Martin O’Neill: A game of two halves

I'm having a crisis of faith at the moment. I've been an O'Neill fan for a long time and in all honesty, I don't want that to change. But things are changing; more and more fans seem to be abandoning faith in our manager, and it seems to be contagious.

I don't want to fall into that group, though it can be tempting with the brand of football Villa play under him. But there are a lot of positive things to be said about O'Neill. His sound approach to the game has stabilised our club and more, he's brought some players the calibre of which we haven't had in a long time, and his motivational skills are second to none.


But there lies a negative tendency, which at this time of year in particular becomes quite apparent: his stubbornness.

Is it pure coincidence Villa have such a poor record in March under O'Neill? Towards the end of the 2008/09 season we took an absolute battering at one of the "big four" teams, at a time when our first team was exhausted and a fairly well rested John Carew was our only player capable of scoring. Sound familiar?

But there's another problem. The problem is that Martin O'Neill is a good manager. You can try and deny it all you want, but when you strip away the bias of being a Villa fan during this time of the year, you have to accept it. This is a man that:

  • Guided Wycombe Wanderers to two promotions and two FA Trophies
  • Took Leicester City to the Premiership and won two League Cups
  • Won three league titles and four domestic cups with Celtic

You cannot deny his managerial credentials. He knows what he's doing and has enjoyed much success doing it. This brings be back to my earlier criticism of O'Neill: his stubbornness.

Let's take a look at some stats. I've compared the last three seasons (the first ignored as it was essentially an inherited squad for the most part) including what's happened so far this season. What I've done is taken the results from August up to the end of January, which is where the trend roughly begins. I've also included some noteworthy stats which show how many players were used that season, both from the start and also as substitutes. Note that this only reflects league games.

2007/08 Season

August to January

Games Won: 11
Games Drawn: 8
Games Lost: 5
Points: 41
Points per Game: 1.71

February to May

Games Won: 4
Games Drawn: 4
Games Lost: 6
Points: 16
Points per Game: 1.14

Player Stats

Players Started: 18
Total Players Used: 22

Noteworthy Stats

  • The 18 starters include 5 who started 9 games or fewer
  • The 18 starters include 9 who started 32 games or more
  • This season included a run of 4 wins in 16 games between 21/01/08 and the end of the season

2008/09 Season

August to January

Games Won: 14
Games Drawn: 6
Games Lost: 4
Points: 48
Points per Game: 2.00

February to May

Games Won: 3
Games Drawn: 5
Games Lost: 6
Points: 14
Points per Game: 1.00

Player Stats

Players Started: 17
Total Players Used: 21

Noteworthy Stats

  • The 17 starters include 8 who started 31 games or more
  • The 4 players used only as substitutes appeared in 6 or fewer games
  • This season included a run of 2 wins in 13 games between 21/02/09 and the end of the season

2009/10 Season (to date)

August to January

Games Won: 11
Games Drawn: 7
Games Lost: 5
Points: 40
Points per Game: 1.74

February to May

Games Won: 2
Games Drawn: 5
Games Lost: 1
Points: 11
Points per Game: 1.38

Player Stats

Players Started: 20
Total Players Used: 23

Noteworthy Stats

  • The 20 starters include 6 who have started 6 games or fewer
  • The 20 starters include 7 who have started 28 games or more (out of 31 so far)
  • The 3 players used only as substitutes have appeared in 5 or fewer games
  • This season includes a run of 3 wins in 13 games between 27/12/09 to now

Conclusion

What can we tell from these numbers? What we know already, but this almost constitutes proof. Villa under O’Neill are very impressive during the first part of the season. However, the squad is not being utilised.

Too many players are starting too many games, and substitutes are not being used nearly as often as they should be. We can also see that at some point during the season, O'Neill's Villa side are pretty much guaranteed to go on a long run with few wins to show. This always occurs later than in the season.

Coincidence? Look at the numbers again though, look at the worrying statistic for this season - whereas in previous years, our annual "bad run" has started in late January or February, this season we've started one in December. Even more worryingly, this trend is appearing year on year and nothing is getting done about it.

To quote Tubes from Soccer AM: You're a great bloke Martin and I love you, but what I want to know is; why aren't you learning from your mistakes?

Mike goes by the user name vivavilla on the site and is a regular contributor when he isn't looking through player statistics and win percentages.