With a trip to point-less Southampton, Aston Villa fans may well be expecting nothing but a win. Matt Turvey tells fans to take it one step at a time despite increasingly better performances under the club’s new manager.
However, despite Southampton’s poor points tally to date - they are the only team in the league yet to register a single point - Nigel Adkins’ side will be far from a walkover.
Now, before fans suggest I am being on a downer after a positive few games - the last game against Swansea City in particular - some sense of context needs to be established. Whilst I will say that Villa should be capable of taking all three points, the most dangerous mentality - that of expectation - should be restrained.
It may sound counter-intuitive as though I am recommending a return to the Alex McLeish “Let’s not try to lose” mentality, but the opposite is true. As I have stated multiple times in my articles expectation, or rather the belief that merely turning up is sufficient, is one of the biggest potential pitfalls for the team and the fans.
Think about what expectation means in your own head. If you had a child who expected the latest gadget whenever it came out, aren’t they on a course for disappointment if you can’t afford it one of those times? The same is true about football games in a sense - turning up expecting a result has left many a team with the proverbial egg on their face.
However Paul Lambert, a tough disciplinarian with an ever increasing record of getting the most of player, will not be cultivating a view that simply being the bigger team means getting three points. For Lambert, there will be no “expectation”, merely a desire to work hard and win, whoever the team are playing.
Fans must adopt the same attitude too. Nobody is saying don’t support the team - quite the reverse - rather that we need to have learned the lessons of the past two seasons. If we, as fans, don’t learn those lessons, then we’re doomed to repeat the same issues - as one famous quote states “Those who do not learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
Villa’s escapes from relegation, a position few fans will have been happy with, came from a variety of issues. If recent history has told us anything, it is not to get our collective hopes up too much. Sure, the Swansea game was fantastic in terms of support - long may that continue - but Lambert has said when he started that there will be ups and downs in our campaigns, and that whilst he won’t be happy with losses, they are sometimes unavoidable.
So, as we head down to the south coast at the weekend, bring your singing voices. Remember that, no matter if the rivals are Southampton or Manchester City, the aim should be the same - to do our best, and to try to win the game. After a campaign last year where the aim felt more like “not losing” than “winning”, our ethos now should feel like a breath of fresh air.
Fan support is critical - the manager has stated this multiple times in his short time at the club - and that vocal support shouldn’t come only after we are have taken a lead. As Swansea fans sang an almost predictable “You only sing when you’re winning” chant to the home support last week, it’s certainly a regular issue with our club that many fans don’t seem to support the team until they are already on the way.
I know there’s a logic to it in the eyes of some, just as other fans may well lambast me for suggesting we support the team no matter what. Some fans expect entertainment before they give their vocal support - these are often the same people who, perhaps fairly, say “I’ve paid to see good football, so I will only show my support when I see good football” - but the truly great teams sing for the badge, for the shirt, and for the simple pride that we love the club.
Fans, by definition, are not logical in their support - who is ever logical when you are in love with another being, whether it is a person or a football club? - so we need to show our club what we think. Over the past two years, it has been gloomy and miserable, an era that has sapped many of our collective energies as we’ve watched the club regress rather than progress.
Now, in the face of a visible plan, we must strive to push forward whilst also remaining grounded. That may sound contradictory but, just as I wasn’t metaphorically slashing my wrists last season despite the poor quality football, so I don’t think we should be off on another planet just because we beat Swansea.
Progress is coming, and has already started under Lambert, and the future looks bright. For fans to help those early shoots of recovery to flourish, the team needs nurturing - slowly, surely, and effectively.
If that mentality can be cultivated and kept, the club stands more of a chance than if fans leave expectations undulating like a sine wave from ecstasy to misery and back again.
Ladies and gentlemen - your club needs you. Now is the time to be the 12th man that the Holte End so proudly proclaims it is. Our future is a collective one - make sure we continue to pull in the same direction as the players, and with the same ambition but coupled with restraint.
If we manage that, Southampton away should yield us three points, but just make sure we don’t get cocky as to just expect the win, rather that we go there to battle for it. The hard work continues this weekend.
You can follow Matt Turvey’s regular opinions at his own site, Aston Villa Life at www.astonvillalife.com, via the site’s Twitter account @astonvillalife, or via his own Twitter account @MatthewSTurvey.