Don't panic, stay calm was the message to Paul Lambert ahead of crisis talks with Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner over the alarming slump that has left the club fighting for Premier League survival. Roberto Martinez, the manager of Wigan Athletic knows better than most how his counterpart at Villa is feeling this morning. Saturday's 3-0 defeat at home to Wigan brought a calamitous six days to a close for Villa with a goal ratio of nil for and 15 against.
Only once has a team conceded more in a three-game sequence but never in the same season. In a run of remarkable similarity Wigan shipped 18, losing 8-0 to Chelsea on the final day of 2009-10 and then 4-0 to Blackpool and 6-0 to Chelsea again at the start of 2010-11. Lambert can also console himself with a flick through Rothmans Football Yearbooks, which reveal that Ipswich conceded 15 in three matches in March 1995, losing 9-0 at Manchester United and 3-0 against Tottenham and Norwich.
Lambert accepts that these are not the kind of statistics that you want to take into a meeting with the owner, who was ringside for this latest drubbing. Lerner journeyed from the United States to see first-hand the scale of the crisis engulfing his club, who sit just one point above the relegation zone, and to discuss with Lambert what moves they might make in the looming transfer window. Lambert has the forbidding task first of righting the ship at Swansea tomorrow before he can get busy with re-inforcing the kids club with old heads.
"We will come in tomorrow and Monday and get them going," Lambert said on Saturday evening. "I'll speak with the chairman to see where we are. I knew the job was massive. This is a huge football club with a great tradition. You have to keep them believing that they can keep going. This club has been in a survival battle for the last couple of years. But I don't think about that. We are in a fight, but so are eight other teams."
Wigan were gifted the lead inside three minutes, Ivan Ramis rising unchallenged to meet Shaun Maloney's corner and crashing a header past Brad Guzan. Another 40 minutes elapsed before Villa remotely threatened a goal and then Brett Holman hit the bar from point-blank range. Two rapier strikes in four minutes at the start of the second half from Emmerson Boyce and Arouna Koné made better sense of the dominance of a visiting side for whom Maloney was excellent behind Franco di Santo and Koné.
Lambert should draw comfort from a Wigan performance that followed a return of only four points from nine games, a run which saw them fall into the bottom three. This victory took Wigan out of the relegation slots and above Villa on goal difference. Martinez had this advice for Lambert: "Paul Lambert knows exactly what he's doing and has got a great group of players. You could see it today that at 3-0 down they were fighting for each other. We've been in a similar situation and when you change things round and you bring in different ideas and you get young players, you need to be a little bit patient because defeats can show the wrong scoreline. That doesn't mean anything for the next game, everyone will be ready to fight again.
"Obviously at Wigan we are expected to fight to avoid relegation, I'm not saying that's something that we look forward to, but the truth is when you've got the whole unity of the football club helping the players week-in, week-out, and not worried about the score, it really helps, particularly in the transitional periods. Remember what Villa had is a real desire to win and when you concede one or two goals maybe you start to be a little bit fragile but Villa went to Anfield and looked a very strong unit, a team capable of getting a result against anyone.
"So I cannot see Villa having too many problems this season. They are in the middle of a tough run but if you look at the spirit of this squad and the youth of this squad, this is a year that is going to put up a really good platform for the future."
Villa on the slide: decline in numbers
4: Combined shots on target by Villa in their three Christmas matches
15: Goals conceded by Villa in their last three matches
23: Average age of Aston Villa's starting line-up against Wigan