After the news that Dr. Xia was taking his club to a new home, Larry had seen his transfer budget chopped from £38 million to just over £10 million. It wasn’t the best news Larry had heard as they embarked on their first season in the top flight but with some deals already signed, he could make the money stretch to cover his needs.
Recruitment was initially going to be kept to a minimum as Fredericks wanted a quiet window. Larry wanted to give the lads a chance to prove themselves so only expected a maximum of three new faces.
Over the past six months deals had been arranged for the signatures of Allan Clarke (SC) and Sebastian Torres (AMC), both would be exciting additions to the squad. Raul Gudino, a Mexican goalkeeper joined up for £6.5 million, Fredericks had been a long-term admirer of the player and was delighted to land this target in particular.
As preseason progressed it was clear the squad wasn’t big enough, Butcher and Fredericks had probably let too many players leave on loan and now the numbers in the squad were pretty thin.
Two new full-backs were signed, both as back up options in Carl Jenkinson and Calvin Miller. 21-year-old Nigerian striker Godwin Umoh was also brought in to add another option to the forwards and from under the noses of Liverpool the signature of Adam Faldt, an 18-Year-old Swedish midfielder was secured.
Leaving Villa Park were a raft of under 23 players who hadn’t made the grade, Some of the foreign contingents again made their way on loan to the continent in search of a Work Permit and then for real money, Angus McDonald, Ryan Gauld, and Callum O’Hare all moved on to pastures new.
August was a tough month and would start with a trip to face Tottenham Hotspur. Fredericks and Butcher had spoken long and hard about how much different the Premier League would be to last season. They had considered trying to play defensively and on the counter-attack but first, they wanted to give the lads this opening three-game month to try and push last years tactics on to see how they would stand up.
It was a bitter pill to swallow and a game they needed to learn from. The 85th OG from Mathew Pennington gave Spurs a tight 1-0 victory.
If game week one was hard to take then week two was even worse. Seemingly comfortable at 2-0 up with just 25 minutes to go Fredericks side managed to clinch a draw from the jaws of victory.
Larry utilised the League Cup tie to make eight changes. Although the scoreline was only 1-0 the home side were more than dominant and recorded their first victory of the new season.
The final game of the month was another tough away trip to North London. It was shall we say an interesting game. Villa were torn apart and even though a late rally added the smallest bit of respect to the scoreline, a 7-3 defeat left Fredericks with a horrible taste in his mouth.
It was a tough result to take, Arsenal were ruthless with their finishing but at the same time, Villa and Fredericks naivety was to blame.
They had only taken one point in the opening month but had faced two of the seasons toughest opponents in their own back gardens.
Butcher and Larry had decided that they needed to change a few things to make them harder to beat especially away from home.
September fixtures all looked tough on paper and started with a trip to South Wales to face Cardiff. Both sides would have earmarked this as a relegation six-pointer and as predicted it wouldn’t disappoint. Fredericks side performed really well and yet twice found themselves behind, only a 94th Liam Mandeville goal rescued a point as the search for a first league win went on.
Manchester City with their 100% record was first up and Larry learned his lesson from the Arsenal game, He played a deeper midfield three with a more direct passing approach in a bid to break quickly and force City back.
Butcher had come up with the idea to play the two quickest forwards as far up the pitch as we could and concentrate on getting the ball behind the defence and in doing so turning the defenders.
Umoh and Sterling ran themselves into the ground and were only denied a memorable victory by a late Paulo Dybala goal.
It was hard to take but the dressing room was bouncing afterwards, Villa had been more than a match for the galacticos of Manchester City and that could only bode well for their upcoming games.
Liverpool were sat bottom of the pile. The once great European Champions seemingly couldn’t get a result and have taken just one point from their opening five fixtures.
Larry made no changes to selection or team instructions, It was simple if we have the ball get it forward if we don’t then get it back as soon as it enters Villa’s half of the pitch.
The first three points of the season had finally landed. After a thunder bastard of a first half which left the sides even at 2-2, Fredericks men had kicked on after the break and secured a huge win, Godwin Umoh again proving a great acquisition with his fifth and sixth goals of the campaign.
The young Nigerian forward secured his second ‘Young Player of the Month’ achievement and was joined by teammates Clive Scott and Lenny Robson as Villa clean swept the awards.
October started with ‘The Villains’ third home game in a row. Newcastle had started the season on fire and currently sat third in the table. Fredericks was forced into a single change as Lenny Robson wasn’t allowed to play against his parent club, Pennington coming in for him.
Villa Park was again the place to be as Umoh and Sterling ran riot, the home side winning comfortably 3-1. All of a sudden Villa were eighth in the table and five points from the drop, things were looking up.
Due to the international window, Villa now faced a fourth consecutive home league game. West Brom would be the visitors in a local derby that witnessed the return of David Stewart to Villa Park. The young striker had scored over 35 goals last season for Villa, Fredericks hoped it wouldn’t once again be a happy hunting ground for him.
Another four-goal thriller sent the home side fans away with smiles on their faces as ‘The Baggies’ failed to cope with Villa’s attacking threat.
Back to back derby games proved to be too much in a week and Villa crashed to a 2-0 defeat at Molineux. It was a poor performance and the team was told that it wouldn’t be tolerated again.
The Carabao Cup had so far been a chance to utilise the squad but Fredericks was now wondering if they should give it a real go at getting deep into the competition. Instead of the 9/10 changes in previous rounds, Larry played a very strong eleven as they travelled to West Ham United.
Bad Idea – Thirty seconds in and former Villa frontman Keinan Davis smashes the home side in front. It did get better though and earning his first start of the season Liam Mandeville levelled after 14 minutes before the defence again did it’s best to ruin the day when Mathew Pennington sliced home past his own keeper.
West Ham added a third before the break and Fredericks was left wishing he had rung the changes. Thiago Macedo reduced the arrears to just one but try as they might the equaliser never came and Villa crashed out of the league cup 3-2.
By the end of October Villa were unfortunately out of the League Cup but their league form, especially at Villa Park, saw them sat in midtable and more importantly six points from the relegation zone.
It had been a productive three months and both Fredericks and Butcher thought they could kick on from here and have a comfortable season.
November would be a very similar affair to October with the side showing no signs of being a newly promoted team. Victories against Palace and Southampton sandwiched a great 1-1 draw at home to Man Utd, the away side equalising with only minutes to go.
December was the month that looking back changed the whole season. It was a month that gave everyone a bit of belief that this team could achieve something very special.
In between, two humbling defeats were 5 straight victories. It was a period that basically took away all Fredericks relegation fears, he knew they would be staying up but he also knew with a bit of luck they might finish in the top 10 of The Premier League.
January, February, and March were like identical periods of time. The side would win a couple of back to back games against sides from the bottom ten but then suffer a big defeat against one of ‘the Big Boys’ of the league. No matter what Fredericks tweaked he couldn’t get the lads the results they needed on the big stage and as a byproduct, The top four were 14 points clear of the rest of the table. On the recruitment from, Transfer Deadline Day saw Fredericks spend £11.5 million on attacking midfielder Aksel Atlas, he was to add competition to the impressive David Brooks.
The FA Cup would start and end in this period too with a couple of early round victories before being humiliated again by Arsenal in the fifth round. Three times Fredericks had lined up against ‘The Gunners’ this season and it had resulted in three defeats with them conceding 16 times and scoring 7.
The Run In Could probably be put down to tired legs and not enough quality when it really counted, especially in the defence. Winning only three of the last nine games put paid to any thoughts of catching the top four but in a positive light showed just how well the lads had performed throughout the season.
A fifth-placed finish was more than Fredericks, The players or the fans had ever thought possible. Looking a the final league table showed why the media had nicknamed Villa ‘The Entertainers’ this season as they finished with a -1 goal difference. They had the second worst defensive record in the whole league but to counter that the fifth-best attack.
Another key element was Liverpool and Tottenham’s horrendous early results that left them not enough time to overhaul Villa. Fredericks knew they wouldn’t be so lucky next season.
After missing a lot of the promotion campaign through injury than playing second fiddle to David Stewart, Kazaiah Sterling had taken the Premier League by storm. 26 Goals in 35 Appearances in his debut top-flight season was a fantastic achievement. He had been backed up by new boy Godwin Umoh and together formed a lethal partnership.
Larry Fredericks had received a lot of praise for his work in The Midlands and at the end of the season, awards were given ‘The Manager of the Year’ trophy. He dedicated it to his longtime friend and Director of Football, Terry Butcher. He had decided that this next 12 months would be his last in Football and Fredericks wanted him to receive all the plaudits for his work not only here but since day one of Larry’sys managerial career.
The upcoming season would be Aston Villa’s final one at Villa Park as they moved to pastures new, Fredericks thought it fitting that the once European Champions would have some European Football to compete in one last time.