Last week, the Birmingham Mail ran a piece featuring the early reaction of Aston Villa players to Roy Keane’s appointment as Paul Lambert’s number two. Amongst the positively ebullient responses, Shay Given’s caught the eye.
It’s great to have him here; he’s a real leader, a character and a great assistant for the manager. He’s a manager himself in his own right – with the two of them at the helm, it’s great for the club.
“With the two of them at the helm.” Perhaps it was a slip of the tongue, but if Paul Lambert read the comment, it would surely have made him uncomfortable – any suggestion he’s not in total control is damaging.
The Scot hasn’t quite lived up to expectations at Villa Park. Narrowly avoiding relegation in the last two seasons has left him a bad run away from the sack. A quick survey of Villa fans on Twitter at the weekend suggested few would be overly sorry to see him go. Many feel that his newly installed assistant is really just his replacement in waiting.
Lambert claims that his friend was his pick and could argue that the arrival of the Irishman has given the players and the club a lift. However, if that is indeed the case, it still puts a question mark over Lambert’s position. After all, if he cannot inspire his players and is relying on his assistant to do it, then he’s on shaky ground indeed.
Keane will doubtless maintain that the Villa job and his Ireland position afford him critical opportunities to learn. But he’s no fool. The Villa job has not only given him a way back into the day-to-day work of a Premier League club, but it’s also put him in a very strong position to take charge should Lambert fall.
For now, and for as long as Villa pick up points, Lambert is safe. Four points from a possible six would certainly have been welcomed before a ball was kicked this season. Saturday’s draw at home to Newcastle may not have been inspiring, but there were positives, particularly in defence and midfield.
Two clean sheets in two games was testament to another excellent defensive display from their rather unfashionable back four – brilliantly led again by Ron Vlaar and ably assisted by the resurrected Alan Hutton and often unloved Aly Cissokho. The second half performance of Colombian World Cup star Carlos Sanchez as a defensive midfielder will also have pleased Lambert (and Keane) as will Fabian Delph’s energetic display.
However, Villa’s lack of creativity – highlighted whenever they are forced to make the running – remains a cause for concern. To date, Lambert hasn’t suggested it’s a problem he knows how to fix – and that inability to problem solve continues to undermine his position.
Pragmatic Villa fans will accept their side playing on the break away from home. But more anaemic performances like this in front of goal at Villa Park (the Villans failed to hit the target in Saturday’s 90 minutes) will increase the pressure on the Scot and make his assistant look an increasingly attractive alternative.