Season prediction: Aston Villa to move up a gear

Martin O'Neill, it turns out, is not a complicated man. We hear stories of his dogged determination and we are all fully aware of his unwillingness to try new things but for all the hype and bluster, as it stands today, are any of us really surprised by our lack of activity in the transfer market?

I don't think we have been let down by Martin O'Neill though. It is very much Randy Lerner that is responsible for supplying the funds so the manager can strengthen the squad and it is very much the quality of that squad that will determine where we finish in the table, which is very much what this post is about. I must also warn you now, I fear this post could go in several directions and might even be one of my longest.

I'm not going to worry about money spent or new players just yet though, mostly because I hope it will change and I really hope to be saying on September 1st that Randy Lerner did well, or at the very least, good enough.

I believe that will happen because when it comes to Aston Villa and that moment of opportunity, I honestly do believe that the best things will happen, because deep down I am hugely optimistic and I actually think that optimism is what keeps me supporting Aston Villa and not just watching football. Take away that optimism and I don't know what will happen.

Lerner knows this too, not about me but about football fans in general. He and when I say he, I mean his people that he is responsible for, made promises and created this 'Lerner is our saviour and we will conquer all' feeling that unfortunately, if he doesn't deliver on, is only going to create much quicker resentment towards him.

Lerner, knowing this, knows what he has to do and if we were any other club who hadn't just had Doug Ellis, he'd get away with appeasing us fans for much longer, but we know all the signs and all the tricks so he only has one option. Some might even say that the signs are there in black and white, we just don't want to believe them yet.

So, I have hope that he will do it, that he'll make serious funds available to the manager but even if he doesn't, O'Neill will get my support this season, but I fear this is going to be a very important season for O'Neill where he has to demonstrate that on a budget, he can do a job. I also fear that if Lerner doesn't provide the necessary funds and O'Neill suffers as a result, some supporters might turn on O'Neill this season.

The Positives

However, we've got some things to be positive about. Fabian Delph, some say, really could be capable of walking into our starting eleven. If that is true and he makes the step up, we could have a real gem here and with these gems, anything is possible.

Marc Albrighton, for me anyway, deserves to play the first ten games of the season to show us what he really is capable of. I know this would be at the expense of Milner, but he had a busy summer and if it didn't work out for Albrighton straight away, the rest will only help Milner, but if it does work out for Albrighton, then what have we lost?

You don't win anything with kids though, as Alan Hansen once said, but I don't think of them as kids any more and well, Hansen was proven wrong. These players are now young men and they've spent a long time preparing for this next step and there is a very fine line that Martin O'Neill has to guide them across.

Some will need time while others will need the exposure, it's a difficult call for a manager and a very important one, as every player is going to be different and it really does come down to how good a manager Martin O'Neill is at knowing which player is ready and which one isn't. I think this season we will see how good a manager Martin O'Neill is because on the face of it, we might be down on player numbers, but I think the manager has more choices and ultimately harder decisions to make.

The Realities

So, does it really come down to needing more money from Lerner? I think it ultimately does, if we want to secure top four football, but half of me also thinks that if some of these players demonstrate the ability we all know they are capable of, in the Premier League, then what is to say that top four isn't already available?

It's a tough call and while I'm not going to predict fourth spot just on the back of these younger players, I'd love to be wrong and see no more players come in and the younger kids do the business, but I'm not going to be as foolish as Alan Hansen and say it isn't possible. I'd love it to be possible and there is a certain romantic notion of it happening which does foster hope and belief. I just think something else is needed also.

It comes down to money for me because that is the game. We can either play the game a certain way, which we know works, or we can try and do it differently. Doing it differently means it is going to be much more difficult, carry lots more risk and needs quite a few things to actually go our way, not least, we stay relatively free of injuries and we have a bit of luck.

It comes down to three more players for me and I'd like those players to be the spine of the team; a central defender, an attacking central midfielder and an attacking player who is used to scoring lots of goals. It also comes down to a change in formation, but as I said in my opining paragraph, Martin O'Neill is not complicated, I can see us playing 4-4-2 and I don't think that is the right way to go about it, not unless something really special happens.

But and I'm talking myself round now, it could turn out that Cueller and Davies click, that Petrov and either Sidwell, Reo-Coker, Gardner, Delph or Downing when fit, click. It could be that Gabby and Carew or even Ashley Young sitting just behind a main striker turns out to be exactly what it is we need and it could turn out that Albrighton or Milner deliver cross after cross that turn out to be perfect.

What I accept more than anything, is that we are close, so close that we are within touching distance. We are not going to win the league but we could finish higher than 6th and we need to. It will be easy to finish 6th again though, in so much that we will be able to put it down to further consolidation, but some want more and it is almost understandable to expect more.

If the money isn't spent and we do finish sixth or lower then it will sort of back up the suggestion that the league is about how much you spend, but like I've said above, I fear O'Neill will come in for some stick if we do not do better. Next summer we will have more money to spend, it's the Doug way, but will people be able to wait?

Finishing fifth or above would be seen as a solid step this season but it is going to come down to the new players or the younger ones getting a proper run. I think, if things go well in the first half of the season, it may also come down to how we do our business in January, but that is a few months away and is worth waiting for.

The Prediction

Ultimately, I don't see us finishing sixth. I think we are either going to do better or worse than last season and as it stands today, it is too difficult a decision to be sure of so I'll happily take egg on my face at the end of the season, so I'm opting for the prediction that makes me feel better and that is that we will do better and I'm going to predict fourth.

For the record, I've predicted sixth the last two seasons and while you will think I've finally lost the plot, you could put it down to pre-season optimism and it was either me predicting that or seventh and going backwards isn't something I want to consider as it will mean I'm looking forward to a horrible season and that would be too depressing to accept, certainly before we have even kicked a ball.

So, yes, I may have finally gone mad as I've talked about needing three then that we can do it, but I think, as of today, Arsenal and Liverpool are weaker so they will drop more points, Manchester City will need another season and a another manager and Everton and Spurs don't look any better. We can take more points and I fancy the teams above and around us will lose more.

It ultimately comes down to us and I just think now is about time we moved up a gear and I think it is possible, so my prediction is fourth. Take aim and shoot me down and apologies for the way I've come to this conclusion (which is the true definition of madness), I've tried five or six times to write this post and this is the shortest.