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Author Topic: Uncle Albert - Happy Times at Villa Park  (Read 2352 times)

Online dave.woodhall

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Uncle Albert - Happy Times at Villa Park
« on: December 20, 2020, 12:54:02 PM »
When Villa finally sank down to the second level after years of circling the drain, it was clear that there would have to be radical changes to the playing staff. Put simply, Villa hadn’t just been relegated, they had been humiliated, with a total of seventeen points,  half the total achieved by fellow plummetees, Norwich City. The recent arrival of a reputedly-rich new owner suggested that spending wouldn’t be a problem as new boss Roberto Di Matteo got ready to bring his own players in.

The problem was a scattershot approach to recruitment, where we seemed to be buying plenty of players who had experience of doing well in this division, but it was wondered how the new players might integrate in the hope that our stay at this level would be a brief one. In some cases, this meant recruiting two players where one might have done, while still seeming a bit short in other areas. Certainly, it’s far from harsh to suggest that Roberto’s transfer record in his brief time in B6 was the proverbial mixed bag. While James Chester and Jonathon Kodjia proved their worth several times over, there were others who cost a lot of money, but somehow seemed to find even getting into training a bit of a bind. Still, at least signing someone like James from a Premier League club gave the impression of having at least one eye on the future.

He wasn’t the only one. As the new season approached, it became apparent that Adama Traore, the prodigiously talented (and semi-permanently injured) young winger from Barcelona didn’t really fancy playing at this lower level, and wished to move on. Thus, we note the changing ethos of the game - when Villa were relegated to the Third Division in 1970, there weren’t any soft ‘career options’ available; the players were expected to roll their sleeves up and get us out of the mess they had helped to put us in. At least Adama’s departure to the glamour-fields of, er, Middlesbrough, meant that we would receive a fair old wedge of readies for our trouble. It would require a big leap of the imagination to think that the discussions that lead to this deal would not have also embraced Boro’s need to unload one of their current wide players, about to become surplus to requirements; one Albert Adomah.

Albert’s career review, when it comes to be written, is sure to describe him as well-travelled. He played for a few clubs - Barnet, Bristol City and Middlesbrough - but he was no fly-by-night; at this stage, he tended to settle for three-year spells wherever he played his games. He had helped Middlesbrough to promotion under the guidance of one Aitor Karanka, but it was probably felt that Adama was better suited to the survival battles ahead. Either way, both players secured their moves, with Villa pocketing about four million quid as part of the bargain. Albert’s favoured position meant that he would be competing with two Villa youth prospects, Jack Grealish and Andre Green. As a player who had cost the new boss a reasonable fee, it was always likely that he would start the season in pole position in this new side.

Arriving late on the scene, Albert hadn’t really had a chance to impress the new boss when, suddenly, he found himself with a another one. Roberto managed to secure the first Villa win in any game since February but, alas, that was his only taste of success in the manager’s chair. Steve Bruce was promptly installed and no doubt made the manager’s standard speech that all players would be given a chance to show what they could do. Under Bruce, form, commitment and durability all improved and a sequence of seven undefeated games began. As this run included the first away win for about fourteen months, and a run of three home wins, Villa fans were smiling again, if only to display blessed relief. Albert played a full part in this mini-recovery. While lacking top pace, his two-footed skills and tricks allowed him to get his crosses away and he even found himself in the right place to score the opener from Jordan Amavi’s pass against Cardiff City.

Eventually, the run evened out a bit, but the home wins kept coming and the league position kept improving, certainly enough to encourage the hope that a good transfer window might even see a play-off challenge in 2017. Could Villa make it back at the first attempt? Whether the owner and CEO agreed isn’t known, but Bruce always gave the impression that his remit was to save Villa from another relegation and prepare for next year. Either way, a disastrous first six weeks from January onwards had some of us looking nervously at the relegation spots. Just as suddenly, the team revived and seven wins out of eight, with only one goal conceded, tempted us to think of a top six placing once again. In another Villa mood swing, we then won just one of the last six matches to finish mid-table. In amongst all this, Albert had played a full part, for good or ill, with thirty starts in his new shirt. His only other goals came in a brace against Preston, a one-yard tap-in and a penalty-that-never-was; hardly a great return, even for a wide player.

Clearly, a big improvement was expected from the next August, as Bruce brought in more of his own men. The seemingly-traditional iron law of the Bruce Slow Start meant we were trying to catch up from August onwards. Injuries meant that Kodjia and Grealish were out for the opening months and would be missed. Scott Hogan continued to find goals hard to come by, as did the young Keinan Davis, though at least the latter offered other things in his game. Gabby tried to get fit one last time but was finding it a struggle. Villa needed a goal boost from midfield, especially after winning only one of the opening seven games and it looked like Conor Hourihane was the man, with a run of four goals in the opening month. The trip to Barnsley gave us another goal hero to cheer. The first was a bad fumble by the home ‘keeper, leaving Albert with a tap-in. The second, a well-taken penalty after Davis had earned the award. When this was followed by a beautifully-worked goal against Forest, where his dummy reduced the ‘keeper to an irrelevance, and, to be frank, a scuffed finish to a fine multi-man move at Burton, it looked like he was really in business.

The Forest game was the first time that it came to notice that Albert had, shall we say, a rather individual way of celebrating his goals. Perhaps he’d always done this, but, as the old joke goes, we hadn’t noticed much because he didn’t score that often! His little shimmies might not have impressed viewers of a certain Saturday night dance programme (and thank Christ for that!) but they were more than good enough for a set of fans who hadn’t seen a regularly winning team for many a year. How often have we seen an attacker down the Villa who scores a few then has a good rest on his laurels for a few months before the next one goes in? Not with our Albert. He was on the spot to slide home the winner against a good Fulham side and it was boots-off-and-dancing-shoes-on again! As if this wasn’t enough, Villa then experienced a mini-injury crisis which was especially severe on the strikers. With Keinan Davis not exactly prolific in this regard, it became more than important than ever that others stepped up, especially with boy-genius Jack Grealish some way off recovering from a ripped kidney. A penalty equaliser at QPR was followed by a perfectly-placed winner from Hourihane’s fine pass. He struck again in the win at home to struggling Sunderland, and surpassed that with another brace of well-taken goals at home to Ipswich.

Still, as Mr. Saunders was often at pains to point out, it is a team game, and Albert couldn’t keep on digging Villa out of a hole. A run of five games without a win in December once again brought criticism of the manager’s tactics to the front of the discussion pile. A narrow win at Boro calmed things down and was the start of a run that we hoped would carry us all the way through to automatic promotion. The New Year’s Day 5-0 win against promotion rivals Bristol City (themselves in the middle of a good, long run) really looked like a message as Villa dominated the game after a slow start. There were too many good performances to pick out anyone, but Albert’s two first-half crosses both led to goals at an important stage of the match. It was a nice touch when the City fans clapped him off when he was subbed near the end of the game. With Scott Hogan at last troubling the scoresheets, midfield strikes became less important, but goals against Burton and a crucial opener against Small Heath took us to seven wins on the bounce, with that last one certainly worth a reboot of the Albert Shuffle.

Albert was one of the victims of the ‘enthusiastic’ challenges that often mark games against our local rivals. He missed a few games but was soon back, notching a scrappy opener in a memorable hammering of Wolves. This victory meant a total of nine wins from the last twelve games. Beating the top side so convincingly meant that confidence must have been sky-high. Automatic promotion was back on the agenda - what could possibly go wrong? Then, at a crucial part of the season, we hit a run of one win in five games, all of them against teams who were either mid-table, or struggling at the bottom. Bruce’s unimaginative selection and use of the bench meant that players grew stale, while potential replacements were undercooked. It looked like some had played too many games -and Albert was one of them. While Villa found some form on the run-in, it was too late. Our promotion rivals had not made the mistake of hitting a rough patch at the wrong time of the season, when things can, apparently, “get a bit tickly”. Meanwhile, Albert’s goals had dried up, as indeed had those of the side as a whole, if one excepts a goal rush at Ipswich. This continued into the play-offs, where Villa lacked ambition and energy and went down to defeat.

With the events of that summer still fresh in the mind, many Villa fans went from the edge of despair to the beginnings of a new, genuine hope. For Albert, he resumed his place in the side and no doubt looked forward to the new season. That was until it transpired that Bruce, having brought in two wide players on loan, felt Adomah was surplus to requirements and tried to move him on to Middlesbrough (and Tony Pulis -aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!!) on the last day of the transfer window. It proved impossible to close the deal before the time limit, so Albert stayed, with possibly some resentful feelings towards his manager for putting him in this uncertain position. After Bruce’s struggles were ended, Albert had a third manager to impress, Dean Smith. With a clean slate, Albert made his contribution whether as a regular starter or coming off the bench. The goals of the previous year proved more elusive, so there were fewer celebrations to enjoy. In fact, it took until the draw at Stoke at the end of February for Albert to register, a precise finish after a good run and cross from Anwar ElGhazi. Further goals against Middlesbrough and Wednesday, both tap-ins, at the end of those games helped the magic ten-match run keep going. Albert seemed to enjoy the latter, parading in front of the Villa fans like an old man with a walking-stick. Whether this was a dig at the new Owls boss, along the lines of, “I’m not finished yet!” we’ll probably never know.

With Yannick Bolassie having ended his loan spell, Albert was in competition with Anwar and the fit-again Andre Green for a place out wide. To be honest, Anwar, for all his inconsistency, stood out from this trio, leaving the other two to fight for the other wide spot. If you can have a weak spot in a team that wins ten on the spin, this was probably it. Neither player was able to make a case for regular selection. When it came to the play-offs, Albert started, achieved little and was subbed for Andre just after the hour mark. In the second leg, the position was reversed, Green achieved all but nothing and was subbed by Albert. Typical of the pattern at this point, the sub used to do a little better that the original selection, but there wasn’t too much in it, to be fair. Albert’s contribution at the Yawnthorns was to put a few crosses in, go very close to an equaliser, Sam Johnstone making a good save, before blazing the ball two feet over the bar in the subsequent penalty shoot-out. Happily, the other takers all did the needful, and Jed Steer made himself a hero for the night, so all ended well.

The same issue raised itself as Wembley approached, probably the only one in what was now a settled side, used to winning. My own preference would have been to play Anwar down the right where his pace and skill might prove too much for the 38-year-old Andy Cole. Happily, Deano gets paid for doing this job and picked Albert on the right, with Andre on the bench. Albert did little enough on a memorable day, taking Conor’s long ball and rolling it back for Elmo’s perfect cross for the first goal. He was replaced for the last half-hour when Villa were more concerned with defending their lead than anything else.

When the smoke flare fumes and haze of alcohol had all cleared away, some more sober judgements were needed from the people upstairs. With so many players’ contracts running down, there were plenty of decisions to be made. That one of them was to release Albert Adomah came as little surprise. A player who had struggled towards the end of the season at the second level was unlikely to achieve much in the Prem. So, despite accomplishing his mission of getting Villa back at the top level within his three-year stay, he was on his way. For what it’s worth, his ‘rival’ Andre Green, was also surplus to requirements. Still, it didn’t take too long for Albert to get fixed up with a new club and he linked up with Forest. From there, he had a loan spell at Cardiff and today, you can see him playing for QPR, his grin when scoring wider than ever, as they are his boyhood favourite team. His part in helping to turn Villa from a laughing stock to a solid Premier Lague team wasn’t outstanding but won’t be forgotten, especially by those who think that football, for all its faults and brainless administrators, is a better game when played with a smile on its face.

Online Legion

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Re: Uncle Albert - Happy Times at Villa Park
« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2020, 03:24:39 PM »
Marvellous. I liked him.

Offline Pat McMahon

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Re: Uncle Albert - Happy Times at Villa Park
« Reply #2 on: December 20, 2020, 04:03:28 PM »
A fair summary of his time with us and I always thought you would get a fairly solid performance with him. He wasn’t the greatest winger around but he did have a good attitude and worked hard and was at our level in the championship. I wish him well.

I really wish he had been up against Andy Cole at Wembley though. It may have made for a less nervy final 10 (+7) minutes.....

Online Proposition Joe

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Re: Uncle Albert - Happy Times at Villa Park
« Reply #3 on: December 20, 2020, 09:57:09 PM »
Marvellous. I liked him.

So did I.  I will always have a soft spot for the players that played their part in turning our club around and getting us back into the Premier League, and Albert made a significant contribution.

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Re: Uncle Albert - Happy Times at Villa Park
« Reply #4 on: December 21, 2020, 02:05:00 AM »
Excellent article. I liked Albert as well, always gave his best and never complained. Was a very good and vital squad player in our push to get back to the top flight.

Online Deano's Mullet

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Re: Uncle Albert - Happy Times at Villa Park
« Reply #5 on: December 21, 2020, 05:09:00 AM »
I liked him. He was lethal in front of goal first
two thirds of 17-18 season. I think his brace
against Ipswich meant he’d scored as many as Small Heath had all season up to that point. A bit like Hutton, he will never be remembered as a great but he did the job asked if him and contributed to our promotion. Good luck to him.

Offline Abbeyfealeavfc

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Re: Uncle Albert - Happy Times at Villa Park
« Reply #6 on: December 21, 2020, 07:26:53 AM »
Albert helped bring the smile back to VP. After the misery of our relegation season aided by some of the most dislikeable players in Villa's history it was great to have the likes of Uncle Albert who entertained and helped make going to VP enjoyable again.

Offline darren woolley

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Re: Uncle Albert - Happy Times at Villa Park
« Reply #7 on: December 21, 2020, 05:09:23 PM »
I liked him loved his dance routine when he scored.

Offline supertom

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Re: Uncle Albert - Happy Times at Villa Park
« Reply #8 on: December 22, 2020, 12:38:35 PM »
Liked Uncle Albert. You always felt that was the top of his game and we'd have to wave goodbye come the Prem (the contract expiring made the decision easier, but no more inevitable). First season he got a lot of assists. He seemed to have a great connection with Kodjia. When JK struggled for fitness the following season (which effectively broke up that partnership) Albert then took up the goal scoring mantle impressively. He came right after a period of having a squad that was, bar a few exceptions, very difficult to like. So to have that kind of cult hero was nice. Likewise Kodjia (and again, there always felt an inevitability that he'd not make the step up to the Prem), Whelan, Jedi and Chester. Limited players but easy to like (Chessie was more unlucky with injury. He was Prem quality).

Offline curiousorange

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Re: Uncle Albert - Happy Times at Villa Park
« Reply #9 on: December 26, 2020, 11:36:38 AM »
One of those Villa players who it's impossible to think badly of.

 


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