FA Cup – Fourth round
Capital One Cup – Semi-finals
Retaining their Premier League status after such a tough and testing season for Aston Villa was an terrific achievement. There were many times throughout the campaign where both players and manager were called into question, especially between December and January, but there was no lack of effort in the absence of the experienced duo Richard Dunne and Stiliyan Petrov. It was this determination which eventually led them to safety.
After a summer full of transition and an injection of youth, the beginning of the 2012-13 season came and, at a very early stage, it was clear that Aston Villa were set to struggle against relegation. Manager Paul Lambert, in his first season in charge, immediately put faith in his youngsters, most of which were taken from lower divisions. This did not bring instant rewards as only one point was taken from the first three league matches.
More experienced names such as Shay Given and Darren Bent were soon reduced to squad players, with rather unheralded or unknown ones replacing them in Brad Guzan and late summer signing Christian Benteke. The latter quickly made an impact in English football, and it was his 19 goals which ultimately secured top flight status for Villa for next season.
Much of the season up to the turn of the year was spent flirting with the relegation positions, with the largely inexperienced team struggling for goals. The highlight up to mid-December was the run to the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup, where they often found the net. Then came a superb 3-1 victory away to Liverpool, where Benteke and Andreas Weimann seemed unplayable. It looked as though Villa had turned the corner.
That assumption was emphatically proved wrong over the festive period, where Lambert’s side were subjected to three defeats in which they conceded 15 goals without reply against Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Wigan Athletic. After the dismal run, the team was written off by many after looking horribly disorganised at the back, and being totally outplayed in each fixture.
There was further embarrassment to come in the Capital One Cup, where Villa were beaten by League Two side Bradford City over two legs in the semi-final, and then in the FA Cup to Millwall. There were tough questions for Lambert to answer, with the team looking increasingly likely to go down, especially after home losses to relegation rivals Southampton and Newcastle.
But it was the final months of the campaign which were to save Villa, with some impressive displays and positive results against some of the teams around them. Victories over Reading, Queens Park Rangers, Stoke, Sunderland and Norwich were crucial, despite the knack of conceding goals persisting until the end.
Much of the second half of the season was spent vying with Wigan to avoid the final relegation spot, and their meeting on the final day was seen to be a possible relegation decider. But that game was rendered academic due to Villa’s greater consistency towards the end, and the improved form of many players including Gabriel Agbonlahor, along with Benteke’s excellent contribution.
Manager – Paul Lambert: Succeeding the unpopular Alex McLeish during the summer, Paul Lambert arrived from Norwich and employed the same transfer policy as he did at Carrow Road, mainly bringing in up-and-coming players from the Football League. He kept faith in them despite much adversity, a decision which was vindicated by Premier League survival.
Player of the Season – Christian Benteke: Signed from Genk in the summer, Benteke was the obvious choice for Villa’s top player. His performances and 19 league goals were the main reasons behind the club staying up as he offered the physical presence and the finishing qualities that Villa were lacking when Paul Lambert arrived. Keeping hold of him is imperative.
Turning point – The 6-1 win over Sunderland: Despite a decent run in the previous month, Villa were still a couple of wins from safety. Then came a magnificent win over Sunderland – a complete team performance destroying Paulo Di Canio’s side. They carried the momentum from this into the next game at Norwich, and it was the win there which effectively ensured survival.
Any other business: Some of the more familiar names at Aston Villa were restricted to sporadic appearances as Paul Lambert increasingly put his faith in youth. This meant the likes of Marc Albrighton, Darren Bent, Shay Given, Stephen Ireland and Charles N’Zogbia were often on the substitutes bench or left out the squad altogether. This looks set to continue.
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