Following this morning’s chat about Arsenal’s season, we’re now taking a look at Aston Villa’s, with Damian Dugdale from The Villa Blog. With Villa replacing Gerard Houllier with Alex McLeish, who has relegated hated rivals Birmingham twice, there’s maybe not an awful lot to be happy about if you’re a Villa fan at the moment. However, some good deals in the transfer market and a strong enough league position from last season might allow for some optimism.

Scott the Red: Were you happy with your team’s performance last season?

Damian Dugdale: We had three managers last season (counting caretakers), four if you count O’Neill managing pre-season, so to finish ninth wasn’t as bad as it could have been, so overall, the performance wasn’t bad – after all, the table doesn’t lie.

STR: There were times when Villa looked as though they were going to have to fight the relegation battle. Who were your most important players in carrying you through?

DD: The most important player for us last season was Darren Bent. Without his goals we could have struggled and he didn’t just tap them in – he was superb for us since the day he signed.

STR: He was a great signing. How has Villa done in the transfer market this summer?

DD: Two in so far; Shay Given and Charles N’Zogbia. I don’t think anyone can complain with Given and I think some were surprised he wasn’t starting for Manchester City, although maybe not that many and mostly their Irish support, but he is a fantastic keeper. As for N’Zogbia – I want to see more of him before passing judgement, but all things point to someone that can keep hold of the ball and create chances and with someone like Darren Bent on the receiving end, he doesn’t need to create as many as he would with say Gabby Agbonlahor up front, who needs two or three times as many. Darren Bent could make me look a very good winger.

STR: You’ve lost quite a few big players over the last few seasons. Which player were you more upset to see go?

DD: I’ve got to say Downing. You’ll soon see that while Young and Milner will work and work, when you compare to the likes of players they are going to be playing with, they are not at the level you want at the level the likes of you are playing. Downing on the other hand did have a bit of composure about him and Liverpool is about his level right now. I couldn’t see him playing Champions League football unless he helped take the club there.

STR: With the new players coming in, as well as those who have left, what are your aspirations for this season?

DD: I’d like to see the manager create a stable side, not frightened to go for it. If he can create that stability, we don’t sign any new players (I’m all for him having to prove himself first), then add a player next season (and replace any that leave) – and he can do the same or move forward, I’ll be very happy. I don’t think you can just look at seasons any more and not for a club like us. We need to be looking three to five seasons because if we look to one, we are only going to fail. Horrible way to think of your football club, but it is the real world – ruined by the blue shite in London first and the blue shite in Manchester.

STR: Where do you think you will finish this season?

DD: Head says 9th, heart says 7th. No middle ground with me, so I’m going with ninth. But anything can happen in football so I’m not placing any bets.

STR: It’s even more predictable with a new manager. Was Houllier a mistake?

DD: No. He just never got the time. You cant give the job to someone who has won as much as he has and say it was a mistake after only a few months, no pre-season or summer transfer window. He just had one to
many kebabs.

STR: How do you rate McLeish’s ability to take the club forward?

DD: Honestly, not very high. He relegated the blue shite of Birmingham twice. For me, I hear alarm bells every time I’m asked this question, but I’m going deaf and living in hope. Call me an unrealistic optimist, but I’ll give him a chance, I’m just not sure many others will if we lose three in a row, unless those three are Manchester United, blue shite from London and Arsenal.

STR: Which two current United players would you most want at your club? Why?

DD: I’m not going to pick the obvious, so I’ll say Smalling and Vidic. Two very very good central defenders and I fancy Smalling is only going to get better. He likes a beer two which isn’t a bad thing.

STR: Finally, who will finish in the top 4? Who will go down?

DD: Top four will be the same as last year. Red scouse have lost the plot and I cant see them getting back in this season and after all the money they’ve spent this summer it will be the King is dead, long live the King next season.

STR: Anything else you want to tell us?

DD: Did I go over the top with the blue shite references? No. Okay, good. Have a good season. You probably will.

STR: Cheers mate, you too.

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