Houllier’s patient evolution at Villa is running out of time

The sacking of Chris Hughton on Monday was evidence if it were ever needed of the fact that Premier League managers are afforded less time to stamp their mark on a club than Jeremy Paxman gives contestants on University Challenge. “Hurry up.”

Having guided Newcastle back into the big time and steered them clear of an early season relegation dogfight to a respectable 12th place, helped by an emphatic derby win and a thumping of Villa, his position was seemingly comfortable in the eyes of a neutral, but inwardly not.

Another man attempting to stamp his authority on a club is Villa manager Gerard Houllier, but he has struggled so far, as fans have seen the club morph from consistent sixth place finishers under Martin O’Neill, into consistently poor and seemingly gutless performers.

The old adage says that it’ll get worse before it gets better, but how much worse can it really get? And how long will Villa go unpunished for their far below par displays before being drawn into the relegation dog fight?

Injuries have certainly been unkind to Houllier, as his first choice midfield has been decimated, but thanks to an emerging crop of youngsters, Villa have been able to temporarily fill this void.

This might optimistically be termed as green shoots in economic circles, but Houllier’s influence on his relatively new team has yet to reveal itself, as Villa have almost in a disinterested manner slumped to four consecutive defeats.

Monday night’s abject, disappointing and ultimately embarrassing performance against Liverpool shone an unwanted spotlight on Villa’s decline. In fact the display would have made a bunch of amateurs blush at the lack of organisation, attacking intent and general desire to gain anything other than an overnight stay in Liverpool.

The result leaves villa two points above the drop zone and questions Houllier’s influence in a short space of time.

Admittedly it’s certainly a difficult task to take the helm and steer a club to success in a matter of months, but for the team to abandon the defensive steel shown under O’Neill and the attacking fluid movement that Kevin Macdonald brought during his tenure is baffling.

With the relegation zone whispering his name in his ear, Houllier now has to face up to the dreaded time that unfortunately swallowed up Hughton this week, but his enemy is the drop, not a trigger-happy fat cat.

Thankfully for the Frenchman he doesn’t have a buffoon with an over inflated sense of expectation as his superior, but with games against Spurs, City and Chelsea to come before January 2nd, Villa’s next two games against West Brom and Wigan have taken on an extra significance, as they aim to avoid letting their season descend into a relegation battle.

Understandably in his first season, he will be looking to mould the team in his own inimitable style and that will take time, but usually there is evidence that work is being taken place.

At present Villa look like an unloved project that has received little or no attention. Abject defeats against Blackburn and city rivals Birmingham have darkened the optimism of fans, who have seen little to give them cheer.

Houllier should certainly be given time to develop Villa, but if the next five fixtures go against his side the relegation zone will be more than whispering in his ear, his reputation amongst fans will be tarnished and his side could find themselves in a relegation battle come the new year.

What was intended to be a season of consolidation is in danger of turning into a relegation dogfight, leaving Houllier with a limited period to install his style, before the whispered threat at his shoulder becomes a reality.

Tick tock.

Tags: Aston Villa, Premier League

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