Last Christmas Aston Villa shipped 15 goals without reply. Manager Paul Lambert did not panic and neither did his employer, Randy Lerner.
Villa clambered to safety, Lerner invested in seven signings at a net £10m deficit, and they won at Arsenal on the opening day. Optimism returned for the first time since Martin O’Neill left.
That heady win at the Emirates is now seen for what it was: a mirage. Villa have lost four on the trot leaving them three points clear of the drop after Thursday’s home defeat by Crystal Palace.
Today they are back at Villa Park, facing Swansea City, but that is of little solace to a team with the worst home goalscoring record in the country – six in 18 games. A counter-attacking approach beat Arsenal and Manchester City but fails against teams who sit back.
On Boxing Day the crowd finally turned on their side and there were reports that Andreas Weimann reacted to abuse. Barry Bannan, the former Villa player who excelled for Palace, said: “I played here and it’s hard to play your normal game when the fans get on your back. It takes big characters.”
Lambert hopes his team has the courage to block out the jeers. “This is a big club, pressure goes with that,” he said. “I know what it’s like. I lost my first three games at Celtic, people were saying ‘go back to Dortmund’. That was 60,000 saying I was not good enough until I got a grip of it.
“So I know criticism, but this team are young, they need support. People talk about the bravery of going in for a tackle and blood, guts and thunder. Bravery is also taking a ball in front of 40,000 in an area where people just shy away from it. We are a million miles from where I want to be and the lads are edgy, but as long as they don’t hide I’ll never criticise them.”
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