Something For The Weekend (152)
I am not sure it gets much better than this - one of the best Villa performances in years and then the FA goes and gives us a full fortnight to savour it.
Bring it on!
It was one of those performances which had 'Cloughie' written all over it, as Villa were defiant in defence for long periods of the game, and where you might expect Laurence Valentine Lloyd and Kenny Burns, there was Zat Knight and Martin Laursen. Then with lightening speed, just like in those Cloughie days, Villa counter-attacked in the manner of Gemmill and Woodcock, through Young and Agbonlahor. It was fantastic and all the more so, for being so unexpected.
As a burgeoning old scrote, who is well into his anec-dotage I couldn't help but recall that game (April 5th 1978) when Villa attacked non-stop at home to Forest, only to lose it in the 88th minute via a Tony Woodcock goal.
Forest were champions that year.
We cursed our fortune that night but Forest did the old rope-a-dope trick far too often (Malmo & Hamburg etc) for it to be just luck.
Could Scott Carson be the next Peter Shilton? I can't see why not.
A great defence combined with lightening counter-attack served Forest well and the records show that it was a system that consistently beat much better teams than Cloughie's men. That's why they called Cloughie a genius.
Can Villa defy the odds and do the same? Only time will tell.
Of course Laursen was brilliant on Sunday but not in that all-the-time-in-the-world Rijkaard kind of way, or even with the insouciant touch of McGrath (the foot of god), but with that slightly untidy, 'I'll
stop you with my bollocks if I have to', kind of way. Effective but not always pretty. God bless his mighty scrotum, is what I say.
There were several outstanding performances, including the referee, but I have to say that I was the most pleased with Ashley Young's display, which although no more crucial than several other key players, showed an awareness, rarely seen in decades of Villa wingers. He showed the ability to mix it up and the Chelsea right-back had a very difficult time. If the back marked him high up the field he knocked it into the space behind him and if he stood off, Young crossed early. It was the sort of intelligent and tactically aware performance, which bodes well for his England career and he certainly looks like a decent candidate for the right flank, in Beckham's absence. But England is a huge step up for such a young lad and will test his mental capacities more than his ability to produce good service from the flanks.
The sacking of the Swede does not seem to have brought about the improvement, putting an Englishman in charge, was supposed to bring - they actually look worse. And, such is the lack of faith in their chances of qualifying, that players are now phoning in sick, just to avoid being listed amongst the scapegoats, should the worst happen. Heroically Gerrard has declared himself fit and will play, even if he has to take to the field, with as much bandage on his toe, as a cartoon character with gout.
So bring on the Villa boys?
Well, it's not actually likely. The England job is all about the latest safe choice, navigating their way through the consensus of who the collective dictates of the nation's sports journalists, think should play, and so caution is always the watchword. The chances of all three Villa players in the squad starting, are only slightly slimmer than, for them all being on the pitch, at any one time. Scott Carson should start but I think both Robinson and James are such ready-made scapegoats, he can't really leave them out. Having someone to blame would let everyone off the hook and that would be essential if the gobby punditry are to escape responsibility for ousting the Swede in the first place. Discovering that it was not such a good idea is not really in anyone's interest, so a single head on the block would be just what the pundit ordered. Its the time honoured English way.
As for the England coach, he seems to be as good as any Englishman available these days, and he seems a more than fair representative of his countrymen, bumbling along as he does, in the very best traditions of amateurism. He's honest too and that grin is a sincere expression of cheerful resignation, which puts the gloss on failure in every institution up and down our green and pleasant land. He seems to say with every gesture and facial expression, that it is an impossible job but as you can see, 'I am not letting it get me down'. I think only Gareth Southgate offers more to the England job, than McClaren, if only because of his single-handed attempt to reintroduce the mullet as a football fashion icon. He's quickly becoming the Michael Bolton of the English game.
Its unthinkable that England won't actually qualify for the finals. One look at the footage of Pavarotti this week, singing Nessun Dorma at the 1990 World Cup and you just could not help but think of the tears of Gascoigne, the most iconic image of the tournament. England might be always a bit shit when it really matters but the tournament needs the sort of tragic drama, they always bring to every occasion, never mind the odd riot. England always remind everyone else that they can play football and that their citizens are not as hopelessly uncivilized as the bloody English. This is especially important, with the finals being held in Switzerland, as they need to be reminded that mere peace, brotherly-love and the invention of the cuckoo-clock, have their consolations.
So come on England.
But what England need is a hero to emerge - the new Darius Vassel. No matter what he did or didn't do in a Villa shirt, or, what ever he has achieved for Man City, Darius was magic in an England shirt and saved the nation's bacon more often than most people realise. He just had that knack of producing the goods (remember his over-head kick) and was totally unfazed. Like Platt saved England against Belgium in 1990, it definitely needs a Villa hero to step up and put things aright for the nation. Who ever it turns out to be - your country needs you.
Ideally, a player should step up, do the business, ensure that England qualify and then be dropped in favour of one of those twats, who messed up the World Cup and are now seeking refuge on the injury list. That would make it perfect.
Come on you Villans!