With the club currently experiencing arguably one of its worst ever, sitting 9 points adrift at the bottom of the Premier League and 15 adrift of safety it will come as little surprise that Aston Villa have decided to cancel their end of season player awards. The dismal performances of the majority of the players have left many fans angry at both them and the members of the club’s hierarchy who brought them in the first place. The atmosphere at Villa Park has become toxic leaving the Villa players feeling as if they no longer play any home games. In this current situation, the club perhaps rightly saw that it would be inappropriate to award any of the players for their performances this season. We will now take a look at whether things have really been that bad, surely there are at least a few players who could lay claim to the player of the season award if it were still going ahead?
The front-runner would have to be Jordan Ayew. Both he and his brother Andre arrived in the Premier League this season and immediately hit the ground running. The club paid around £8million to French club Lorient for the forward’s services. Ayew appears to have breathed at least a little life into Villa’s doomed cause, scoring 6 goals in the Premier League and throughout the season he has been Aston Villa’s biggest threat to the opposition in matches. He was particularly effective early in the season with 5 of his goals coming in the period between October 24th to Boxing Day. His goals came against Swansea, Tottenham, Watford, Newcastle and West Ham respectively. A sign of the lack of support he received was that despite all his goals Villa only took 2 points from these games, 1-1 draws against Newcastle and West Ham.
It was the Newcastle game in which Ayew was particularly impressive. In what was billed as a relegation six-pointer on only the 19th December the two sides played out a cagey affair in almost monsoon conditions in the north east. That was until Fabrizio Coloccini popped up unmarked from a corner to give the hosts the lead. With Villa now chasing the game Ayew came into his own and began to control the game, on the hour mark he cut inside on the edge of the penalty area and thundered a shot into the top left-hand corner past the helpless Rob Elliott to score what will be considered one of the goals of the season. Aston Villa were able to hold onto the point, a real achievement considering the amount of chances Newcastle created but failed to take. Defeat would have made it almost impossible for the loser to stay up even that early in the season because of Ayew’s contribution Villa lived to fight another day.
Another summer signing, the 21-year-old left back arrived for £9million from Nice and brought with him a strong reputation for his electric pace that had already seen him earn six caps for the France under-21’s. Adjusting to the Premier League is difficult for a player at any age and, with Amavi being only 21 and still learning so much about his own game and the game in general, the initial few games were tough for him. His positioning and decision making about whether to clear the ball or bring it out of defense got him into trouble a few times early on in the season but he appeared to quickly learn from these mistakes. After a surprisingly small amount of games he had appeared to learn from his mistakes defensively and at the same time learnt to impose himself more on the opposition in an offensive manner. He soon began to create problems for oppositions with his pace and ability to cross the ball.
A highlight of Amavi’s came in the League Cup fourth round tie away at Southampton in October. All night he coped well with his defensive duties and gave the make-shift right back Maya Yoshida problems with his pace. He repeatedly beat his man and was then able to produce quality crosses into the box which invited his strikers to score. Unfortunately, poor finishing from Gaby Agbonlahor in particular cost Amavi a much deserved assist and meant that his performance in the game largely went unappreciated. For the Aston Villa management though his performance cemented his place beyond any doubt as a first team regular but cruelly just as the Villa faithful were getting excited about him his season was over. In November, his season was ended after he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament playing for France under-21’s. Despite missing so much of the season Amavi still gets a mention as he is one of the only Villa players who has left only a positive impression on the fans this season.
The third candidate and the summer signing. The club picked him up from Blackburn Rovers for £6million after he impressed in the Championship, scoring 20 goals in 39 games. The Benin international drew particular acclaim for being one of the best headers of the ball in the whole country, in the last two seasons he has scored more headed goals than anyone else in England’s top four divisions (19). Villa fans didn’t have to wait long to see this aerial prowess as on the opening day he scored with a header against Bournemouth to get the club off to the best possible start and at that moment the season of horror that unfolded looked a million miles away. Gestede hasn’t gone on to be a prolific Premier League striker as he only has 5 league goals to his name in 24 appearances but his tally is the joint best at the club, once you add the League Cup goal he has scored his tally is six goals bringing him level with Jordan Ayew and Scott Sinclair.
It could be said that Aston Villa’s tactics are not helping Gestede to flourish. One example that stands out occurred in Villa’s 4-0 humiliation at home to Chelsea in April. In that game, Gestede was playing upfront on his own with Jordan Ayew offering support on the wing. All day Gestede’s superb ability in the air was too much to Chelsea defenders Branislav Ivanovic and Matt Miazga. Time and time again Villa would pump the ball forward to Gestede and he would win the aerial duel and head to ball down into empty space, if Villa had have been brave enough to play Gestede alongside a partner perhaps things could have been different as they would have had a constant stream of knock-ons to feed off. Gestede’s willingness and desire to persevere when not being used in the best tactical way is good enough for consideration to be the club’s player of the season.
Even compiling this short list was difficult as Villa’s season has been such a train wreck, no member of the squad has put in consistently high levels of performance week in week out. Out of the three my vote would go to Jordan Ayew for the way at times he has taken games by the scruff of the neck and won Villa points their overall performance may not have necessarily deserved. However, his performances alone are nowhere near enough to save his side and I agree with the club’s decision to cancel the awards. This season is nothing to celebrate and honouring any players in the face of such under-achievement just feels wrong.