Villa Optimist's Credentials Being Tested?!
Several article titles suggested themselves to me after yesterday’s… fixture with Man Utd. They ranged from the obvious (a straight down the line match report), to the plain distasteful (speculating on Gareth Barry’s next destination), in the light of his MOM showing against the Red Scum: Maybe Man Utd could do with the lad Mr Fear…). Then I thought that, in anticipation of next week’s visit of David Moyes’ Everton, a comparison between the two managers mooted as potential successors to Ferguson (by none other than the great (not so much a ‘cough’ as a full on bronchitic fit) man himself) might be apposite. (And as a brief aside, how about this for a nightmare scenario?
Man Utd complete an unprecedented Quintuple TM, Ferguson retires on the highest, sweetest note yet sung, and MoN succeeds him. And then promptly recruits Barry and Ashley to augment the all-conquering Old Trafford all-stars. Words don’t even begin…) But instead, I thought I might toss off a heartfelt homage to the magical, mysterious, indeed Mystic Mug. Seven fixtures remaining, and it’s all to play for. Can the Villans tee off a la Faldo and make Norman’s of the Gallic Gunners? Or will the Villa set themselves up for a right royal Hammering? Less importantly, can I reassert my optimist’s credentials? In true Jim Bowen style, let’s have a look at what we could have won… In one!
Aston Villa vs. Everton AND Wigan vs. Arsenal
We entertain an Everton side fresh from a four-goal thrashing of Wigan, who, as luck would have it, entertain… Arsenal. Ah.
It really is all the ‘4’s, as for a fourth game running, Villa attempt to bounce back from a soul-destroying defeat. Villa won’t benefit from an inspiring return from injury in the case of either Laursen or Bouma. But all is not lost, for the great Heskey might return from his latest knock/strain/ouchie. This isn’t going well… Maybe our appetitie for revenge will have been as whetted by our FA Cup defeat at Everton’s hands, as their desire to avenge that last second winner was sated in said FA Cup defeat. But knowing Moyes, and knowing Everton, this is unlikely. There’s no question that, man for man, our boys are more talented than the Toffees. But we are bang out of form, whilst Everton have taken 14 points from their last seven fixtures, and also won three FA Cup ties. Or, putting it another way, they’ve lost just once in ten. Nevertheless, this is a winnable game for us. Having said that, I reckon MoN might be happy with a ‘morale boosting point’ TM. I also reckon such an attitude (remember Old Trafford? Thought so) is a recipe for disaster, which, in the Villa vernacular, translates as an encouraging, but ultimately futile, performance. Punting Pierre predicts a reverse of the Goodison Fixture; 2-3 to Everton, with Jo or Joleon (take your pick) grabbing a late winner as we chase a winner of our own, or attempt to hang on for a draw (take your pick).
Anyone remember Johnny Ball? These days, he’s most famous as Zoe’s progenitor (or dad), but once, he was a much-feared math fiend. Well, I’m rolling back the years, and wheeling out his catchphrase; think of a number. Got one? Okay, double it, then add 3, and you’ve got the number of goals l’Arse are ‘gunner’ put past Wigan. Actually, to be fair to Wigan, their usually pretty resolute in defence (Villa Park, last day in January, as a completely random example…), and have managed four wins, two draws, and lost just once in their last seven home games. So there’s hope. But let’s continue the interactive theme a while longer. Hands up if you think Arsenal are going to win? Yep, Johnny’s nodding, and Pierre is too. Even Mr Potato-Head is nodding! Away win.
Aston Villa vs. West Ham AND Liverpool vs. Arsenal
Having turned over the North London hairdressers on their own (bald) patch (maybe), the Hammers arrive at VP knowing that a win would take them to within two points of their hosts. Oh no! It’s another six-pointer! But never fear, for in true six-pointer style, the hapless Villans stop the rot (five defeats on the trot) and grind out a draw against the not-so-happy Hammers. Good job old Carlton Cole was injured. He might have made the difference… Villa maintain a five-point lead over West Ham with five games to go. Sixth place and a season of progression (we participated in Europe this season - honest! - and will do again - whoopee!) is on!
Punting Pierre predicts; Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal, as the Scousers (appropriately; they’re the wittiest people in the world you know. Or is that funniest… No. Actually they’re a thieving pack of cheesy wotsits. Just kidding. Thereby proving the point that those born in Reading are actually the funniest - I mean wittiest - people in the world) laughable title challenge stalls. Again. With a draw at Anfield. Again.
Bolton vs. Villa AND Arsenal vs. Middlesboro
This fixture has ended in a score draw on each of the last three occasions. But with Bolton free from relegation concerns, and Villa still fighting, Willa contrive an away win courtesy of a flowing move comprising the ex-Villa trio of McCann, Samuel and Cahill, the latter scoring an og, with a spectacular overhead kick.
Arsenal face the daunting prospect of a Middlesboro side playing out of their skins and making a belated run for an Intertoto spot. Or not. And not only because the Intertoto went tonto and had to be euthanized. Middlesboro are crap (and I’ll prove it later). Home win. Obviously. I didn’t even need Pierre for that one.
Aston Villa vs. Hull AND Portsmouth vs. Arsenal
Hull aren’t safe yet. But they will be. But they’re going to have to sweat a little more (enjoy the novelty people: Hull’s freezing). Villa record their first home win in near-as-dammit three months (that famous victory over the mighty Doncaster. The last league win came a week shy of four months ago, over the inept Baggies). Pierre says, Villa un, ‘Ull neil.
‘Play up Pompey, Pompey play up’. The so-called Pompey chimes, so-called for no reason at all. I don’t know about you, but hearing grown men, women and children sing that drivel, even on the telly, weirds me out. Goodness knows what it’ll do to the French rationalists. Wenger’s encyclopaedic knowledge of European passport law is matched by the left-overs of ‘Arry’s African adventures. Whaddya know? It’s a stalemate. That’s my justification for a draw. Pierre’s more rational justification is that for the past three seasons this fixture has ended in a draw.
Aston Villa vs. Fulham AND Arsenal vs. Chelsea
A little family rivalry as my beloved Villa face my old man’s Cottagers. In a game of football, obviously. Fulham have nothing to play for. Villa have fractionally more to gain, going into today’s fixtures a mere seven points behind, with nine left to play for. Pierre predicts; Victoire Villa!
In another part of London, these sophisticated continentals, with European glory in their sights, head to Westphalia, or Versailles, or anywhere in Luxembourg, and declare a truce. Pierre proclaims “Mek lurve, not Wor!”. Or something like that. I say “Arsenal one, Chelsea one”, but because I play around with my emphases, thousands of pools-punters miss out on that vital three points, whilst, Joe Cole, returning from injury in the fixture, and therefore knowing the actual score, alone takes the £3million jackpot. Rich footballers. Don’t you just love ‘em?
Middlesboro vs. Aston Villa AND Man Utd vs. Arsenal
The farther one gazes into the future, the thicker is the fog that falls… But wait! I see… goals! Goals galore! We’ve notched no fewer than ten goals in our last three visits, conceding just the one. True, Middlesboro may have been poor in years gone by, but these days they’re poorer than poor. One ‘r’ poorer to be precise. Yes! Middlesboro are literally ‘poo’! Hurrah! Villa score five. And no reply! Let’s have a look at how the goal difference looks now! Er… on second thoughts, don’t bother.
Joy of joys! Man Utd continue their inexorable charge into the history books with a Wenger-riling, last-minute-of-injury-time winner, that involves two fouls (on Van Persie and Fabregas), an offside, and three dives (all from Ronaldo) in the build-up. All true football fans rejoice, their hearts exalted as they reflect on Man Utd’s glory. Or perhaps not. But Villa fans hold their noses, then rejoice, because somehow, Arsenal are just two points ahead! I can barely believe it, but there’s Pierre, nodding in that Frenchly smug fashion, shrugging Frenchly, and murmuring, He-hon, he-hon. Okay. I admit it. I made that first bit up. He was nodding sagely.
Aston Villa vs. Newcastle AND Arsenal vs. Stoke
The farther one gazes into the past, the fouler is the mood at Villa Park… Actually, that’s not quite true. Remember O’Leary’s first season? We played Newcastle at home last up that season too. Eerily, qualification for Europe rested on that fixture as well… History can be painful. A draw would have seen us keep Newcastle at arm’s length, but we went and lost. Bloody Damien Duff. But these days, DD is more like do-do, and Newcastle are poorer than poor. One ‘r’ poorer to be precise… (Dear and gentle reader, if only you could witness the expression of manic delight on my mystic mug!). Toilet humour is the purest form of wit (maybe), but such profound pleasure isn’t quite enough to compensate for the pain. Yes, we win, but so do Arsenal. They’re playing Stoke! What did you expect - a happy ending?
Two measly points. Two! If there were but one more fixture. If only we hadn’t drawn at home with Stoke, or Wigan, or Fulham. Or Man Utd. Or Arsenal! If only we had dared to dream in the Theatre… If. If… Ruddy Kipling. (I hate Bakewell tarts. All that red. All those tarts. Reminds me of going to the Theatre…) But maybe, instead of drawing with Liverpool and Chelsea, Arsenal lose both times. It’s plausible! But there’s still the goal difference. But what if Arsenal get thrashed? Twice? But what if we score ten against Middlesboro?! We’re due to give someone a cuffing… Lots of ‘ifs’. Lots of ‘buts’. Load of arse.
Of course, this is just one man’s prediction. And a Frenchman at that. Pierre! Of course he was going to be biased! But seriously. No, seriously. I don’t think we’re going to catch Arsenal, and I don’t think that makes me a bad person. I’ve actually surprised myself in predicting that we will see off Everton. For a moment there, I was maddened with worry by those baggy trouser-wearing cockneys (and scared stiff of that gnomish, gnomic Italian). But in my humble opinion (I can’t speak for Pierre), finishing fifth makes Martin O’Neill a bad person. I’m not saying anymore. (I can’t speak for Pierre.)