Andy Gray says Aston Villa are making gradual forward steps but only time will tell how far they can go.
Last Updated: 25/01/11 7:11pm
One of my old clubs, Aston Villa have made a steady start to the season - it hasn't been spectacular, but they are sitting in the top half of the table.
They may not look like they have enough goals in the team at the moment, but they are strong defensively and their home form is quite good.
I think they're one of these sides where you're not sure how it's going to go. You're not sure whether they're going to move on from this steady start or just hang around where they are.
I've seen them play a few times and Martin O'Neill has slightly modified the way they play from last season. They played 4-5-1 with three tight midfielders, two wide players and John Carew up front.
But now they've started to play with Gabriel Agbonlahor and Luke Moore up front in a 4-4-2 and I think they're better suited to that.
I think Martin's done a decent job. He's came in, had a look at his squad in his first year and he's identified where he needed to change it - where they needed strengthening.
He went ahead and tried to do that in the summer by bringing quite a few players in. It will be interesting to see how much he'll be allowed to spend in January and what areas he strengthens.
But O'Neill needs to move them on and that's what Villa fans are waiting for now - they've had too many years with nothing much happening at the club and now they'd like to see Martin take the club up a level or two.
Martin spent an awful lot of money on two centre-backs in Zat Knight and Curtis Davies, I know Davies is on loan but it is with a view to signing him for what will probably be a large sum. And they haven't exactly set the world on fire. Davies and also Marlon Harewood up front can't really get a sniff at the team.
There are a few areas that they need to strengthen of course - they need a front man. Villa fans may have been a little disappointed at not signing a goal scorer in the summer. They missed out on Craig Bellamy, but you can't always get the players you want - I think that's the one thing the fans need to understand in this game.
And Martin has had to jink the defence around playing Olof Mellberg at right-back - who's done a pretty good job in all honesty - but it's not ideal as he's not a natural full-back.
Gareth Barry has had a good season, that goes without saying. Just like his team, the skipper is steady. Maybe he's not been at his best since he came back from England duty a few weeks ago, but you know what you get from him.
I like the goalkeeper, Scott Carson, I think he gives the defence much needed confidence knowing that he's behind them.
Agbonlahor is improving - he has that asset that all defenders hate: pace. He's been a plus for Villa so far.
You can never be too sure about Martin Laursen's fitness; he's had such bad luck since joining from Milan three seasons ago. But when he plays for his team he doesn't half defend well.
Those four have been the pick of the bunch so far this season.
Martin's main problem is their away form. They have only picked up three points on their travels and that might be down to inexperience in the side at the top end of the pitch.
They have played at times with Ashley Young on one side and Moore and Agbonlahor up front, and maybe Craig Gardner on the other side and it's a very young side, particularly away from home.
Maybe they just lack a little bit of experience and know-how sometimes, but naturally that will come with time.
Villa fans expect a top ten finish and with the money they have spent, and the squad they have got, they would like to see the club pushing for a European spot. I think if they don't finish top ten it'll be a very disappointing season.
I don't quite see them qualifying for the Uefa Cup at the moment, there's something still missing, especially away from home. Until they find that then they'll probably just miss out on Europe.
But there's no reason why this club shouldn't be playing top ten football every year and pushing for Europe occasionally.
The chairman, Randy Lerner has so far been good for the club; he's not one of these owners who wants to be in the papers every day. He's gone about the job quietly and effectively and I think he's done a pretty good job so far.
He's not been a Peter Ridsdale and given Martin endless amounts of money to splash out on anybody, they've carefully planned who they want to buy and he has been selective with the money he has given Martin. He appears to have a plan and looks towards improving the long-term welfare of the club.
They have a tough derby with Birmingham on Super Sunday. Steve Bruce's team have done well against Villa of late and have had a bit of luck.
Villa's away form isn't great, as I've mentioned, and Birmingham need a result and wouldn't want to lose so I can see them sharing the points.
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