The Lerner era begins
Aston Villa went under new ownership early on in the 2006-2007 season as Doug Ellis sold the club to American businessman Randy Lerner. Lerner was ambitious to start with and wanted to see his new investment pay off. There was also a new manager as Martin O’Neill returned to the Premier League after a six-year absence. It was always going to take time for the new partnership to bear fruition so although an 11th place finish sounds unremarkable, it was the first steps towards three seasons of upcoming excitement for the Villa supporters.
Squad: Thomas Sorensen, Mark Delaney, Jlloyd Samuel, Olof Mellberg, Martin Laursen, Wilfred Bouma, Aaron Hughes, Liam Ridgewell, Gary Cahill, Phil Bardsley, Didier Agathe (Left in January 2007), Gavin McCann, Steven Davis, Gareth Barry, Craig Gardner, Peter Whittingham (Left in January 2007), Isaiah Osbourne, Stiliyan Petrov, Ashley Young, John Carew, Gabby Agbonlahor, Chris Sutton, Luke Moore, Milan Baros (Left in January 2007), Juan Pablo Angel (Left in April 2007)
Having finished a disappointing 16th in 2005-2006, there was a change in the managerial hotseat at Aston Villa. Out went David O’Leary and in came Martin O’Neill, back in management after a 12-month sabbatical. O’Neill knew the area well, having steered Leicester City to two League Cup triumphs in four seasons between 1997 and 2000.
There were no initial summer arrivals in regards to new players but that was because Villa were heading for a takeover. American businessman Randy Lerner, who owned NFL franchise Cleveland Browns completed his protracted purchase of the club towards the end of August. He took 60% of the club’s shares and succeeded Doug Ellis as owner. There was enough time for Lerner to immediately allow O’Neill the opportunity to sign his former captain at Celtic, Stiliyan Petrov on August transfer deadline day for £6.5 million.
With the limited player recruitment options and having flirted with relegation in the previous campaign, there were some pundits who were tipping Villa for the drop but that didn’t look likely after a lengthy unbeaten start to the season. In fact, it wasn’t until the 10th game of the Premier League campaign until they tasted defeat when Liverpool FC beat the Villans 3-1 at Anfield.
On the opening day, Olof Mellberg had the honour of scoring the first-ever competitive goal at Arsenal’s new home, The Emirates Stadium as Villa claimed an excellent point. The first win of O’Neill’s reign came a few days later when they recovered from a goal down to beat newly-promoted Reading 2-1. Gareth Barry scored the winner in a season where he was one of the team’s best players.
Aston Villa also claimed a 1-1 draw at champions Chelsea through a first half equaliser by Gabby Agbonlahor and Barry came to the rescue in another 1-1 draw, this time at home to Tottenham Hotspur. He scored a brilliant individual equaliser to get Juan Pablo Angel out of a deep hole. The Colombian forward had missed a penalty and scored an own goal! He would leave the club before the season ended.
TABLE ON 28th October 2006
Aston Villa’s response to their first loss of the league season was a good one as they won their next two fixtures. Blackburn Rovers were beaten 2-0 at Villa Park and then, there was an excellent 1-0 away triumph at Everton. Chris Sutton had linked up with O’Neill again in October having been a free agent. He scored the only goal of the game at Goodison Park in what turned out to be his last-ever Premier League goal.
A lean winter followed though as an 11-game winless run saw the club plummet from the top six into 14th place. This included a four-game losing sequence which saw back-to-back reverses at home to Bolton Wanderers and Manchester United.
The 3-0 home defeat to the Red Devils was the first of three quick-fire defeats to Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. They lost 3-1 at Old Trafford a month later and also saw their FA Cup hopes for the season extinguish with a last-gasp 2-1 loss at The Theatre of Dreams in the third round.
However, fresh investment was coming for the team in the January transfer window.
Carew and Young arrive
January 2007 was the first opportunity O’Neill had to invest in the squad since Lerner’s takeover of the club. First up was actually a player-exchange deal. Having preferred not to use Milan Baros as a central striker in his first six months at the club, O’Neill allowed Baros to leave for Lyon in a swap deal which saw John Carew arrive at Villa Park.
A day after Carew’s arrival, Aston Villa paid Watford an initial £8 million, potentially rising to £9.65 million in add-ons to sign young English winger Ashley Young. Young had impressed greatly for the Hornets in the first half of the season and had been courted by Villa for a few weeks before his arrival into the Second City.
Shaun Maloney also arrived for a cheaper fee of £1 million, becoming the fourth player who used to work with O’Neill at Celtic to follow him to England alongside Petrov, Sutton and defender Didier Agathe.
Both Carew and Young made goalscoring impacts early on in their careers at their new club. Young scored first but his effort came in a 3-1 defeat away at Newcastle United. Carew’s goal was the only one of the contest to steer Villa to a vital 1-0 home success over struggling West Ham United.
Finishing with a flourish
Going into April, there was still an outside danger that Aston Villa could be dragged into the relegation battle because they weren’t winning many matches. However, they were proving to be difficult to beat. Only Reading and Arsenal had defeated Villa since early February.
Any lingering doubts were ended by an excellent performance at Ewood Park to complete a league double over Blackburn Rovers. A 2-1 away victory saw Patrik Berger score a rare goal after a nightmare season which had seen him struggle with injury and even have a spell out on-loan at Championship club Stoke City.
The win at Blackburn began an excellent sequence to finish the season as Villa ended with a flourish. A nine-game unbeaten run saw them finish top of the bottom half in 11th position. Among the wins were two more away successes at Middlesbrough and Manchester City and a 3-0 home win against Sheffield United – arguably the best performance of the entire season from the team.
Aston Villa ended with 50 points and drew 17 of their 38 league matches – the most of any side in the 2006-2007 campaign. It had been a solid first season in the dugout for O’Neill and the foundations were in place for even better results to come in the coming seasons.
FINAL 2006-2007 TABLE – 8th to 13th