In the end, Aston Villa’s woeful record in the Premier League proved too much even for the patience of their American owner, Randy Lerner, whose support for manager Paul Lambert ended last night with the dismissal of the 45-year-old Glaswegian after two years and eight months in charge.
Tim Sherwood, the former Tottenham manager who was favourite for the West Bromwich Albion job eventually landed by Tony Pulis and to succeed Harry Redknapp at Queen’s Park Rangers until he ruled himself out on Tuesday, is expected to be a contender to succeed Lambert.
Villa’s decision followed a toothless 2-0 defeat away to fellow strugglers Hull City on Tuesday evening, which left the West Midlands club in the relegation places in the Premier League for the first time this season and in real danger of losing their place in the top flight for the first time in 26 years.
That prompted demands for Lambert’s dismissal from Villa supporters, whose call was backed up by both the city’s daily newspaper, the Birmingham Mail, and by the club’s former striker-turned-pundit, Andy Gray.
It may be no coincidence that the decision to part company with Lambert came the day after the new, record-breaking TV rights deal promised even more riches for Premier League clubs.
Until recently, it was thought that Lerner’s ambitions for Villa were no greater than keeping the club on an even financial keel ahead of finding a buyer, which was believed to be the reason . Lambert was required to work within stringent budget constraints. After the bonanza promised by Tuesday’s announcement of a £5.1bn TV rights deal for the Premier League from 2016-17, he may see the opportunity for serious profits, making it imperative that Villa retain their top-flight status.
Villa’s record under Lambert in his first two seasons in charge was uninspiring, the team finishing 15th in both, as well as suffering embarrassing defeats to lower division opponents in cup competitions –Bradford City defeated them in the League Cup semi-finals in 2013 and Sheffield United knocked them out of the FA Cup last season.
Lerner, however, appeared solid in his faith in the former Norwich manager, awarding him a four-year contract as recently as September last year, which would have kept him at the club until June 2018.
Since then, Villa’s fortunes have dipped alarmingly. Their haul of only 12 goals from 25 games is the worst at this stage in Premier League history. Jores Okore’s goal against Chelsea last weekend is the only one they have scored in 793 minutes of play and the result at Hull stretched their recent Premier League record to 10 matches without a win, with seven of them defeats.
Villa said: “The club would like to place on record its thanks to Paul. First-team coach Scott Marshall and goalkeeping coach Andy Marshall will prepare the squad for Sunday’s FA Cup tie with Leicester City. The club will announce a new manager in due course. There will be no further comment at this stage.”
Sherwood emerged as the early favourite to succeed Lambert, with Jürgen Klinsmann, head coach of the United States national team, also attracting interest, along with former Swansea manager Michael Laudrup, another whom QPR failed to woo.
Mark Warburton, whose position with Championship side Brentford has been the subject of speculation, was as short as 12-1 with some bookmakers, with Roy Keane, until recently Lambert’s assistant, 14-1 and Bolton’s former Celtic manager Neil Lennon 16-1.
Keane worked alongside Lambert from July last year but his tenure as assistant manager was punctuated with stories of rows with players and he left abruptly in November, claiming he could no longer combine his Villa role with his responsibilities as assistant to Martin O’Neill in the Republic of Ireland coaching staff.
Lambert’s ability to achieve progress with Villa, who enjoyed their best times in recent years when O’Neill was in charge, was certainly hampered by Lerner’s refusal to sanction more than modest spending on new players. But there was a feeling, too, Lambert was out of his depth managing a club of Villa’s size.
He arrived with the reputation of a clever tactician but his thinking has seemed confused at times and under his management Villa have never established a consistent identity. Their playing style has lurched from direct tactics to a possession game based on building from the back, while his faith in young players has shifted towards more experienced foreign imports, not all of whom have looked to have the necessary quality.
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