Writer: J P Fear
Date:Tuesday April 18 2006
Its been more than 24 hours since I left Villa Park with the broadest smile Trinty Road has ever seen. I drove home for 6 hours and sat in desperate traffic on the M1 for more than an hour, and still nothing could shift the grin off my face. Still now, I am beaming from ear to ear and every time I watch the replays of the goals, I break out into a girlish giggle that I am not in the slightest bit ashamed of.
There is very little that I can say that hasnít already been said. Following the previous weekís display against West Brom, it would seem that everyone expected the worst. The poor attendance, poor atmosphere and poor performance from the boys in Claret and Blue led most Villa fans I spoke to pre-match to predict a loss.
What transpired will remain in my memory for as long as I live, and I mean that sincerely. The atmosphere inside and outside Villa Park was the best I have ever experienced. There seemed to be a grim determination amongst the Villa faithful that if we were doomed to defeat and an anxious end to the season, they would not be accused of shirking their responsibility when the crunch came. For so long this season, there has been a dark cloud hovering over Villa Park. Yesterday, the sun came out, and the familiar optimism that comes with the first barbeque of the season could be felt in the Holte End.
The result is all that counts for me. Recently, Aston Villa have been terrible to watch. The football has been below poor, the effort and commitment from the players has been questionable, and the club as a whole has been glancing anxiously over itís shoulder towards the relegation zone below us. To expect a team in that kind of rut to come out and play like Brazil is unrealistic. They didnít play like Brazil, but they dug in, they were resolute, they rode their luck when they needed to, and they took their chances when they came. With the nerves that would be guaranteed on an occasion like this, itís unfair to ask for any more. The players and management produced what was needed and 3 points were secured. Job done. Whatís next?
What I really want to talk about is Gary Cahill. A young lad who yesterday made his 2nd Premiership start for Aston Villa. Cahill has been something of a cult figure since he made a huge impact while on loan at Burnley and, following the intensification of Villaís central defensive injury crisis, has suddenly taken on the responsibility of plugging the leaks in Villaís back line.
Iíve heard all the reports about Cahillís abilities, Iíve seen him play a few times for Burnley in a league which, most football fans would agree, is a far cry from the cut and thrust of the Premiership. Iíve seen him for Villaís reserves and I saw him last week for the first team against the Baggies. Through all this Iíve been very reluctant to compliment the lad too much; I hate setting up young players too high only for them not to consistently meet the expectations we have for them, and all too quickly their chances are written off.
Yesterday we saw all the good things about Gary Cahillís game. He can read the game very well, and has the physical and mental strength not to be overawed or bullied away from doing his job. He wonít match Baros, Moore or Agbonlahor for awesome pace, but over 5 yards there will be few people who can beat him. In the goalmouth scrambles that happened in front of Tommyís goal yesterday, he was able to beat a few players to the ball and clean up quite efficiently when needed. He is more than willing to put his body on the line. I lost count of the amount of times yesterday when Gary Cahill flung himself blindly in front of shots and took the big hits when he needed to. Yes, thatís the job of every central defender, but Cahill did it yesterday without question. His willingness to put his body on the line is something that has been lacking for us this season
He also seemed to possess one of the most important qualities for any young defender. He was lucky. At times when the shots and crosses were raining in, and he made himself big, he blocked shots, and he made big tackles. He was never adjudged to fouled and conceded a penalty or a dangerous free kick to punish us. That luck will hopefully continue for him, because itís vital.
And then thereís the luck which presented him with a ball, 5 feet in the air, 8 yards from goal. To be in that situation definitely needs luck. Then thereís the short burst of pace which ensured he got to that ball in time. In time for him to leap into the air and execute a magnificent scissors kick and score a goal that he, and most Villa fans, will never forget.
In the hour that had preceded that goal, I had forgotten that Gary Cahill was 20 years old and only starting his 2nd Premiership game. He looked like part of the furniture. He fit. He and Ridgewell showed that they had played regularly together, they had a good understanding of each otherís movements. In short, Cahill looked like he had been playing in the Premiership for many years.
Sitting in the Trinity Road stand, I could see the sun reflect off Gary Cahillís smile for 15 minutes after his goal. That smile, and the adrenaline that flowed through him following his goal, reminded me that this kid is just that; a kid. A kid who had just scored a vital goal in front of a packed Holte End. And when I saw Liam Ridgewell try to bring him back down to earth, I realised that I was becoming guilty of what I had sworn not to do. I was building Gary Cahill up too soon.
Cahill seems to possess all the attributes necessary to become an excellent player. His argument in favour of a bigger contract will have been dealt no damage by his display yesterday. However, if Olof Mellberg is fit for the match at Wigan, I would suggest that Gary Cahill sit on the bench and be allowed to come back down to earth; not with a bang, but softly enough to realise that not every game will result in him scoring Pele-esque goals and being adored by 37,000 Villa fans.
Gary Cahill is a talent that needs to be nurtured. Up to now, David OíLeary has been very skilful in his protection of the young players. Under his guidance, Luke Moore, Steven Davis, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Craig Gardener and now Gary Cahill have all come into the first team and made positive impressions. Part of that guidance has been knowing that young players need to be excluded at times. Replacing Liam Ridgewell with Gary Cahill at Wigan would, in my opinion, put too much pressure on Cahill too soon. I want Gary Cahill to be a very good player who is remembered for his years of committed and accomplished service in the Villa defence, not as the kid who scored that great goal but was crushed under the weight of expectation.
By Gary Gleeson
Date:Tuesday April 18 2006
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