In The Bleak Mid-Winter: Some Villa Thoughts
I was once driving to a local spa town to do a bit of shopping on a warm, summers day. I had the air conditioning turned on within my car and the drive was going as well as you could expect. And then something caught my eye. Emerging, slowly, from one the air vents was a rather big wasp.
I`m not particularly phobic of wasps. But I don`t take kindly to anything sneaking up on me and then buzzing around my head as I attempt to drive to a nice spa town. And as such, whenever I get into my car, even some two years later, my mind often goes back to that summer`s day, and puts me on edge as I begin to wonder whether some winged beast is set to crawl out from the depths of my engine and batter me around the head with a cricket bat.
Don`t worry - I`m not rambling on about cars in order to try 'educate` that you need to drive slower because it has been snowing like every media outlet seems to have this morning - I`m trying to explain the uneasiness that I feel over tonight`s game.
'The Peter Enckleman Moment`, which happened many years ago now, was the wasp initially showing it`s face. It`s over now - it`s happened. We`ve buried the ghost of St Andrews past and given them a bloody good thrashing on the way. And yet tonight, I`m sat here awaiting a similar embarrassment to the one all those years ago.
It`s ridiculous. I don`t even care that much about Birmingham City. Sure, I hate them. But I hate everyone, and everything. I`m one of those people who can always find something or someone to hate. Give me five minutes and I`m sure I could start pouring bile out over the most gentile of football clubs.
Yet I`m worried. I think we`re on the cusp of a bit of a disaster here, if I`m honest. I`m worried about Houllier`s comments with regards to taking the edge out of it as I think he`s underestimated exactly how bitter the locals down the road are.
I`m worried that we are currently very much in a transitional period. The players we have fit, who were brought in to play one style of football, are having to learn a new way of playing in the middle of the season. We are also having to play youngsters, some of whom will probably not make it as top professionals, against the very best in the division, and if not that, then in tricky circumstances like tonight.
I`m worried about our fixture list. We are currently at the beginning of a run of games which are extremely difficult. In fact, I can`t really see any chance of ramping up a bit up form until February - until then we`re looking at a nine points haul maximum. Mix that in with this transitional period that we appear to be in and we could easily find us in the bottom three come Christmas and New Year.
We`ve been a victim of circumstance, in a way. It`s not Villa`s, nor Houllier`s fault that O`Neill decided to throw his toys out of his pram at the worst time possible. This was going to happen whoever got appointed manager. I`m 100% fully behind the manager. However, he is making things hard for himself.
I don`t understand the logic of trying to change the team`s philosophy at the time he came it. It reminds me of when Sammy Lee was promoted to manager at Bolton with Allardyce left. He wanted to completely change the way the team played, but without making many personnel changes. It flopped, and he was sacked. Why? Because unless you are incredibly talented, in which case you wouldn`t be playing at Bolton, or sad to say, Aston Villa, you can tend to be able to play in a particular style and struggle at others. That`s why we`re struggling now - we are asking players who O`Neill brought to the club to play his particular brand of football, to now play the passing game that Houllier wants. And I`m not sure the likes of Richard Dunne is capable of it.
I also don`t think the manager is helping himself with the team choices. One up front is a cowardly formation, one, which having seen Sunderland beat Chelsea by going two up top will hopefully start to go out of fashion. And starting Pires, a 37 year old man, in the middle of midfield against Arsenal.
Hopefully the transfer window will change that, and allow Houllier to bring in at least a few of his own men. But even then, with the fixture list as it is, it could be a long, hard winter - and that`s not just because of the weather. I`m also unsure as to whether Houllier will have the money to spend that we perhaps thinks he needs.
It`s not all bad. I`m enjoying the fact that players only play if fit, not half fit. And clearly this new style of play is getting the best out of some players, notably Downing.
So, whatever happens tonight, lets keep our heads and not compound the misery. Because I fear that there will be worse to come over the coming months than a loss to Birmingham City in a cup competition which whilst would be nice to win in, doesn`t really matter in the scheme of things.
And to be honest - there are worst things that could happen than losing a game of football. It could all be about to kick off in the Far East dragging the world into a rather nasty war. What? Oh.