Stan Collymore tweeted last night that it is the “right time for Paul Lambert to move on”. If many Aston Villa fans were asked the same question, 99 out of 100 would surely disagree.
Although Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a heavy odds-on favourite to be named as the successor to Alex McLeish, Lambert was arguably the most popular choice after steering a Norwich side largely short of top-flight experience to comfortable Premier League survival.
Kyle Naughton was on loan at Norwich from Tottenham at the time and he is the only member of that squad which avoided the drop by 11 points to continue to ply his trade in the Premier League.
It was Norwich’s attacking football that turned the most heads, as their tally of 52 goals was only bettered by the top-six that season.
Here is the starting line-up of the Lambert-led Canaries that beat Villa 2-0 on the final day of the 2011/12 season.
Randy Lerner acted and brought Lambert to Villa Park in the summer of 2012 and money was made available to bring in the likes of Christian Benteke and Ron Vlaar.
However, Lambert also stuck to his principles and raided the lower leagues for underrated talent, with Ashley Westwood coming from Crewe, Matt Lowton from Sheffield United and Jordan Bowery from Chesterfield.
The first season was a struggle and Villa spent over half of it in the bottom four. Benteke’s goals eventually secured their survival despite the club having the third worst defensive record in the league.
But with Villa now working under far tighter restraints and still trying to balance the books after the overspending of the Martin O’Neill tenure, the finish was regarded by many as acceptable.
Lambert’s second season garnered no real improvement, as although they were never worse than 16th in the league standings, Villa achieved three fewer points than the campaign previous.
A lack of interest and aspiration from Lerner to do little more than remain in the Premier League hardly supported Lambert, but a heavy focus on counter attack rather than crowd-pleasing football led many to conclude the manager’s time was up.
Yet much to pretty much everyone’s surprise, Lambert was given a new contract until 2018 after winning three of his first four matches of this season. Since Villa have won two of their 21 Premier League matches and scored just eight goals.
This is how Villa’s team scoring run in this period compares to some players since September 17th.
There certainly appears something of a curse at Villa Park, reminiscent to the film Thunderstruck starring NBA hero Kevin Durant.
In the film, all of Durant’s ability accidentally transfers to a teenager when both touch a ball at the same time.
Those at Villa also seem to be losing a large chunk of their talent when holding the pen to sign a new contract at the club, with Lambert not the first to suffer this fate.
Lowton missed only one game in his debut Villa season and was rewarded with a new contract. He has only started 22 league matches since in the past campaign and a half.
Winger Leandro Bacuna was initially preferred, while formerly out of favour Alan Hutton is now clear first choice at right-back.
Westwood hasn’t seen his game time diminish in central midfield, but his impact is certainly minimal. No goals and a lone assist from a free-kick is not enough from 18 Premier League starts this season.
In his first year before his new contract, Westwood contributed seven assists.
Then we get to Benteke. He may have had injury problems in the past 18 months, but his effort is almost non-existent at present and the Belgian is a shadow of the player that lit up Villa Park when first signing from Genk.
It has been the mentality of the midlands club in recent years to offer fairly low-value contracts to players with the promise of a healthy pay rise if their performances warrant it. Benteke signed for only £20,000 per week and now earns at least double this.
Is it that the players feel it is job done once they have their pay hiked?
The current Villa squad is the best the club have had for some time, with Benteke, Vlaar, goalkeeper Brad Guzan and Fabian Delph among those certainly capable of holding down places in top-six sides.
Fellow relegation candidates Burnley, Leicester, Sunderland and Hull could not say the same among their ranks.
What is needed is a manager to galvanise the squad to play to their potential. Scoring at least a goal at a better rate of one every other match would obviously help too. So who should replace Lambert?
The fact that a club statement suggests that Scott and Andy Marshall will “continue to prepare” the squad for Villa’s next match in the FA Cup with Leicester, rather than take charge, suggests that a new manager is not far from being appointed.
Tim Sherwood is the 1/2 favourite and has been seen at Villa Park in recent weeks. Whether this is the time for Villa to take a risk with a manager is up for debate.
Glenn Hoddle comes next at 9/4 and he would look an interesting appointment on an interim basis. Should Hoddle arrive and keep Villa up, they would become a more attractive proposition for another manager in the summer.
If Villa don’t fancy a rookie or an interim boss, an older hand with knowledge of the division is the other option, even if this is an uninspiring short-term view.
Harry Redknapp fits this criteria and is 12/1 to be the next Villa boss.
With the new Premier League TV deal announced, the Guardian’s David Conn made this observation.
£5.136bn (subscribers’ £) for Premier League TV rights: This is why “owners,” particularly the US “investors,” have bought top English clubs
— David Conn (@david_conn) February 10, 2015
Without this, Lerner would have probably stuck with Lambert to save money. It has reportedly cost the club £10m in compensation to pay him off.
But, with such high amounts at stake, Lerner has had to reassess. He has made one good decision for the future of the club, he will now need to make another in quick succession.