or Martin Jol (expensive but maybe) then you could argue that a good decision may have been made, however harsh it is on Hughton.

There isn’t really a good time to change managers and it may as well have been done pre January transfer window. The backlash will come if Newcastle end up with someone like Alan Curbishley or Alan Pardew. Are they truly better than Chris Hughton? Really? It would smack of hiring the proverbial safe pair of hands or in other words complete mediocrity.

Curbishley has a track record of uninspiring mid table finishes, the exception being 7th with Charlton in 2003/04. I lost track of the number of times his team would be in a good position come January before collapsing once reaching 40 points. I suppose Alan Pardew is a slightly better option but that’s like saying Andy Townsend is a slightly better pundit than Robbie Earle – both are completely meh.

I wonder who Jol would pick as his assistant?!

By keeping out of the limelight for a while, Mike Ashley’s reputation improved in recent months but he’s destroyed any goodwill he had with Newcastle fans. Even if he brings in someone really quiet good, I’m not sure he will regain it. In the eyes of most, he’s probably the one who should be leaving the club.



Season Previews 2010/11 – Aston Villa


Aston Villa

Last Season: 6th

New Signings: Hmm, none to report as yet.

Key Player: Ashley Young

One To Watch: Marc Albrighton

Needs  A Big Year: The new manager

Would Quite Like: Continued dominance over Birmingham whilst pushing onto the Champions League places.

Prediction: 9th

Thoughts: This was all written up and then Martin O’Neill resigned which changed things somewhat. Much of it still applies though. Aston Villa appear to have reached a bit of a glass ceiling at the moment. Sixth place for three seasons running but unable to make to the breakthrough whilst other teams such as Spurs and Man City overtake them.

Despite them fading every spring I think Villa’s problem is not so much one of squad depth but more of quality. Martin O’Neill tended to play the same starting XI for 95% of the season so to push on they need one or two top quality players who will cost £10m+ and replace someone currently in the side.

It appears that at the moment the money doesn’t exist to do that which would reflect in the attempts to get rid of the likes of Luke Young, Steve Sidwell and Habib Beye. Also, in losing arguably their best players two summers in a row (Barry and now probably Milner) it means they’re always trying to catch up to where they were rather then move forward.

Laters, I'm off.

Assuming Milner does leave I would suggest buying a replacement in midfield (though if they get Ireland in part exchange then it’s a great deal) as well as a striker and left-back. For all of Carew and Agbonlahor’s qualities, neither can be relied on to score 20 goals. With Milner gone, the onus falls on Ashley Young to live up to his undoubted potential.

O’Neill had been experimenting with him in a floating central role in pre-season and perhaps this change in tactic is needed to offer some variety in Villa’s play. I think as usual they’ll be tough to beat and will gain a victory or three over the sides above them but the reality is that they’ll find it difficult to maintain their current level and may find they drop a place or two this season. O’Neill’s motivational skills will be greatly missed.

Villa’s prospects really depend on who comes in to replace O’Neill. Some of the names mentioned so far aren’t very inspiring but I think they’ll go for someone up and coming rather than a big name. I don’t see a new manager getting any greater sum to spend, but I suppose there will be some Milner money to make a few improvements. Either way it’ll now be mid-table.


Weekly Photoshop – Gabriel Agbonlahor


Aston Villa and occasional England striker Gabby Agbonlahor this week. Not too much you can do beyond his speed and hard to spell name. For a while I was trying to do something around him looking a tiny bit like Bubbles from The Wire where he could be running down yet another blind alley with Bubbles’ shopping trolley (slight tangent there) but it was 1am in the morning and I wanted to go to bed. So instead I did this:


Gabby as Sleepy, one of the seven dwarfs. He does always look a bit dazed and confused as if he's just woken up.

Gabby as Sleepy, one of the seven dwarfs. He does always look a bit dazed and confused as if he's just woken up.


The rest of this week’s gallery is here.





Season Previews 09/10 – Aston Villa



Last Season: 6th – A late season collapse after being five minutes from an eight point lead in 4th.

Say hello to your new teammates: Stewart Downing, Fabian Delph, Habib Beye.

Close the door on your way out: Gareth Barry, Zat Knight, Martin Laursen

Predicted star: Ashley Young, who else? With Barry gone and Delph & Downing signed, Young could end up with a more central role behind the strikers as the season goes on. Even if not, his crosses and creativity will be the key to Villa doing well. I have a reluctant hunch Milner will also have a good year.

Needs a big year: Agbonlahor needs to improve the consistency of his goalscoring. Whoever is signed to replace the retired Laursen will need to provide leadership, an aerial threat from set-pieces and general excellent defensive displays. No pressure then.

One to watch: We’ll get to see what the fuss about Delph is about. Barry Bannan has been tipped in a couple of places.

Hopefully worth the money they paid.

Hopefully worth the money they paid.

What they want to happen: A new Laursen and a larger squad oversees further improvement to 5th or even 4th. Birmingham to go straight back down.

Nightmare scenario: A stretched squad cannot repeat the achievements of last season and they slip towards mid-table. Defeat to Birmingham won’t go down too well. Someone buys Ashley Young.

Plan A: Pace and crossing from the flanks onto big John Carew and Agbonlahor.

Plan B, just in case: ‘Direct’ play towards the duo of Carew and Heskey.

Predicted finish: 8th

A lot rests on him.

A lot rests on him.

Why? The suspicion remains that last season was Villa’s best chance to break into the top four and that opportunity is now gone. Man City are stronger, Spurs are more solid (ish) and Everton are tough to beat as usual. Gareth Barry decided that Champions League football money was a factor after all and jumped ship to their rivals while Laursen had to unfortunately retire. Neither player has been replaced as yet, while main signing Downing won’t play until Christmas. Clubs are starting to sniff around Ashley Young too.

On the plus side, Villa have a young, fast hard working squad and if they can stay fit then they’ll compete as ever. A decent, albeit relegated, right back has been signed and Bouma is fit again (is this a good thing?). It’s still quite tight between the four clubs mentioned in this preview and with bit of luck Villa could get the Europa League spot. I feel however it might be a season of regression for Martin O’Neill’s side.



The Six Pointer – Van Persie’s Rep, Villa’s Routine & more…


That was the weekend that was.


1. Martin O’Neill must be sick of Stoke’s last minute antics this season. Following their stoppage time winner in the August game at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke remarkably came from two goals down at Villa Park with four minutes to go to draw a match they had no right to get anything from. O’Neill must be a touch concerned at Villa’s relative lack of form at a key time of the season. They are now without a win in five in all competitions and this run has coincided with the injury to Martin Laursen, a key figure in the side. I doubt Arsenal would have been able to make up an eight point deficit, but now have a chance to cut it to three by the time Villa play next if they manage to beat bottom side West Brom. Whilst Wenger will be delighted at Villa dropping points, he of all people will know what it’s like to be in that situation having conspired to do the same against Spurs in October.

Damnit, not again!

Damnit, not again!


2. The Spurs and Villa results over the weekend got me thinking about the importance of having a settled team and not worrying about resting players too much. Of course certain games are a priority and players get tired at this stage of the season but at the same time matches are also about confidence and routine. Both sides could have played a few more first teamers in the UEFA Cup whilst still ensuring not too much effort was made to prevent elimination. Sometimes going seven to ten days without a match isn’t actually all that good as you can lose your touch and match practice. There’s a reason why winning teams are rarely changed and I think both Villa and Spurs might have had better results at the weekend had they played a few more of their first teamers midweek. 


3. Rafa now thinks Liverpool would have been closer to Man Utd had Torres been fit for more of the season. That may be so but Man Utd have also had their fair share of injuries with Ronaldo, Rooney and several midfielders all out for good portions. The whole point is that you’re not meant to rely on one player and if Robbie Keane wasn’t the answer/alternative, Rafa should have ensured that someone else was. Fergie’s Berbatov, Rooney and Tevez compared to Rafa’s Torres, El Zhar and N’Gog? I know what I’d choose.

A regular sight

A regular sight


4. A week after writing off Gareth Southgate, he oversees one of Middlesbrough’s best results of the season. Boro’s next six games are all against teams around them in the table. They will hope to have pulled a little clear by the end of this run as the two matches that follow are Arsenal and Man Utd. 


5. Reputations count for a lot. Robin Van Persie is having a good season but has been guilty of some quite poor misses over the past few games. Had those chances been missed by Bendtner or even Adebayor for that matter we would be highly critical. RVP has escaped (thus far) on account of him producing in big games. However, great player though he is, Van Persie is certainly not prolific. The less said about Arsenal’s 4th consecutive goalless draw the better. Luck would have it that they face West Brom next but then they were meant to beat Sunderland, and Fulham, and… 


6. Man City lost yet again away from home and yet again Robinho failed to do anything of note. He hasn’t scored since November and there has been many a muttering about his lack of effort away from the City of Manchester Stadium (he’s only scored twice away). Mark Hughes has built his success on hard working sides and while the Brazilian is a major talent, you feel that he is not one for a relegation battle. City are only six points clear and a lot could still change at the bottom of the table. He’s doubtful with an ankle injury for the next game and it may well be a blessing in disguise.

I hope you didn't expect me to run for that.

I hope you didn't expect me to run for that.




Edit: Forgot to mention, if you want to hear us on the Football Guy’s podcast discussing the Champions League results from midweek then just download here.

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