If Doug Ellis were still in charge, it is fair to say we know what would have happened by now. The knock on Paul Lambert's door would have come the morning after the night before. And when I say the night before, I mean the Bradford match rather than the ignominy that followed at Millwall. Men of considerable wealth do not tend to appreciate being shown up in public. The lawyers would have been notified. Then Lambert would have been escorted to the exit, his belongings sent on in a Jiffy bag.

Unintentional apparently, but the Birmingham Post certainly rubbed a motorway gritter's worth of salt into a very open wound when it announced Randy Lerner was fifth in the newspaper's annual rich list last Wednesday. No doubt Aston Villa's supporters were thrilled to learn that the club's increasingly elusive owner had added another £300m to his fortune, taking his personal worth to £1.1bn, as they tried to make sense of how Bradford City, from the puddles and potholes of League Two, had left them on their knees.

It does raise the question about whether Lerner should still count as an honorary Brummie when he has pretty much been running Villa by remote control from his place in Manhattan and it is difficult to find anyone who can be sure when he next intends to pay us a visit.

He was not at Millwall on Friday for the latest ordeal in a season of basic ineptitude that is threatening to leave England's second city, as they still like to call themselves, without a top-division team for the first time in a quarter of a century. He was not at Villa Park to see the meltdown against Bradford and the incongruous sight of a fourth division team celebrating in front of a stand where the two tiers are divided by a banner carrying Brian Moore's commentary from the 1982 European Cup final: "Shaw … Williams prepared to venture down the left. There's a good ball. Played in for Tony Morley. Oh, it must be! And it is! Peter Withe!"

History now. Memories of another century.

Ordinarily, Villa's supporters might be able to take some form of malicious pleasure about the crisis that has taken hold of Birmingham City now their owner, Carson Yeung, has had his assets frozen ahead of his April trial in Hong Kong for his alleged part in a money-laundering venture.

Birmingham's problems navigating a way from one payday to the next certainly put Villa's into context. The entire squad at St Andrew's is for sale, at discount prices, before Thursday's transfer deadline. The club turned down a £6m bid from Southampton for Jack Butland last summer because they valued him at twice that amount. Now they would accept £2.5m. Twenty players are out of contract at the end of the season. All but three of their 29 signings since dropping out of the Premier League in 2011 have been freebies, loans or short-term arrangements. It is a tangled mess that could very easily lead them to the weed-strewn car parks of League One next season.

Villa, though, are in no position for schadenfreude. The whole of football is rubbernecking in their direction now. Their manager is not wearing the stress well. The crowd are restless, bordering on mutiny but holding back for now. All the signs are in place of a relegation waiting to happen and this, remember, is no longer the era of the yo-yo club. The string has snapped if you look at Bolton, Blackburn and Wolves, for example. All relegated last season, all now in the lower half of the Championship.

More than anything, there is this sense that Lerner has let his interest in the club slide since those early days when he talked such a good game and demonstrated his commitment by having the rampant lion, taken from the club crest, tattooed below his sock-line.

His last appearance was the 3-0 home defeat to Wigan four days after Christmas. Nobody sees Lerner having a quiet pint in the Holte pub these days. The club have become secretive about his scheduling, just like Chelsea when Roman Abramovich is going through one of his more elusive spells. Nobody seems to know if Lerner will be at Villa Park on Tuesday, when Newcastle's visit brings together two sides straying dangerously close to full-on collapse.

Presumably he would contest any allegations of losing interest and, to give him his due, there had been a £200m outlay before he stopped coming to the table and brought in a new strategy built to a large degree on developing academy players.

He might also point out the overall wage bill in the 2010-11 season was £25m higher than Everton's and that there are only three clubs – Manchester City, Chelsea and Stoke – above Villa in the transfer table of net spend over the past five years.

Yet Villa have made their worst start to a season in 43 years and it has been clear ever since that, if he was indeed still listening, a message needed to be absorbed before the damage reached the stage when it started to look irreparable.

As it stands, four days away from the transfer window clanking shut, we might already have reached that point. Who, seriously, would be taken aback now if Villa, confidence shot to pieces, could not clamber out of the Premier League's quicksands?

That is not to say the only antidote whenever a club runs into trouble is to write another cheque. It can help, though. Villa are fourth from bottom, with the worst defence in the league and 19 goals scored from their 23 games. At least Reading, directly below them, have some degree of momentum. Wigan have shown a few times that they understand the spirit of togetherness that is needed for an end-of-season feat of escapology. Even QPR are showing flickers of recovery.

Yet Lerner says nothing. The Birmingham Mail has already delivered a list of questions (No1: Are you still committed to Aston Villa?) and been ignored. Trying to explain another ghastly embarrassment on Friday, Lambert shunned every question from its correspondent. Four times he looked the other way and left the Millwall pressroom suspended in awkward silence.

It was pathetic stuff. In his position, Lambert might be better advised trying to ingratiate himself with the local paper rather than masquerading as a junior Sir Alex Ferguson.

In Lerner's case, he has no duty to be heard. There is nothing that says a football club's owner should be accessible to the media and public. Yet it might at least give him the chance to demonstrate he is still committed, determined to put it right and not planning to have his tattoo removed by laser. Turning up on Tuesday might be a start.

Consolation for De Gea is that even Schmeichel had his flaws

It wasn't entirely clear but, presumably, Sir Alex Ferguson did realise Gary Neville had been the most strident critic of David de Gea before the Manchester United manager announced what he thought of the people questioning his goalkeeper. "We have to listen to some idiots," he said.

Point made. Yet Neville clearly isn't an idiot and, however much it has divided opinion, he was correct when he said of De Gea that it was no use having a blinder for 90 minutes if he was going to cost his team a goal in stoppage time.

If Ferguson had been willing to open up a little more he might have reminded us that the great Peter Schmeichel was not entirely flawless when he first joined United either.

Schmeichel was 27 years old when he signed from Brondby, seven years older than De Gea when he arrived from Atlético Madrid, and in his autobiography he writes about the insecurity he felt in those early days. He remembers being "shy to say the least", overawed in the presence of Mark Hughes and Bryan Robson. "I experienced that acute sense of self-awareness you feel in completely new surroundings," he writes.

He kept 22 clean sheets in Ferguson's first title-winning season. What tends to be forgotten is his habit of charging out of his penalty area and conceding recklessly soft goals. He gave the ball straight to Maurice Johnston for the third goal in a 3-0 home defeat to Everton. He missed it entirely in another game at Ipswich, an air-shot that left Chris Kiwomya with an open net. Schmeichel had still not eradicated the habit the following season, sent off for missing the ball and taking out a Charlton Athletic player.

For all his brilliance, the Dane was prone to the occasional flap, too. Joe Royle once told me that when he was managing Everton he regarded Schmeichel as vulnerable at the far post. "We always felt big Duncan Ferguson could have some joy against him."

In the circumstances, it is hardly a surprise that De Gea's first 18 months at Old Trafford have been pockmarked by the occasional mistakes. At the same time, anyone with an understanding of football must see that there is outstanding potential.

To have come this far, it would really make little sense if Ferguson had grown weary of the Spaniard and decided to look elsewhere, as has been reported over the past week.

What about the Chelsea fall-boys?

One last thing about Eden Hazard and the Swansea City ballboy who, four days in, has amassed more Twitter followers than the club's official account.

However galling it was for Chelsea, it has managed to deflect attention from what was a fairly feeble attempt to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit and reach the Capital One Cup final.

All the headlines have been about Hazard when it has largely been overlooked Chelsea did not manage a shot on target until the 73rd minute and that, when it comes to premeditated falls, Charlie Morgan could still learn a thing or two from Demba Ba.

Chelsea began the season in seven different competitions if we include the Community Shield. Five months later, they are realistically left with the Europa League and the FA Cup. They are 11 points off Manchester United and Rafa Benítez, accusing Sir Alex Ferguson of using every trick to influence referees, isn't doing too well getting a bite.

"I'm not bothered what Rafa says, to be honest with you," Ferguson says. "I've got more on my mind."

Benítez, in other words, has frozen into a gulag of indifference, as far as Ferguson is concerned. It's no place any Chelsea manager wants to be.