Something For The Weekend (203)
It might not have broken out into actual excitement but Villa's Thursday night UEFA cup stroll, was a comfortable and worry-free experience and at no time did my pulse exceed basal rate, either through anxiety about disappointment, or through stunning play. In fact, it was such a pleasant night and the prices were so low, I found myself rather regretting that I wasn't there, as it turned out to be one of those great lessons in the dullness of the early rounds of European football, when big-boned Scandinavians, by tradition, decorate away grounds with eye-catching visiting blonde ladies, with all their implicit promise of what's to look forward to, when the nights are six months long, while packing English midfield areas with guys all called 'son.
I am not sure what the record is but FH Hafnarfjordur, actually fielded twelve 'sons on Thursday night, and the other was a 'sen; which is pretty good I thought. It gives a whole new meaning to the expression, 'On me 'ead old 'son!'.
But having being rather ordur in their home leg the visitors were more like Hafnarfj in Thursday's away tie, and Villa's second-stringers never quite offered the challenge, O'Neill's first-eleven might have done.
Channel Five's television presenters did their best to liven up a rather dull affair, with their special brand of rather misplaced enthusiasm, their tendency to get the Villa names wrong (Petrov played the first half apparently) and, just in case the game was not quite as riveting as it wasn't, their director's non-PC tour of beauties in the crowd, ensured that the viewers' night of football zazen, at least, included a few talking points. It is a credit to Channel Five that they continue the babe-watch tradition, which has long been banned by the harridans and castrati at the BBC, although, I did feel sorry for the chubby Villa girl, who was juxtaposed with some Scandinavian whippets, just as she was tucking into her double-portion of chips, while elbowing her scrawny beau, out of reach of her steaming polystyrene Plat Du Villa.
Cheeky gets - what were they implying about our Brummie wenches?
As for the game, it was always going to be dull, especially, if you not only drop a number of key players but you then play the better players, still in the team, out of position.
The logic of experimenting was indisputable but Martin O'Neill's expressions of disappointment and mild surprise, at the performance, were not quite sincere. Shifting the England captain (well he was once) to left-back and giving Gardner and Salifou a run-out in midfield, was a good idea and actually quite interesting but it was an experiment, which took precedence over other priorities, like entertainment. Admitting as much however, would have been rather impolitic, by those taking the dosh off some disappointed fans.
Excluding Friedel's crucial and costly flap, it worked well as an experiment and as an exercise in maintaining a shape, Villa did well - indeed, rather too well, in that respect, and by the time Routledge finally started to get some crosses into the box, there were never any Villa players within ten yards of getting near them. It was definitely a night when Villa were happier to keep what they already had, rather than risk going for more.
Gareth Barry might have been reminded why he gave up playing left-back, too.
But experiment or not, Villa definitely need to improve for the visit of Liverpool on Sunday, as Thursday's eleven didn't look like they would trouble Red Scouse much. As ever, it is a massive test for Villa, as they measure themselves against the team who represent the first tier of the top-four and therefore are their nearest and fiercest rivals. Loving a conspiracy-theory, as I do, I even thought that the whole Barry saga, was some kind of attack, meant to disrupt a team, many have down, as making an outside challenge for Champions League qualification.
Stranger things have happened.
Liverpool have had a rather poor away record over the last couple of seasons and are not quite firing on all cylinders this, but they have always enjoyed the rub of the green at Villa Park, while Villa have never quite had the quality to get themselves over the line, when the two teams looked evenly matched. The game certainly offers a chance to see whether O'Neill's summer-spend has improved quality as well as numbers.
Liverpool will be without their talisman in Gerrard but with big questionmarks hanging over Villa's defence and goalkeeper, it will be a very nervy Sunday afternoon for yours truly. Let's hope that Friedel handles the crisp shooting of Torres, from the edge of the box, better than he and his defenders, coped with Stoke's bamboozling hyperbolics, last week.
Should Villa actually lose, they will be made to realise, that the present distribution of power in the Premiership, means that winning games like Stoke, are far more important than looking decent against the top-four sides.
One thing's for certain, it will be a cracking atmosphere down Villa Park, come Sunday afternoon, and hopefully, the fans will get to see and wave in the general direction of James Milner, who signed today. He was always a big favourite with the fans, from his previous loan spell, and he really looks like perfect material for John Robertson to work with, on the finer points of wingmanship. I have a great liking for the lad and I am rather obsessed with the idea, that should he grow a big moustache and opt for a centre-parting, he would look exactly like one of the Greats from the 1890's. Its that cleft-chin that does it and he's a face that just begs to be put on a cigarette card.
Let's hope he is available for Villa's visit to Bulgaria, in three weeks, after they were drawn against the unlikely named Latex Love-itch (requires something antifungoid, I seem to remember), in the UEFA cup.
If the Bulgarians are as bad as their karaoke singers, which seems unlikely, it should be another shoo-in for Villa.
See video for Bulgarian talent - who is Ken Lee, anyway - yet another Villa signing?