FA Cup: 4th Round
League Cup: 3rd Round
The 2011-12 Premier League campaign was one to forget for Aston Villa and their fans. From start to finish the club has been clouded with negativity and disappointment, resulting in their lowest points total since the Premier League began, and their lowest amount of league victories in one season since 1891.
It was never going to be an easy season for Villa. They began by selling two of their biggest assets and releasing several other key players to restructure the wage bill which had spiralled out of control under Martin O’Neill. John Carew, Nigel Reo-Coker and Robert Pires were released, while goalkeeper Brad Friedel was sold to Tottenham. Stewart Downing and Ashley Young moved to Liverpool and Manchester United respectively, and Villa needed to reshape and restructure fast if they were going to remain competitive.
Randy Lerner began the restructuring by disposing of previous manager Gerrard Houllier due to concerns regarding his health, replacing him with Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish. The appointment was met by an angry backlash from the Villa faithful, with several protests taking place to try and convince Lerner and chief executive Paul Faulkner to change their minds. The protests were in vain and McLeish swiftly brought in Shay Given, Alan Hutton and Charles N’Zogbia to bolster a thin squad.
Villa started the season well, with only one loss in their first eight league games, including two impressive home victories against Blackburn and Wigan. Five draws also came in this early spell, including two 0-0 draws at home to Wolves and away to Fulham on the opening day of the season. It would be a sign of things to come, as their next 11 games would only provide them with two more victories and plenty of draws, leaving them safe in mid-table but far from where most fans had hoped them to be.
Villa’s best result of the season would be achieved on New Year’s Eve, as they managed an impressive 3-1 away victory to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It was a result that the fans and McLeish believed would kick start their season, but a 2-0 loss at home to Swansea just a few days later was an indication of what direction Villa’s season was heading. Robbie Keane joined on a two month loan from LA Galaxy as Villa looked to turn around their declining form. Keane inspired them to a victory at Wolves, bagging an impressive brace in a 3-2 victory. He would add another league goal in a defeat to Newcastle shortly after, which proved to be his last for the club as he returned to America.
Injuries then began to mount up for Villa as their season took a turn for the worse. Richard Dunne suffered a broken collarbone in the final minute against Manchester City and missed two months. A bigger loss came in the following league fixture, as Darren Bent damaged ankle ligaments, an injury that kept him out for the entire campaign.
Villa only achieved two league victories between January and March and the pressure began to mount on unwanted manager McLeish. He was dealt a further blow in March as captain Stiliyan Petrov was diagnosed with acute Leukaemia, leaving McLeish short of experienced players. His young side could not pick themselves up, and went the entirety of April without a victory. Villa played Bolton on April 24th knowing a victory would almost guarantee their safety, and a loss would see them embroiled in the relegation dogfight. Bolton won, and left Villa just two points above Wigan and QPR.
Villa picked up two more points in their final three league games, leaving them on 38 and a final league position of 16th. McLeish had struggled all season to win over the fans, and Villa’s disappointing season did nothing to help settle the storm. He was sacked following their dismal final league performance away to Norwich City, which many Villa fans feel was the highlight of an awful season.
Manager – Alex McLeish: Took charge of Aston Villa in the summer after leaving arch-rivals Birmingham City. Unwanted from the beginning, he did little to win over the Villa faithful as a combination of poor performances and lack of goals saw the side embroiled in a fight for survival. He won the fight but lost the war, as he was sacked following Villa’s disappointing final league game of the season, a 2-0 loss away to Norwich.
Player of the season – Stephen Ireland: Having suffered a tough first season under previous manager Gerrard Houllier, Ireland has rolled up his socks, pulled up his sleeves, and proven to the Villa fans that he is a top class player. His performances all season have been impressive, his creativity and drive in central midfield one of the few positives in what has been a poor season.
Turning point – Injury to Darren Bent: Villa were safe in mid table until their proven goal scorer Darren Bent damaged ankle ligaments in a 0-0 draw away to Wigan back in late February ruling him out for the rest of the campaign. Villa would go on to score just 8 more goals in the final 12 league games without him, achieving just one league victory in a run that would see them sink towards the relegation zone.
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