November 27, 2021 and Graham Potter’s eighth-placed Brighton are booed off the pitch by their home supporters following a 0-0 draw with Leeds.
Seven days earlier, amid what would turn out to be a 12-game winless run, Brighton had been beaten 2-0 in Steven Gerrard’s first game as Aston Villa head coach.
Then there were six consecutive defeats over February and March this year before an outstanding run of form – a culmination of 14 years in coaching – deservedly landed Potter the sought-after Chelsea job.
Gerrard is the one facing the boo-boys now. Some of the Villa support at Nottingham Forest on Monday Night Football voiced their angst after a second disappointing draw which left them three points above the relegation zone. Like all managers, Gerrard needs the time Potter was afforded.
“I still feel new, fresh, full of energy. I want to [manage] for longer because I enjoy it, but I’ve got to keep proving I can do this, that’s the daily challenge I live with,” Gerrard told Sky Sports ahead of their meeting with Chelsea at Villa Park live on Super Sunday.
“I think Graham very much deserves this opportunity at Chelsea after some trauma and difficult periods at Brighton, he managed to get them where he wanted to in the league. Graham fronted it, he came through that, he was given the time to come through it and he’s proved that there are good coaches out there.
“That’s what I want to prove here. I want to prove that I can move this team up the league, that we can compete in the top half of the league and that’s the challenge that faces me right now.”
Gerrard: I don’t think we’re too far away
Villa are unbeaten in their last four but the lack of excitement in their performances, which has seen only managerless Wolves score fewer goals, is starting to turn supporters. Four defeats from their opening five matches immediately set the wrong tone.
Gerrard has not shirked responsibility; he has fixed the defensive problems of August and knows improvement in the final third is now quickly needed. The 42-year-old admits he would have liked to have seen more progression in their league position, so why aren’t they further ahead?
A long-term injury in August to £26m summer signing and centre-back Diego Carlos came as a huge blow while defender Boubacar Kamara won’t return until after the World Cup. Full-backs Matty Cash and Lucas Digne have both had spells on the sidelines too. The rebuild has stuttered and stalled.
“If everyone was fit and available, we’d be a lot closer,” said Gerrard. “We did inherit a group, we’ve tried to support and keep pushing and challenging those individuals. We’ve moved a lot on to try and give them opportunities.
“We’ve recruited certain individuals of a higher level of player to try and improve things and move us forward as quick as we can. We’ve had some rotten luck but that’s part of the game, it’s certainly not an excuse. I believe when we’ve got everyone fit and available and in a good place, I don’t think we’re too far away.”
Gerrard: I’ve lived with pressure
It comes back to time and whether Gerrard will be afforded it by owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, who are reportedly flying in for the Chelsea clash, as pressure grows from supporters.
The former England captain is used to expectation both as a player and in his emerging managerial career which delivered Rangers’ first Scottish Premiership title for a decade. Villa are still only one point off Gerrard’s top-half target.
“I lived with a lot of pressure and demand for three and a half years [at Rangers]. I’m a better manager and person on the back of that. It improved me immensely,” said Gerrard on the spotlight he is under.
“At Rangers and Celtic you have to win [the title]. This is a different challenge, I took over a team two points above relegation and on the back of five defeats…the idea is, with time, to develop us and have us operating in a completely different area of the league. We don’t believe we’re too far away from that.
“At the same time, we have to take responsibility for where we’re at right now. I’m very much aware of that, you can’t keep saying ifs and buts. It’s small margins but we need to prove we can take maximum points off one of these big teams. We need to try and find that level of performance. If we do, things will look a lot brighter.”
Gerrard: We need a top level performance
Villa will take confidence from fighting back against champions Manchester City to earn a 1-1 draw at the start of this unbeaten run.
It is the only occasion this season when they’ve outran an opponent following a conscious effort from Gerrard to lift the physical efforts of his players. They will need it again on Sunday.
“We very much spoke about that going into the City game because we weren’t happy with some of the running numbers previously, especially the game against Bournemouth at the start of the season,” he added.
“But four games ago we proved we can mix it with City in different ways and with all these top sides you have to match them from a physical point of view because if you don’t, the quality will shine through in the end. It’s very important we try to compete with every team from a running and statistical point of view.
“We know we’re the underdogs against Chelsea, playing against world class players with a new manager who are in a good place. We have to accept all those challenges that will come our way but with a Villa Park that’s rocking and the team really confident with belief we can take something from the game, that’s the way we want to approach it.
“We need to find a top level performance or we’re not going to take something from the game.”
Watch Aston Villa vs Chelsea live on Super Sunday from 1pm on Sky Sports Premier League; Kick-off 2pm.
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