Ged Scott talks to Garry Thompson about drop worries past and present...
Garry Thompson in action for Aston Villa, the club he supported as a boy
It did not take long for Garry Thompson to know that something was wrong at Aston Villa following his arrival from Sheffield Wednesday in the summer of 1986.
"It should have been my dream move going back to join the club I'd supported as a kid," he recalls. "And I'd twice been close to signing for them before. Once when Albion signed me from Coventry and then when I ended up going to Hillsborough instead.
"And it felt like I'd finally come home.
"But I'd not been there a couple of weeks when I remember having team-mates tell me 'You've come two or three years too late'.
"The club was on the way down, they were struggling and I didn't do much to help as I got a groin injury which kept me out for half the season."
Having tried, but missed out to Sheffield Wednesday boss Howard Wilkinson in his bid to sign Thompson the previous summer, Graham Turner persuaded his chairman Doug Ellis to fork out #450,000 and finally get his man in June 1986.
But Villa had only just suffered one close shave with relegation a month earlier when they beat the drop by just just four points. And, although Villa had also signed Neale Cooper and Martin Keown, Thompson had walked in a dressing room of players seemingly already resigned to their fate.
They lost five of their first six matches, the final one of them a 6-0 humiliation to Nottingham Forest at the City Ground - and that was enough for Ellis to finally reach for his already well-sharpened axe.
When the coup de gr?ce finally came, legend has it that Ellis even leant across the desk and asked Turner who he thought his successor should be.
And, such was Ellis's faith in the man he was perhaps most reluctant to sack of all his managers, he took up Turner's suggestion of Billy McNeill.
His arrival should have been the signal for a revival. And, after getting battered in a 4-1 home defeat by Norwich City, McNeill initially did turn it round.
On the back of a 3-3 draw against reigning double winners Liverpool at Anfield, McNeill was to enjoy a golden October, winning four out of five games.
But, of that summer's key signings, only Keown was to play anything like a full campaign. Cooper was almost permanently crocked. And, once joint top league scorer Thompson had scored the last of his six goals on the Saturday before Christmas, the rot set in.
"It was an awful nine months for me," he recalls. "I was never right.
"But it was even worse for Coops. He just had a nightmare from start to finish. The whole time he was here was blighted by injuries, and he had his house broken into as well.
'We were surprised he'd come here as, with his Aberdeen connections, he was expected to go and join Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford. But I think, by the end of the season, he just wanted to forget it had ever happened.
"Martin Keown had a good season, but he was one of the few that did. All in all, we were shocking."
Thompson still believes the key factor was that McNeill was simply not allowed to get on and do the job he was brought in for.
"There was too much interference," said Thompson. "Here was a man who'd won everything with Celtic, European Cups, leagues, loads of caps for Scotland, the lot.
"But the word coming out of the club was that he just wasn't allowed to do what he wanted to do.
"He looked increasingly disillusioned as the season went on. And the players could just smell that something wasn't right."
Having got to Boxing Day on 23 points - four more than they had at the same stage the previous season - Villa's second half of the campaign proved a disaster.
Including an FA Cup third round exit to Chelsea, Villa did not win again for three months, by which time it was almost too late.
Paul Birch's goal in the Villa Park win which completed the annual double over Coventry City did trigger a late season run bringing eight points from six games to offer brief hopes of an escape. But that all ended with three straight defeats, and Villa finally went down after a home defeat to Thompson's old club Sheffield Wednesday on the final Monday of the season.
By the time Villa went to Old Trafford to lose to Manchester United on the final day, McNeill had already been sacked - paving the way for Graham Taylor, and the following season's instant return to English football's top flight.
But Thompson, now scouting for Queens Park Rangers following his departure as assistant manager with Brentford last season, maintains that Villa team should never have gone down.
"We had quality players like Allan Evans, Tony Daley, Simon Stainrod, Tony Dorigo. But we also had injury problems. And I suppose it proved that if things aren't right in a club, then it will all come out in the results."
Not a notion that will comfort Villa fans as they await the buy-out of their club.