I hope this letter finds you well. Actually, I just hope this letter finds you at all, because last Christmas turned out to be a pretty horrible holiday season for us Villa fans. The whole thing was ruined before it started; a humiliating, live-on-TV 8-0 thrashing by Chelsea, following by feeble defeats against Tottenham and Wigan. The Christmas decorations came down (yanked down in a fury, to be more accurate) early last year, I'm ashamed to say.
I guess the letter must have been mislaid....
Not only that, the January sales didn't bring much joy. Bargains galore to be had, but Villa's shopping was restricted to a French item which was interesting for a short period of time, but which doesn't seem to be functioning properly anymore -- perhaps the batteries need replacing? And a strange gift that originated from England but was exported from the USA. No one could really work out what that was for. It was eventually returned, virtually unused.
In short, Santa, the festive season was low on fizz, and the start of the New Year was depressingly flat -- you must have been feeling extra generous to Millwall and Bradford fans, however. At least things picked up later in the year, and 2013 ended up a lot kinder to Villa than it might have been. For a while there, we really did all fear the worst.
Anyway, to business -- your time is precious and there are a few things us Villa fans would like to ask for. To be totally frank, Father C, you do owe us, so please pay attention and see if you can deliver on these:
Get Benteke scoring again
There has been no sadder sight during the last two months than watching the body language of Christian Benteke, Villa's leading scorer in 2012-13. Defeated, disinterested, frustrated, anxious, downbeat: the Belgian began the current campaign with a burst of goals but hasn't registered since Sept. 14, against Newcastle. That's a run of 10 games - if it wasn't a drought before, it certainly is now.
A hip injury, sustained in September, certainly didn't help matters, for Benteke hasn't been the same since. Whatever the issue is, whether he's not 100 percent fit, his mind is elsewhere, his confidence is shot, or he's simply not getting the service he needs, it needs fixing. Villa are half the team without him in form.
In fact, get anyone - someone - scoring again...
As Villa manager Paul Lambert has often said in recent weeks, it's not all about Benteke. And it's not, nor should be. The goalscoring burden is not exclusively his to shoulder. For the final third of last season, Villa had a strikeforce to be feared -- Gabby Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann, and Benteke. When all three clicked, they were irresistible; even when two were on their game, they were a frightening prospect. In recent weeks, all have been firing blanks. The focus has been on Benteke, but Agbonlahor and Weimann have just one league goal each this season -- the former is suspended for Saturday's game at Stoke, while the latter was left out of the starting lineup altogether against Manchester United last weekend. Despite Benteke's struggles, he remains Villa's leading scorer this season, on four.
Rebuild Ron Vlaar -- ASAP
Hopefully Vlaar doesn't need anything as drastic as rebuilding -- he's struggling with a calf injury which, though Lambert has been vague with his updates, shouldn't keep him out for much longer; there are suggestions the centre-back will return against Stoke. Villa need their captain back. The team have been only been without him for 2 1/2 league games -- 225 minutes -- but in that time, have conceded seven goals. That's one every 32 minutes, and that makes Villa completely vulnerable. Having Vlaar back, as soon as possible, would make a crucial difference. And, looking further ahead, an extra bonus would be an early comeback for Jores Okore -- the Dane might return from his cruciate knee ligament injury in March and ahead of schedule.
Score a first-half goal at home
This is almost verging on the unbelievable, but Villa have yet to score a first-half goal in the league at home all season. That's eight games, and in none have Villa managed a goal during the opening 45 minutes -- which means the home fans at Villa Park have yet to experience the happiness of a half-time lead. After eight games of hearing the scoreline, 'Aston Villa 0....' at the interval, an early goal over the Christmas holiday period would be wildly celebrated.
Win on Boxing Day
It's been a while since Villa won on Boxing Day, which is always an important and poignant fixture in the calendar. Villa haven't triumphed since Dec. 26, 2005, when Everton were defeated 4-0 at Villa Park, with two goals from Milan Baros, and one apiece from Mark Delaney and Juan Pablo Angel.
In the seven games which have followed, Villa have lost four -- three to Spurs and one to Arsenal -- and drawn against Chelsea, Stoke, and Arsenal, again. There have been one or two memorable matches -- the 2-2 draw with the Gunners in 2008 came after a Villa comeback from two goals down, while, in 2007, there was a dramatic 4-4 spectacular at Stamford Bridge. But no win, in seven years. Crystal Palace come to Villa this Boxing Day.
An early, and impressive, new signing
A week after Christmas, the winter transfer window opens for a month, and Villa could do with a decisive and significant signing. Lambert's team is crying out for a midfielder of class, a player who can influence and win a game, who can control the ball and the flow of the match; a player who can bring the team alive in the final third of the pitch, and who can produce something that little bit special when needed -- the type of player who has eluded Villa for several years.
Thanks for reading, Santa. The last one on the list is a bit of a longshot, but Villa fans can still dream. After all, if you can't dream at Christmas, when can you?
A Villa Fan