As the Premier League season draws to a close, it is that time of the year where players who have out-performed their teammates are rewarded with individual honours. Even though the season has been one to forget for most Aston Villa fans, it was Stephen Ireland who picked up the Terrace Trophy at the end of season dinner, which took place at the Holte End Suite on Monday night.
The honour represents the individual who the Villa fans have chosen as the best performer throughout the season. Along with this, there is also a Players’ Player of the Season award given out at the same event, which is awarded to who players believe has been a cut above the rest. They decided to honour their captain Stiliyan Petrov, a gesture which will surely help boost his morale as he continues his battle against acute Leukaemia.
In a season that has been clouded with pessimism and negativity, with fans taking their frustrations out on the players, manager and chairman, these two central midfielders have been shining beacons of hope. It was not a happy start to Stephen Ireland’s Villa career, as a fall out with previous manager Gerard Houllier along with several niggling injuries saw the Irish midfielder sent on loan for the second half of the season to Premier League rivals Newcastle.
Ireland did not enjoy the best of times at Newcastle either, only managing a handful of appearances before returning to Aston Villa at the end of the 2010-2011 campaign. It looked like his Villa career may be short lived as he was linked to several clubs over the summer, but Alex McLeish’s arrival at Villa Park brought a fresh approach to the team, and Ireland was finally given his chance in the heart of the Villa midfield. He has taken it with both hands, and has been the one constant in an ever-changing Villa team as McLeish has battled against injuries and tactics. Ireland’s individual performance against Chelsea was a particular highlight, scoring one and setting up two as Villa achieved their most impressive win of the season.
Petrov did also not enjoy the best of starts to his Villa career, as he was brought in by former manager Martin O’Neill from Celtic. Many fans believed he did not have the fitness or technical ability to succeed in the Premier League, and was booed in several of his first season appearances. O’Neill stuck by his man, and the turnaround was complete as he earned both Fans’ Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year awards in the 2008-2009 season. It was that summer he was made Villa captain following the retirement of talismanic defender Martin Laursen, and he has gone from strength to strength ever since.
Petrov had been in scintillating form at the start of the current season, scoring several impressive goals from outside the area, and providing much needed experience and stability in a team filled with young players. It is no coincidence that since he has been out of the team fighting cancer, Villa’s form has dipped dramatically.
If both players had been available for selection all season, along with several other key players, then it may have been a different story for Villa. These honours will mean little if the club is relegated to the second tier of English football, and the players must ensure that this is not the case as they prepare for their final two league games of the season.
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