All things said and done, 2007 was not such a bad year.
2008 looks quite promising too and hopefully we'll see Villa take another step forward and the gulf between them and the really big boys will be reduced significantly. It seems every year, one club or other, finishes in a position which turns out to be a false promise, of greater things to come, only for them to fall back the very next season. Newcastle got close and then they sacked Robson. Spurs did it and then they sacked Jol. It looks like it's someone else's turn this season, to get themselves into pole position for that big promotion, and we're all hoping it will be Villa.
Making the transition from decent to excellent, seems to test two things to breaking point - resources and the philosophy which is the driving force behind the ambition. The above examples (Spurs and Newcastle) seem to prove that it is the philosophy which usually fails first, as they seem to spend at least as much money, financing the consequences of the failed philosophy, as they would have, following it through. Lets hope Villa's philosophy is as bullet-proof and as well supplied as an Abrams tank.
After such a fantastic and for me a totally unexpected victory over Spurs, I have to admit to being still slightly tipsy, on the sheer delight of the win. I am not sure what Laursen said to Magic Mart after he scored the winner but O'Neill had the look of a schoolmaster reacting to some cheek from a pupil, at one point in the celebratory clinch. In that moment it seemed possible to detect the true essence, of what lies at the heart of good football management - the essential habit of constant mindfulness and the successful suppression of destructive spontaneity. As every interview seems to show, Martin O'Neill disguises his resolute avoidance of spontaneity, when dealing with the press, by means of his confounding bumbling wordplay. Like Les Dawson playing the piano badly, you know, that to seem to do it that poorly, you actually have to be pretty darn good.
While some fans expected Villa to make the sort of blitzkrieg assault on the Premiership which has been perpetrated by Sven City; as one year ended and another starts, others were learning to appreciate the creeping barrage, which has been Martin O'Neill's rather effective but perhaps less decorative means to the same end. Man City's International brigade, invigorated by a summer spend of £38m, are both good and pretty, even if up to this week's win at Newcastle, their away form has been enough to make Stephen Ireland's granny, feel even more unwell.
Villa are not too far behind but their counter-attacking style has served them better on the road than at Villa Park. City, Villa and Everton now make up the leading pack of the second-tier, outside the Champions League-financed mega-clubs of the elite. Everton are doing well on the back of the much improved form of midfield-maestro, Arteta, and the return of the super-competitive Aussie Cahill. Moyes seems to have escaped the consequences of his wasteful misadventure with the misfiring James Beattie, who he replaced with the prolific Yakubu. In the pack that follows, Portsmouth, Blackburn and even Newcastle, are within a few points of overhauling any team which might be contemplating a mid-winter slump.
Every one of these clubs has money enough to bring in reinforcements. Each club has different priorities and needs. It then becomes a lottery as to whether the clubs' needs match what is actually available - something the fans tend to overlook. And then, according to Lawro, players bought in January NEVER come good, until the start of the next season, so you could argue that there is not much point unless you are desperate. Unless, that is, you accept that two days after the transfer window closes, circumstances might conspire to actually make you desperate.
With only two points now separating Villa from Liverpool's expensively assembled squad, (Torres, thankfully, kept in cotton-wool), Villa's and O'Neill's achievements look like spectacular value for money by comparison. But despite that seductively slender margin, the odds of either of the two clubs winning anything, between now and May, are still heavily in favour of the Red Scouse.
But what about Red Manc?
Is it actually possible for Villa to beat the team, most people seem to be backing to win the Premiership? Beating Chelsea and Inter-Milan showed the sort of level Villa can play at but Man United? To me, it is possible but the psychological hurdles set by recent history and precedence are so much higher.
Beating Man United would be on par with one of Christ's more spectacular miracles - we're talking Loaves and Fishes, and Lazarus of Bethany all rolled into one. A victory would provoke an evangelical cry around the globe, that Villa were back and were on the threshold of something surpassing most of the things, they achieved at a time when even clubs like Forest and Ipswich could compete. Things are that much tougher these days. Can Mart Fantastic unleash Villa's Fantastic Four?
No pressure then?
We've all seen United play badly. We have seen Ferdinand mess-up big-time. We have seen Ronaldo have an off-day. We've seen Rooney play for England - 'nuff said. We've seen Villa fleetingly touch great heights already this season. Can Barry, Reo-Coker and Petrov dominate that midfield. Can Laursen win every header and block every shot? Can Ashley produce the sort of crosses, that just can't be defended against. Can Gabby produce the goals, which confirm his promotion to Capello's first England team? Can they be heroes, just for one day?