Date:Wednesday January 9 2013
Coral Windows Stadium
Attendance: 22 245
Well, what do I say? Where do I start? What can I add to what has probably already been said over and over again by Villans everywhere since that final whistle blew?
There`s a million and one things I could write and say at this early hour, things that I`d probably regret saying come the morning light. Words almost fail me if I`m honest, but I`ll give it my best shot, and here goes.
I suppose come the morning light that I`ll remind myself that its still only half time, that we came back from 3-1 down in the first leg to over turn Tranmere Rovers back in 1994. I suppose I`ll come up with excuse after excuse to explain away the Valley Parade humbling, and dig up every reason why we`ll beat Bradford City convincingly at Villa Park in two weeks time. I`ll even believe my excuses and reasons, but as for right now, I just feel angry, frustrated, and bitterly disappointed at a result and performance that I didn`t see coming, but probably more fool me, I should have done.
After the tiring drive home, its been a long, long day for me, I`m not ready to hear excuses though, nor am I ready and willing to look for the possibility of an escape route that might see us escape from this predicament.
With impeccable timing, the powers that be at my Huddersfield head office, decided that Tuesday January 8th would be deemed a 'Sales Management Meeting` day. Consequently, rather than yours truly having to conduct his days business in and around Brummagem, with a late afternoon drive up to the white rose county, a 5.30 a.m departure from my home, found me at company headquarters bright and early, 7.10 a.m. in fact, just a mere fifteen miles or so away from my evening destination, the city of Bradford, West Yorkshire.
Ahead of me, a nice laid back, relaxing few hours spent around the conference room table, before the real business of the day got underway, and I departed Linthwaite for the short journey to meet up with my three regular partners in crime in Oakenshaw at 5.00 p.m.
Most of the employees at my company`s head office, in the manufacturing laboratories, warehouses etc., are Huddersfield Town supporters, with a fair few Leeds fans thrown in for good measure, but I learned that there is a sprinkling of Bradford City fans employed there, along with my old mucker George Latham, in our transport/delivery department, who supports Bradford Park Avenue.
They play their football in the Conference North nowadays, after going into liquidation and leaving the football league back in the mid-seventies. "I haven`t been to Valley Parade in forty odd years'" he told me, " but I`m going along tonight. Chance to see a premier league team. I couldn`t get to the Arsenal game, so when they drew Villa, I thought, why not. Whisper it quietly around the Bantams fans here, but I`m cheering on your team". Good old George. Must remember not to tear into him next time an important delivery is not shipped on time.
I myself have only been to Valley Parade on five occasions. Twice in the early seventies, when back in our old third division days we won one, lost the other, both 1-0 scorelines, in '87-'88 in our old second division promotion campaign, when we won there 4-2 (Stuart Gray`s debut), and the last two times was back in 1999-2000, and 2000-01 in the premier league, when we drew 1-1, and won 3-0. I did see us beat them 7-1 back in 1964, a League Cup quarter-final at Villa Park, with my hero Tony Hateley notching four goals. That result, and big Tony`s hat trick plus one, made the young schoolboy that I was, a very happy chappy indeed.
I arrived at the pre-arranged meeting place to find my three cohorts already in attendance, so after a quick visit into the gentlemen`s to replace my business attire with more appropriate wear, we settled down to enjoy our pre-game refreshments, in the company of nine or ten fellow Villans. The party atmosphere was added to by the arrival of son-in-law number one and daughter number three - they are not married to each other, son-in-law number one is married to daughter number one, daughter number three is engaged to a son-in-law to be, a Greenock Morton supporter no less (you think its confusing, spare a thought for me. I can never remember just whose married to who), and they were accompanied by two of their friends previously unknown to yours truly.
More travelling Villans were entering the pub as our round table debate, my second big debate/discussion of the day, got into full swing. So many differing views and opinions shared regarding all things AVFC, it is no wonder that this is always one of my favourite parts of an away-day excursion. You obviously don`t agree with all of the observations aired, but much food for thought is provided, thoughts and offerings shared by claret and blue diehards who speak from the heart. I was certainly in my element, because in our extended gathering were a few older Villans, who quite readily and willingly recalled our visits to Bradford City back in the early seventies, sending the discussions off into a different direction, namely our late sixties demise, and the early seventies resurrection. The road back.
'All Things Must Pass` though, as the late, great Georgie Harrison so eloquently informed us way back when, so with food and drink consumed, the talk run dry, and kick off getting ever nearer, it was time to head off to Valley Parade, and take our places for the evening`s entertainment that so tantalisingly lay ahead of us. The scent of Wembley was by now very much in the air, excitement at a fever pitch, the taste of yet another League Cup Final appearance very much on the palate.
'No way we can lose this over two legs` voiced a young Villan as we queued to enter the stadium. 'No, you wouldn`t think so` responded friend Neil, 'but Manchester United thought that back in 1970 when they were the top flight team, facing an old third division Aston Villa. So we ourselves have shown that such a shock result can indeed happen at this stage of the competition, certainly if the top tier team doesn`t approach the games with the right attitude`.
I must add how spruced up and debonaire I must have looked as we entered Valley Parade, sporting my brand, spanking new 1980-81 claret and blue Champions replica shirt, a Christmas gift from my three year old grandson. Allied to the very fact that after losing a few pounds in recent weeks, and now being down to a stunningly trim and fit fifteen stone (I`m 6`4"), I`ll bet the home fans looked at me and thought I was on stand by to play centre-forward should Paul not fancy Christian and/or Darren. Actually, I believe that quite a few City fans must have nudged each other and commented, 'Hey look, that handsome chap over there was here in 1970. He doesn`t look a day older`. I would of course have readily agreed with them, while pointing out that unfortunately the button down Ben Sherman, the white Levi-Stayprest, and the monkey boots, standard footie attire back in 1970, were missing from my current match day wardrobe.
Right, enough of the nonsense. Time to get serious. Of course most of you good people reading these ramblings will have already seen the game on television, so I wont be reporting anything new. All I can attempt to do in this situation, is exactly what I always attempt to do. Namely express my views and observations from my seat in the stand, and try to get across the mood amongst the travelling Villans within my vicinity as the action and incidents unfold. I haven`t had the benefit of replays or repeated views that the television offers, so I just relay things back as I viewed them at the time they happened. As seen through my own eyes, with the emotions I felt at the time.
Yes I`m biased, of course I am, but I always attempt to paint a true picture. If I think we were poor, and the performance was below par, I`ll tell it exactly how it was. After all, if I`m going to pretty up a poor showing, I doubt that anyone would appreciate my writings.
So, to the line-up, and into action Paul opted to send the following troops:-
Shay Given; Matty Lowton, Cap`n Clark, Nate Baker, Joe Bennett; Lil` Barry Bannan, Fabian Delph; Andi Weimann, Charles N`Zogbia, Gabby Agbonlahor; Christian Benteke.
On the bench, awaiting the call to arms; Brad Guzan, Stephen Ireland, Darren Bent, Enda Stevens, Eric Lichaj, Graham Burke Sami Carruthers.
As expected there was a tremendous atmosphere inside the ground. Noisy, boisterous, passionate, two sets of supporters in great voice. Two sets of supporters convinced that their team was Wembley bound. What more incentive could you want?
Bradford City looked lively from the off, with Hines in particular proving to be a handful. Didn`t he score for West Ham against us a few seasons back, a late winner?
Charles N`Zogbia started brightly, prepared to take players on, and he put one early effort just wide. Christian Benteke should have done better when he put a free header also wide. Good opportunity, he should have at least tested the keeper. A great delivery from Barry Bannan again set up big Christian, but again he failed to put away the opportunity. In fact come the fifteen minute mark, Christian could have had a hat-trick. Poor finishing. Christian Bentheskey said a supporter behind.
'I hope this wasting of chances don`t come back to haunt us` added the very same supporter.
Sure enough, it did. Hines effort fell to Wells who steered the ball past Shay. 1-0 to the League Two outfit. We just stopped playing, looking for offside. City played the ball in and once again at the back we simply fell asleep.
A mistake from Joe Bennett nearly let City in again. Bennett was looking really shaky, dwelling on the ball, looking very nervous. Hines was giving Bennett a nightmare evening.
We`d had the chances, but hadn`t tested Duke in the City goal. We just hadn`t been clinical enough. There was no killer instinct from the lime greens. Christian put in an effort from twenty five yards, but it was straight at Duke. So frustrating.
Bradford up the other end were putting pressure on our back four, a back four that looked increasingly nervy. In many ways, despite the opportunities we`d created, the home team were good value for their lead. We were struggling, looking more and more nervous.
Hines and Wells up top for Bradford were looking like world beaters, and with no disrespect meant to either player, they are lets face it, league two players. Our defenders just seemed unable to control them.
No doubt about it, we`d lost our way, although just before the break Gabby did manage to bring a great save out of the home 'keeper.
So half time arrived with us 1-0 down, and in truth I don`t think we could complain. We`d had chances, we hadn`t taken them, while at times at the back, we`d looked really out of sorts. 'Got to bring Bent on` was the theme of most supporters during the interval. 'We need someone to put away these half chances`. I wasn`t going to disagree, in truth we needed more energy and potency up top. We needed inspiration from somewhere. We needed inspiration all over the park.
Second half saw us on the front foot, and Duke in the home goal was off his line quickly to block Charles N'Zogbia`s effort following Christian Benteke's flick, then he was able to save Benteke's rather poor follow-up attempt. Barry Bannan sent in a superb cross from the left, and Christian Benteke met it with a powerful header. Duke got across to make a superb save, but again it was an opportunity that we should have buried. Just a couple of minutes later Duke again made an excellent stop from Gabby Agbonlahors effort, and it looked at that point as if a Villa goal would arrive at any time. We were certainly piling on the pressure, but credit to Matt Duke. He looked an extremely capable 'keeper, and was repelling everything we could throw at him.
It was definitely a much better showing from the lads, a huge improvement on what we had seen during the first forty-five. But in saying that, it was still a way below par offering. I for one had foolishly expected much better.
Bradford looked dangerous when they came forward though, our defence looking anything but solid. We concede a lot of goals for a reason, and until those consistent failings are rectified, we`ll continue to be an easy touch. We just cannot deal with crosses. That is one of our biggest problems. Any team who gets crosses into the box from out wide will create chance after chance for themselves.
With thirty minutes left Darren Bent came on for Gabby, but he put his first effort on goal, from an admittedly difficult angle, high, wide, and non too handsome. Our failure to hit the target continued. This certainly wasn`t premier league finishing that we were witnessing.
Charles N`Zogbia was booked for catching a City player late, and frustrations were also beginning to grow amongst the travelling support.
We were doing most of the pressing, but on the break Bradford looked dangerous, certainly well capable of adding a second goal.
Thankfully City took off Hines, replacing him with a.n. other, and within minutes we had another golden opportunity.
The home keeper parried Charles N'Zogbia's shot, and Benty, looking certain to finish off the rebound, timed his leap badly, and ended up nodding the ball over the bar. He even managed to injure himself in the process. 'Not our night` said the Villan to my left, shaking his head in desperation.
To make matters worse City added to their lead, following yet again, poor defending by our lot. A corner was half cleared, City swept the ball back in, and one of their guys powered in a header, giving Shay Given no chance. 2-0. Unbelievable.
With frustration creeping in, Fabian Delph received his customary unnecessary booking, and things almost got immediately worse, when City sent a header crashing against our crossbar, with Shay again beaten all ends up.
With six or seven minutes left on the clock we finally managed to beat Duke, and bring the tie back to 2-1. Benteke flicked the ball on to our modern day Gary Shaw, Andreas Weimann, and Andi beat Duke to the ball, lobbing it over the keeper and into the back of the net.
Darren Bent had clearly not shaken off that injury he sustained when heading over, and he was replaced by teenage striker Graeme Burke, who has always impressed me when I`ve seen him perform for the youngsters.
Worse was to come. We cant defend crosses, we cant defend corners, in fact we cant defend any ball swung into the box, and as if to ram the point home, we conceded goal number three when a Bantam was allowed time and space to send a powerful header hurtling past Shay Given.
We were holding on to avoid conceding a fourth, and as Bradford pressed forward, you wouldn`t have dared bet against another home goal.
Mercifully the whistle blew to end another ninety plus minutes of humiliation, and while the home supporters quite justifiably hailed their team, boos and jeers were thrown out by the travelling Villans. A shambles. Nowhere near good enough. Not acceptable.
The away support was far, far from happy, certainly in the angriest mood I have witnessed throughout this troubling campaign. Sorry Paul, Randy, but that I`m afraid was a disgraceful effort, and I feel I am justified in reiterating a comment that I recently made on the forum. This is without a doubt, one of the weakest, poorest top flight Villa teams that I have seen in my fifty years of supporting the club. Worse I`d say than the 86-87 team that exited the top flight, and arguably as bad as the 66-67 team that was also relegated from the old first division.
We dejectedly trooped out of the stadium to be met by the best defence we`d witnessed all night. A line of police officers strung out out across the road, and they proceeded to hold us back for about ten minutes to prevent us mingling with the home support.
Anger and frustration grew. Not at the police, not at Bradford City or their supporters. But at the shambles and disgraceful performance that we`d just witnessed from our lot.
Finally, to make matters worse, if that were indeed possible, upon returning to my car it suddenly hit me that I`d left my laptop computer over at Huddersfield. So ahead of me lay the lonesome trip home, in a thoroughly dejected mood, via my company head office to collect my laptop, and then head off back to Brum. It never rains but it pours, eh? Fortunately friend Neil opted to travel back with me. 'We can cry on each others shoulders` he said.
What a thoroughly depressing and disappointing day it ended up being. I collected the laptop without any difficulty, so that lapse of memory will soon be forgotten. Sadly that Villa showing wont be.
'Up the Villa` my fellow Vital Villans, and with that supportive comment, I`m off to bed, before I become way too critical and uncomplimentary about our beloved football club. Tomorrow`s another day, but unless Paul Lambert can bring in much needed quality reinforcements with the minimum of delay, the Valley Parade humiliation wont be the last miserable performance we`ll have to endure before the curtain closes on the 2012-13 campaign.
These are worrying times. No, let me correct that. These are extremely worrying times.
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Date:Wednesday January 9 2013
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