Villa hold on and N'Zogbia shines, whatever next? survival?
By Dan Wheeler
For virtually all of this season Aston Villa have been about as likely to hold onto a lead as a toddler walking a St.Bernard.
For virtually all of his Aston Villa career, Charles N’Zogbia’s performances have left you wondering whether the team would not be better off with the an ankle biter in the number 10 shirt rather than the Frenchman.
But thanks to a West Ham side, which makes Dennis Bergkamp seem Columbus-esque when it comes to travelling, Villa finally not only managed to close a game out but N’Zogbia reminded us all that he does know how to kick a ball after all.
His terrific free kick helped give Paul Lambert’s beleaguered team their first win since December 15 last year and gave renewed hope to the club’s supporters that relegation is not necessarily right up there (or rather down there) with death and taxes in the inevitability list.
Their win over the Hammers was quite an achievement, in spite of the East Londers’ desperate, low-wattage, performance. Villa’s defensive deficiencies have been laid uncomfortably bare this season, so much so, prior to Sunday they had thrown away 18 points from winning positions. If they had only been half as bad, they would be half way up the table and wondering what all the fuss was about.
Old habits often take a bit of killing though and it was no surprise that an own goal (how else would West Ham score away from home?) made the last few minutes bottom-squeakingly tense. Nevertheless the win will do wonders for the belief of Villa’s nascent back line. You can only hope messrs Lowton, Clarke and Baker in particular grow stronger, especially when you remember how many set pieces they coped with. Villa have been as vulnerable to a corner as Oprah is to a slice of cheesecake. Yet against the Hammers, 10 were repelled without damage. It bodes well. Well it bodes better, anyway.
But it is not just the defence that gives Villa fans cause for some overdue optimism. N’Zogbia may just about to be prove he is not going to pour his talent down the toilet. By any stretch of the imagination, the French midfielder has failed to justify both the hype and weight of the transfer fee when he signed from Wigan for £9.5m just over 18 months ago.
Sunday’s clincher was his first in the Premier League this season and only his fourth in 44 league appearances for Villa. While he is not famed for an incredibly strike rate overall in his career to date, the concomitant parts of his game, much more profound in his days at Wigan, have also been conspicuous by their absence. N’Zogbia will justifiably get praise for his goal but it is equally significant that he was the player who, through some welcome trickery, won the penalty that enabled Villa to take the lead.
He is clearly a player who likes to be loved and needs to feel loved. He was the last Newcastle player to be signed by Sir Bobby Robson who was sure N’Zogbia had the ability to get to the very top of the game “with the right coaching and motivation.”
That motivation seemed to disappear once Robson and then Sam Allardyce left the club. Joe Kinnear’s joking reference to N’Zogbia as “Insomnia” went down like a horse burger at a Tesco Christmas party with the player, who promptly went on strike.
His relationship with Alex McLeish in his early day at Villa was punctuated by twitter rants and disciplinary issues. McLeish never got the best out of him. It is now up to Lambert to have a go. Judging by Sunday’s performance both by N’Zogbia and his colleagues at the back it might just be coming in time.