Friday, 15th May
Martin Laursen retires.
It`s a sad day but an unsurprising one. He was not just a wonderful defender, but he also had the type of character that is crucial to have in successful teams. MON described him as having the ‘heart of a lion` and that is hard to top; it just sums up the Great Dane perfectly. The best thing to come out of DOL`s management era, he was brave, a winner, a quality defender and a danger in the opposition box. We were certainly not as strong without him, and while I think that is as much to do with the revert back to 4-4-2 as it was the loss of Laursen, the point to that is that going back to four in midfield came at the same time as the defence WAS severely depleted by the loss of Laursen, and therefore needed the extra protection more than ever. But it is not just his footballing ability that we will miss, it`s his character. It is a sad day for the club, and quite frankly, leaves a problem that is very worrying. However that is for the summer and today, I just want to thank Martin Laursen for everything he did for Aston Villa. He was one of the best, he is an absolute example for pro footballers to aspire to and I wish him all the very best for the future.
Saturday, 16th May
Middlesborough 1-1 Villa. We should have won, and I was genuinely surprised we only got the one goal. As for their goal, sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say, “Fair play”, as Tuncay scored a cracker. We do look like a team that wants the end of the season but we were still the better side for large parts of the game (which probably says more about Boro than it does us) and I was expecting a winner to arrive. But alas, it did not come, and our last away win was the last win of the good run, at Blackburn. Still, it`s been great on the road this season, some top wins and as good away support as you find anywhere in the world I reckon. It`s lots of things with the Villa, but it`s rarely dull!
Sunday, 17th May
All sorts of rumours occur, such as Toulouse striker Andre Pierre Gignac, Boro winger Stewart Downing, Everton defender Joleon Lescott and Leeds midfielder Fabian Delph. So, we have a couple of new ones and a couple that we have heard before, then. Wont the summer be fun!
Our Lord Paul McGrath says that Martin Laursen was as good as him, if not better. It is a nice sentiment but it is also nonsense. It is typical of the modest man that McGrath is and of the remarkable lack of confidence that he has. I love and will miss Martin Laursen, and he was a top defender. However, he was certainly not on the level of Paul McGrath. McGrath was much more calm and assured, was just as good in centre-midfield (and played there for Ireland in a World Cup) and was a wee bit better physically in terms of pace and strength. The only aspects where I would say Laursen was better was in the opposition box and that he was more vocal, but overall McGrath wins in almost every category. That is not in ANY way a negative on Laursen, though. McGrath was simply the best, and for me, despite all the praise he has received, is STILL one of the most under-rated players in the history of the game. It was an honour just to watch him in a Villa shirt, and I feel privileged that he played for the club I love so dear. Just a thought – can you imagine how good the two of them would have been together? Oh for a time machine
Monday, 18th May
The media predictably start to focus all attentions to Newcastle and Sunday. Michael Owen is apparently unlikely to be fit, which is no bad thing as he does like a goal against us.
Phillipe Senderos is linked. Can`t say I love the idea.
Tuesday, 19th May
Today we are linked with Chris Brunt, who plays for the Baggies. If we were going to sign any of that relegated mob, I would want it to be him and/or Gianni Zuiverloon.
Looking ahead at the match against Sky`s favourite team, and Sebastian Bassong loses his red-card appeal so is suspended for Sunday. Given he is the arguably the best of a very bad bunch, you`ve got to hope Carew & co will be able to take advantage of it.
Wednesday, 20th May
Good news – player of the season Stilyian Petrov has signed a new contract. Four more years, and I hope he stays. As he has a good football brain and lacks pace, it is easy to see him being able to play at the top level for a good while yet, provided he maintains his fitness levels as well as he is able to.
An exciting-but-quickly-squashed rumour arrives as we are linked with Olof Mellberg but MON denies it. In a way it is a not a bad thing, as the way he left was fantastic, and he is not getting any younger. He would have been a good short-term solution to the ‘how do you solve a problem like the one left by Martin Laursen` but I think we all knew the rumour was futile to begin with.
Thursday, 21st May
The Reserve team wins the play-off final against Sunderland. There was a decent turn-out of fans, the game was enjoyable and the presentation at the end seemed a bit OTT at first but turned out to be grand to watch. It made me hungry to see the first team win some silverware again.
Nathan Delfounso got the first with a deflected shot. Sunderland equalised through Martyn Waghorn with a shot that Parish really should have done better with. The second goal was a joy; Marc Albrighton`s first touch to get away from the defender and subsequent cross was absolute top-notch. The cross was headed away but Albrighton`s second cross was pin-point on the head of goal-machine James Collins, who stuck it in beautifully. The third goal looked like it had been scored with the first touch of substitute Chris Herd but he didn`t quite get there and the goal was credited to the crosser of the ball, Shane Lowry.
How many of these will make the grade at Villa or anywhere else remains to be seen, but I am convinced that Marc Albrighton and Barry Bannan can both play a part as early as next season. There are others that could make it (right-back Eric Lichaj in particular springs to mind) and we obviously already know about the Fonz, but I think Albrighton and Bannan – who, in my opinion, both did the club proud that night in Moscow – could, with a bit of luck and plenty of hard work, have long careers at Villa Park.
In other news, we are linked with Almeria left-back Mane and MON mentions the possibility of Gareth Barry seeing out his contract. It is not the ideal situation but if he does, then in 12 months time we may be in a better position. We may not though, or we may be in a similar position. Genius aint I! Ha!
So onto Sunday afternoon and Newcastle United come to Villa Park. We have the chance to send them down. More importantly to me, we have the chance to still finish 5th if Everton fail to beat Fulham – and I believe that will be the case.
The nations eyes will largely be looking at Villa Park to see what happens; I just hope we don`t mess it up!
The Week In Villa #39 (15/5/09 – 21/5/09)
Friday, 15th May