Andy, I don't disagree with you that not having Lucas for extended periods of time has hurt us, but think the loss of a single player should not be a major factor in the sides overall performance over a run of games. For me a more telling reason of why we performed so much less in the first half of the season compared to the second, is the simple fact the team was in transition with a new coach, new ideas, a much younger squad, and a number of players either new to the club and or relatively new to the first team set up.
Think about it, before this season how many times have the likes of Jones, Wisdom, Allen, Shelvey, Sterling, Borini, or Suso got a run in the first team. Any club trying to integrate 7 new (to club and or first team) faces, is not likely to be operating in top gear from the off. To look at this a different way, excuses have been made for Villa this season because the coach has brought in do many new and young faces to the first team. So if both us and them have basically done the same or very similar things in terms of refreshing the squad, one has to ask why has it worked relatively speaking so much better for us?
On KK, I personally think he was given a bad rap at the time, and I'm sure the lack of Lucas in the second half of the season did impact the performances at times. But again, not having one player out of 11 available on any given day, should never be the deciding factor. Besides, while I do feel for Kenny, and very much wish he'd been able to personally guide us back to the top, the cold hard facts are that during the second half of last season, based on cumulative results, we performed like a relegation zone club, and while the first half of this season under BR may not have lived up to our high expectations, it was quite a bit better that those fearing the drop to the championship.