Aston Villa FanZoner Peter Cameron is trying to work out how the club can turn their dismal season around.
Villa must pick up the pieces after semi-final humiliation
It's the hope that kills you. I can still remember the butterflies in my stomach when I heard we'd drawn Bradford in the semis with the second leg at Villa Park. It's the same feeling I had when Christian Benteke made it 1-0 on Tuesday. But the fact of the matter is, we didn't deserve to go through and the way things are going at the moment we don't deserve to be a Premier League team next year.
Spineless. The word that rings true about the way Aston Villa have been playing for the past two months is spineless. While the word points to the lack of fight, desire and drive in the young side, it also perfectly describes the personnel issues which have led us to this situation.
The old fable we all heard at school about the foolish man who built his house on the sand applies, but now we have an opportunity to rethink that strategy and move onto more solid foundations. January should be the time when our inexperienced squad is reinforced with some steel to run through the heart of the team. But with only a week to go we've had no arrivals and heard no serious links.
The absence of a solid skeleton with which to blend our young players is exactly the reason why, when things get difficult we have tended to fall apart this season. Heads drop and there is no one to take command of the game, communicate, organise and just bloody refuse to see losing as an option. At the moment we look like we're waiting for an excuse to capitulate every time we play a game.
And the basics that are wrong. Fundamentally wrong. You can't afford to concede goals every time you give away a set piece. The manager has to take a lot of the blame for that continuing problem as well as the tactically naive substitutions made in that semi final.
Throwing on forwards who then stand like statues on the edge of the penalty area hoping for a knock down is the tactic of a 14-year-old chasing the game on Football Manager. There was no shape, no movement and no ideas. That we scored was more through luck than design.
So where do we go from here? The factions between the fans are back and there is no real consensus as to whether we should be tweeeintg #lambertout or #lambertin. While it's difficult to argue that Lambert's plan is working (he clearly has tried too much too soon in terms of the overhaul of playing staff and alienated too many players), I don't actually think sacking him is the answer. The problems at the club are far more nuanced than that.
Firstly, if Lambert is sacked who do you get in? Which manager is capable of turning this around in such a short space of time and then working within the restricted parameters we've clearly now been set, and then be able to move us forward? Which manager with a better track record than Paul Lambert wants to join a club in the position we are in? Like it or not we're not an attractive option to a prospective manager right now.
Secondly, any new manager coming in would have to try and implement his ideas and set up on the existing players, which will obviously take time. If you hadn't noticed we're not exactly blessed with time, particularly as Southampton, QPR and Reading seem to have decided that they quite like Premier League football after all.
Paul Lambert is as good a man as any for a team that was basically going to be in the doldrums this year regardless of who was in charge. But I'll be even more disappointed than I am right now if we finish January and haven't brought in any new faces. To move us forward Lambert needs to be man enough to own up to the mistakes he has made, and work to rectify them. For me this means ensuring an experienced and strong defensive midfielder and a similarly strong and experienced centre back should be the bare minimum incoming.
The return of Ron Vlaar to the starting line-up for the last two games has provided a little more stability and hopefully we can count on his continued presence for the remainder of the season. But Vlaar can't and shouldn't be the only experienced player in the side if we're going to claw ourselves away from what's fast becoming an annual relegation battle.
The Darren Bent situation has been quite frankly a complete mess from start to finish. Lessons need to be learnt from that as well. Whether that means a dramatic climb down and Bent being restored to the starting line-up or just that the situation is used to inform how internal politics are handled in the future, it has to have some impact.
Similarly, whatever mistakes are being made on the training ground which means we've been unable to defend a dead ball for 18 months has to be looked at in great detail. If players don't know what they are supposed doing, do something else. If you can't even do the basics you don't give yourself a chance.
Aside from the manager, no one really knows what's going on in the head of our Chairman. And Randy Lerner needs to accept that saving a few quid here and there is going to mean nothing in the grand scheme of what's at stake were we to be relegated. It's not a case of just wildly throwing cash at it in the manner of QPR but providing some level of financial support is a must right now.
There is a school of thought in some quarters that relegation wouldn't be such a bad thing and that a year in the Championship could rejuvenate the team. Anyone who subscribes to this theory needs their head testing. Relegation would be disastrous.
The financial impact of going down to the Championship would have long lasting repercussions on the squad, as well as the club's infrastructure as a whole. And the assumption that by dropping a level we'll be back in the Premier League in 12 months time is misplaced at best and pigheadedly arrogant at worst.
It was a gamble to put so much faith in so much youth this season and so far we've only seen slight glimpses of any possible pay off. If we can rectify this by adding the right blend to the team this January and stave off relegation the policy might prove a good one in the coming years. If we fail to do that, there's every chance these players will be back to casting an envious eye at the Premier League again.