Aston Villa: 20th (relegated)
FA Cup: Round Four
Capital One Cup: Round Four
It is difficult to know where to start with Aston Villa, but 2015-16 has to go down as probably the worst season in the club’s history as a squad of misfits and three different managers were relegated with just 17 points, the third lowest total by any side since the Premier League began in 1992. Add to that the off-field antics of several players, countless comings and goings at boardroom level, and almost constant protests at the running of the club from supporters, and it is clear that one of English football’s biggest and most illustrious names is in crisis like never before.
For all of their grand history, it has been extremely sad to see Aston Villa descend into little more than a laughing stock; a punching bag for the nation’s media who wasted no opportunity to deride their ineptitude and wallow in their plight. Yet, at the end of last season they were involved in the final of the FA Cup, where a dismal display and a 4-0 loss to Arsenal precipitated a summer of considerable upheaval.
Out of the exit door went three key players in captain Ron Vlaar, leading striker Christian Benteke and full-blooded midfielder Fabian Delph, who left for Premier League rivals Manchester City after a period of severe indecision which almost teased the fans into believing he might stay. In came two experienced top-flight defenders in the shape of Joleon Lescott and new skipper Micah Richards, as well as striker Rudy Gestede a group of largely inexperienced French players recruited from numerous clubs in Ligue 1.
Of that group, only Jordan Ayew and Jordan Amavi can take heart from their efforts, with the latter having impressed before suffering a season-ending injury. Idrissa Gueye struggled right throughout the season in what was a baptism of fire for the former Lille man, while Jordan Veretout tried his level best but found the Premeir League tough going.
Tim Sherwood was the manager and he put on a brave face during the early weeks of the season, where it soon became clear that he might be facing an uphill battle. Victory on the opening day at Bournemouth was a false dawn and proved their one and only away success. Eight straight defeats followed which eventually cost Sherwood his job, during which the turning point came when they contrived to lose at Leicester City despite establishing a two-goal lead.
That was a psychological blow from which they would not recover and a home loss to Swansea City proved to be the end for Sherwood. He was replaced by former Lyon boss Remi Garde, a man more familiar with the club’s French contingent and he used them accordingly, ending that run of defeats with a creditable draw against Man City.
But it was a temporary reprieve, as they went on to end the year with just that one Premier League win to their name. Already they were being written off having fallen considerably adrift of the rest, and although wins early in 2016 at home to Crystal Palace and Norwich City improved their position slightly, it was a view vindicated by an overwhelming majority of simply woeful performances.
Passive in the extreme and almost lacking in effort, no showing was worse than the one which saw them lose 6-0 to Liverpool, one which had to be seen to be believed. Their relative inferiority and the total erosion of intensity from their game was further evidenced by meek showings against Stoke City and Everton, before four more goals were shipped at Man City. Garde was still talking tentatively about a potential revival, but deep down he knew he had a thankless task with the players he had inherited.
The off-field conduct of youngster Jack Grealish and long-serving forward Gabriel Agbonlahor did not help matters, while chants and protests directed towards owner Randy Lerner ended up overshadowing home matches with supporters exhibiting a reasonable degree of gallows humour. Speaking of a slow death, relegation was confirmed following defeat at Manchester United in April, which in truth was inevitable for several months, rather than weeks.
By then Garde had left the club to allow caretaker-boss Eric Black to preside over the remaining games. Another shocking losing streak, this time lasting 11 games, was ended against fellow relegated side Newcastle United in the final home match, but results almost became irrelevent given the farcical events surrounding the club. The season did at least end with some promising news as Lerner sold Villa to Tony Xiu, but a lot has to change to ensure they do not slide further. The Championship will be far from an easy ride.
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