Something For The Weekend (165)
So near, yet so far!
Its not what you do its the way that you do it, or so the old saying goes, and Villa certainly proved the truth of that, as the post-match reaction of the fans seemed to be more celebratory, than might be expected, after they witnessed their team fail, by a mere football's radius - the distance between a Carew equalizer and nowt - to get the point most neutrals thought they deserved from their memorable home tie with Arsenal, last week.
But losing is still losing no matter how close you come, and had the halves been reversed and had Arsenal closed the game with the sort of dominance and panache that had marked the first half, perceptions
would have been different and reactions less favourable. As it was, some impressive Villa qualities, like Young's superb crosses, and the whole team's marvellous Esprit de corps, left the fans with a rosy glow, to see them through the week. For forty-five minutes Villa had been the business and everybody knew it, including the Arsenal, who looked as relieved as Mafeking when the final whistle sounded. And Wenger must have patted himself on the back afterwards, for having a high enough opinion of Villa, to have rested some key players for his team's European trip, days before. Now that is what I call respect.
Seeing Arsenal's first half performance however, provoked only one question: How the hell, are Villa ever going to reach such heights? With the admission price to the exclusive top-four club, now running at something like £200m for the team alone, it looks rather daunting to say the least. Even Liverpool's wealthy American owners are said to be baulking at the combined cost of building a new stadium, and handing over great wads of cash for players. A moon landing is beginning to look like a cheaper option than launching Liverpool to the top of the Premiership. So it very much looks like Villa will have to take another route, which involves substantial amounts of genius, luck and divine-intervention - known biblically as a miracle.
But miracles do happen.
For those like myself, awaiting such miracles, drawing Man United in the FA cup did not look very favourable. Its not really what you want is it but the fact is these days, is that no ordinary team can win the damn thing, and even given the best draw your prayers can beseech, you are going to meet a top team in the final anyway and get stuffed. So you might as well play the top teams in the early rounds, where you can stun the world by beating them, or just get it out of the way at very little cost to pride or reputation. No one expects Villa to win and so there's nothing really to lose, not like losing or drawing to someone from the lower-leagues, which damages the spirit, risks injury for nothing and clogs up the fixture-list.
But never mind that, Villa have a massive game tomorrow against Portsmouth, who are a club many Villa fans regard as a much more significant test of Villa's progress, than putting on a show against the fancy-dans of Arsenal. Losing to the top teams is more or less expected these days, such is the state of the league, but playing your main rivals for a place in the top-six, is a whole new ball game, many will see as a head-to-head for two outside candidates for the England job. There will be even some Villa fans who will see it as a public decider, as to which manager has spent his money more wisely - an accolade some might even hand to Redknapp before a ball is kicked.
With Reo-Coker returning, nicely rested after his suspension, Villa should have their best eleven available, and a loss is unthinkable. After showing such fine form over the last few weeks, the question remains as to whether they are to push on to greater things, or whether it was a flash in the pan. There is just a hint of deja vu for the fans as they find their team in a rather familiar region of the table just outside the top six. Its the sort of position which became rather familiar for quite a few managers over the years and the fans are eager to find out, whether this time its different. Recent form has ratcheted up expectations and tomorrow's result will send the fans into either ecstasy or glum despair. A top six place, will certainly get me believing that something very special is taking place. A loss and it will be back to the same-old-same-old.
It is a tough call and taking into account the double-curse of O'Neill and Gabby both getting Barclay's awards, it would seem like some kind of miracle, if Villa were to continue the form which gave them four wins in a row, before they stumbled against Arsenal. The only thing I am really certain about, is that if Harry's missus gives him some sandwiches to eat during the game, they won't be in a brown paper-bag.
It is going to be a rather chilly day and temperatures are expected to peak at 5C round kick-off time, when the rain will start falling sideways on a chilling horizontal breeze. Extra insulation and liberal quantities of Bovril, are recommended and let us pray, that Villa produce another heart-warming performance.
Lets go down to the Villa and pray: