Goalkeeper and left back were the two places we really needed some transfer activity in. Rico Henry was my first piece of business, adding another quality option on the left of defense. This was doubly important since Aly Cissohko approached me shortly after I arrived to ask for personal leave back to France to solve his homesickness. Scott Bain is coming in to be a backup goalkeeper, as I was having troubles signing my main target and needed someone to take the load off our teenage starter. You should’ve known I was going to go after Craig Faulkner. I was curious to see what his scout report looked like from a bigger perspective than Glentoran and I am not disappointed in his potential.
This brings us to the final transfer of our January window. It took me weeks to put together and we’re quite a bit over the wage budget for the time being, but we’ve brought in Simon Mignolet. He was on the transfer list at Liverpool for 3.7 million pounds, but I had to throw in some bonuses to bring up the total value due to needing Liverpool to pay a chunk of his wages. He’s a huge signing for a team fighting relegation in the Championship, and I’m hoping he may be able to single-handedly save our season.
Sky Bet Championship (+FA Cup)
I couldn’t have asked for a worse first match in charge as Arsenal came to Villa Park in the FA cup. The lads weren’t as bad as I thought and honestly the scoreline makes it look worse than it was. My first league match ended up being a toothless away loss to upper table Sheffield Wednesday. It was at this point I finally got Mignolet in and things turned around immediately. Aaron Tshibola netted a long distance screamer after just seven minutes to set the tone as we took on fellow relegation candidates Bolton. Maybe they’ll think twice about not hiring me now.
We followed the Bolton win up with an even more impressive one-nil win over top-half-of-the-table Preston. Transfer listed, one and a half star rated Ross McCormack came on as a sub to grab a 25-yard free kick and a vital three points. A trip to struggling Wigan followed and we picked up yet more important points at the bottom of the table. I can’t fault the loss to Sunderland that followed, as they’re competing for the title and we very nearly held out for a draw. Jonathan Kojida and Jack Grealish each scored a goal as we improved out record against relegation rivals to 3-for-3 against Gillingham, before each grabbing a brace in a very dominant away win over Derby County. This impressive attacking performance inspired the squad to become completely inept at goalscoring over the next two fixtures. Simon Mignolet picked up clean sheets three and four of his Villa career already and we continued to grind out valuable points.
The end of February has found us a full five points clear of the relegation zone. The team has shown that at least at times, it can come together brilliantly. I’m not going to get ahead of myself but I think we could have a good chance of staying up. That’s all I need to care about at this point, and if I can save the club from relegation I can think about building for next season.
I apologize for being a little disjointed as I hit the ground running in this job. It’s quite an emotional rollercoaster going from easily winning the league to fighting for survival. Already this squad has delighted me and infuriated me. It’s a good challenge, and I find myself adjusting things mid-match a lot more than I had to at Glentoran. A few more good results and we can assure our continued life in the Championship. Tune in next time to find out if we can get them!