Time to get rid of the Villa Park yips

I'm not a golfer myself. But I know that "the yips" is the term golfers give to that inexplicable attack of self doubt and nerves which affects them on a putting green. And it was clear to most of us that our players were struggling with their own footballing yips on our rectangular green in B6 last season.

So if Villa are to continue to make progress this season, with the odds stacked more heavily still against that happening, it's time to defeat the Villa Park yips once and for all.

Martin O'Neill has acknowledged this on the club site, although I don't entirely buy his claim that the players don't have a touch of stage fright at home. However, the comments in yesterday's Birmingham Mail were, I thought, more interesting.

O'Neill has urged Villa fans to get behind the team at home, and make Villa Park an intimidating arena for visiting players. I don't think there's a single one of us who wouldn't agree that we'd like Villa Park to be an incredibly daunting place for rival teams to visit. At the same time, I think the fans have done their bit over the last two seasons.


We've had moments that are best forgotten - the booing of Petrov stands out as a low point - but by and large the players have been able to call on big crowds and at times awesome home (and away) support.

But, as O'Neill knows, the tone is set by his players as much as the fans. Villa Park is far more likely to be the roaring, buzzing bear pit we all want if we are getting behind confident, aggressive, attacking performances played with a bit of swagger. And too many times last season we gave the initiative away to inferior footballing sides because we lacked the nous to open up them up and the self-belief to attack them and then attack them again. In short, most of the bottom-half teams fancied themselves for a point at Villa Park - and many of them got one.

Not only that. There were occasions, and my mind goes back to that infuriating Stoke City game in particular, where Villa took the initiative - only to go flat or fall asleep and hand it right back again. We're not Manchester United yet - and so this may not be an altogether fair comparison - but can you imagine Stoke City recovering from 2-0 down at Old Trafford? They'd be dead and buried and they'd know it.

I think there are two sides to this.

The first is tactical. I think O'Neill needs to deploy tactics at Villa Park which are all about breaking a team down, not about hitting them on the break. And yes, great manager though I believe him to be, I think he displayed some tactical naivete at home last season. Hampered, certainly, by the lack of that "lock picker" at the front of the midfield, MON persevered and persevered with the same old system, even though it looked blindingly obvious to us in the stands that we'd been worked out. Using Ashley Young and Gabby more creatively, and also changing the shape more during games would both help us.

The second is psychological. I think more bravery at home on O'Neill's part would give the players a greater sense of belief. Setting a side up to break down and attack visiting sides would demonstrate O'Neill's faith in his players, and I fancy they would respond with individual and collective performances of greater penetration and impact.

Of course, we all play a part in it too - as O'Neill suggests. And I believe O'Neill can count on all four stands to get right behind the side this season. And if his side plays with more menace and attacking intent at home this season, he'll be staggered by the response from those stands.

The fixture list couldn't have worked out better. Fulham and Portsmouth both have a knack of nicking a point at Villa Park, and both have visits in the first few weeks. But it starts tomorrow, and what could be better than a first home game in which we simply put the Latics to the sword from minute one to minute ninety.

Now that'll get me off my seat. Up the Villa.