Banter with Villa
Stoke will be traveling down to Aston Villa hoping to continue the phenomenal run of fun, and secure the points to take them to the supposed 'magical 40 points` tally. It could be a tough game so opinions are split, but what does a Villa fan think? I exchanged Q&A`s with Vital Aston Villa Editor Mike Field ahead of our Midlands clash. You can read my answers HERE.
RYAN KALISZ: Hello there Mike. First of all I have to start off by asking; which City do you want to win the FA Cup?
MIKE FIELD: I've got to be honest, I'm a Villa fan first and then a Midlands fan second, so given about 50% of my family are Bluenoses I even took a little perverse pleasure in their success, so I have absolutely no problems in saying I hope the FA Cup ends up in the Potteries. Your Semi performance (I obviously didn't see it all) was phenomenal and I was amazed you played that well - it was almost with flair - which is not how I expected Stoke to play so it was thoroughly deserved and given I romanticise about the game I fell in love with, which didn't include millionaire players who fall over with every gust of wind, I'd nod my head with respect and applaud happily if you replicated that performance in the Final. Do it in the final, not this weekend though.
RK: Good man! I like you already. What was your reaction when you heard that Stoke beat Bolton 5-0? Pretty impressive hey? None of us expected it.
MK: Like you totally unexpected. I can't say much else. Bolton are playing some good stuff lately and I expected you to dig in, but I thought a moment of decent play would unhinge you - a tight 1-0. But you really showed what you were capable of, and I'd imagine most Stokies are wondered why you can't play like that every week. I think I stopped watching at about 2-0, but then hearing the final result I never expected that. I don't really follow football outside of Villa, but that was one game I wished I'd watched completely.
RK: Right let`s focus on you for a minute; are you satisfied with your performance this season so far?
MK: No. Next question.
Most fans expected a dip, we had been overachieving, and the bubble had burst simply because a good number of players simply aren't good enough on standard form, but even those most critical of the previous manager never quite expected the dross we have seen far too often this season. Our big name players just haven't turned up enough, and couple that with our injuries that Houllier can't be blamed for, the end result is a dip far greater - both points and performances - than anybody expected. Houllier hasn't helped himself with tactics admittedly, and whilst the players can take the blame for not adapting quick enough or putting in the required effort, Houllier also should've been able to take what we were good at and attempt to fix our flaws, without changing everything and causing far more problems in the process.
In many ways I think fans could've taken our results, had it not been for the performances in the process. The one thing you expect from managers is not to persist with what clearly isn't working, there's being stubborn but there's also cutting your nose off to spite your face and equally, the one thing you expect from players is to put the effort in that any fan would do given that opportunity.
If those in charge of your club give their all, you forgive failure. You can't forgive lack of effort or clearly obvious mistakes that should've been fixed.
We finally seem to have found the common ground, and surprise our performances have improved and results have got better.
RK: Obviously it has been incredibly tight this season with a number of clubs looking over their shoulders. Do you think you are one of those teams, and if so do you think you`ll survive the drop?
MK: I've maintained all season we wouldn't go down. It's the old cliche but we do have too much quality for the position we find ourselves in and it wasn't going to take much tactically or in terms of effort for things to swing around. I didn't expect it to take as long as it did for those things to rectify themselves admittedly, but that is the rub of why we've had such a bad season. We will survive, but I fancy us to go on and get the points to make it mildly confortable for now so it doesn't become (for us at least) a final game of the season decider. But yes, you've still got to be looking over your shoulder, confidence is one thing, but blind idiocy to the position you find yourself in shouldn't be encouraged.
RK: Do you think you have got through the dark time of Martin O`Neil resigning?
MK: With another transfer window yes, the club seem to have reverted back to the original plan for growth now and there are still some players who need shifting, and then quality replacements brought in for the sake of numbers and to obviously improve the general standard of the first 11, but Houllier obviously felt he had to in many ways go with a slash and burn policy to help get us back on track, and I don't personally think that has been completed yet - regardless of whether I think a slash and burn policy was required.
It wasn't so much the resignation of Monny that was the problem...it was the timing. Many of the problems already existed in my humble....the timing (and no I'm one of the fans who doesn't believe it was deliberate) couldn't have been worse because it meant we roughly had to cope with 'those' problems instead of simply moving people on.
RK: What is your assessment of Gerard Houlier as a manager?
MK: The caveat has to be, it's not personal. I like his theory, I like his ethos, and the way in which he wants us to play - in fact I'm delighted by it because I don't believe a counter attacking team automatically has to mean you play like Wimbledon - and I also think given his contract with the club we will see a lot of improvement both on and off the pitch over that time........BUT.
I wouldn't be upset if we saw a change of manager, and by that I mean, many months ago.
The anger created by the Liverpool faux par was almost comical, acknowledging their fans, touching the sign blah blah....ridiculous. Capitulating against Man City in the Cup was not ridiculous. That was my straw in reality, although I was by that point already off the fence of allowing him time. I never forgave O'Neill for Moscow, in my mind, my club should never go into any game - irrespective of opposition - playing for anything but a win, certainly not expecting to lose and being set up that way. Your FA Cup opponents will always be Houllier's Moscow moment.
I cannot support a manager with much gusto who - irrespective of the reason - throws a match. Our league form after both Moscow and City shows winning breeds confidence, throwing a match destroys form.
So assessment, is capable of so much more, seemed a common phrase on my school reports at any rate. Houllier may well have lost too many for him to ever get it right now sadly and even the calmer fans like me who wouldn't shed a tear if he left, but accept he's staying - even if reports last night are correct that he'll be off the touchline for the rest of the season - will need to see a lot of improvement before we even get back on the fence in thinking he needs time.
RK: Was he your first choice manager? If not who was?
MK: No. Not even in my top 5000 if somebody had pushed me to name 25000. I'm going to blow all credability now by saying my first choice was Ian Holloway. Failing that a Simon Grayson, a Nigel Clough...a young, ambitious manager who would obviously make mistakes but would want to mould, shape and build the club from the bottom up - with a long term plan. Somebody whose career was almost, invested is the wrong word, but in some ways dependent on constant improvement - they would make us, as we made them.
Villa fans are too used to the manager merry go round under Doug Ellis, I really wanted us to pick somebody with promise who could achieve their potential with us - I hate to mention SirRedNoseOfFerguson - but a manager who would build a foundation for success over a number of years, rather than spending millions in a haphazard way and who thought one season of success had made them.
RK: Fair enough. I`m all for employing English managers at the end of the day. Nowadays, it seems that the only way for young English mangers, such as Ian Holloway, to become a Premier League manager is to be promoted with your lower-league team. Anyway. Who do you think is the biggest danger that we need to watch out for?
MK: Last game we saw the real return of Ashley Young, he was everything we love him for. The obvious choice would be Bent as you pointed out, but I hope beyond hope Ash is now back and if he is, as it should be, you could ignore the rest of the team cause he'll keep you busy.
RK: Thanks for the heads up! Now focusing on us; what do you think of Stoke City as an opposition?
MK: You play to your strengths, you're physical, you harrass, you bully. You mentioned in the questions for Vital Villa about the hatred felt for Stoke. I know some of the old boys have lively tales to say about visits to you, but I wouldn't have guessed there is much hatred thesedays generally. You do what you do well, and whilst it often isn't the prettiest of football your aim is to stay up and consolidate still. Least that's how I view you, and I still think we can deal with you better :-)
RK: Well we`ll soon see how well you deal with us! We`ve been getting mixed messages about John Carew as a player. What is your honest opinion of him?
MK: A good player who could've and should've and had all the attributes to be a great player. John Carew at his best truly is the man who is bigger than me and you and he is well loved by most fans. The reason the camp is split is we didn't get the best of him often enough. Something always got in the way, a bad back, winter, lack of interest, he couldn't train because he was stuck in snow. A legal case meant he couldn't focus and be mentally right for a game.....the excuses and the examples go on and on....yet the mammary bar escapade is all some remember....the night he wasn't actually at fault for.
This letter HERE sums it up without a legal threat in more ways than I could ever manage.
He was loved by the Holte so a lot was forgiven, but the stuff we forgave over the years eclipsed what we loved him for. I'd put him on a par with Stan Collymore for the world class player we never actually had.
RK: If to say you could have one of our players unavailable for the game, who would it be and why?
MK: After saying all that above, it would have to be Carew. Fate, the fact he's still trying to impress and hasn't settled, whatever excuse or reasoning I look for, it has to be Carew because the script is written for him to give the type of performance we fell in love with him for.
RK: If you were the Villa manager, who would be in your team selection?
MK: Plenty won't agree with me, but given the hypothesis here and the assumption injuries/suspension/loans could be cancelled I'd go:
Siegrist, Walker, Clark, Collins, L. Young, Albrighton, Bannan, Reo-Coker, Downing, A. Young, Bent.
With Weimann, Delfouneso and Agbonlahor coming on at 65.
However, given I can't get what I want, I'd expect:
Friedel, Walker, Collins, Dunne, L. Young, Downing, Petrov, Reo-Coker, A. Young, Bent, Agbonlahor.
With Heskey about 70 and Pires about 82.
RK: And finally, what are your predictions?
MK: Head says 1-1...heart says 2-1 to us because despite your confidence, we should be up for going on a run after our last few games, but it's going to be a tight match regardless.
RK: Thank you very much for that Mike. Here`s to an exciting game, and may Stoke, cough, best team win!