Something For The Weekend (206)
Travelling broadens the mind and widens the girth - but shrinks the bank balance.
Another awesome performance this week from the travelling Villa fans, as they had to not only get down to White Hart Lane on Monday night, but then, after presumably returning home for a change of socks and their passports, had to get themselves to Bulgaria for Thursday's UEFA cup game against Litex Lovech. This required them to endure the travails of jobs-worth's HQ at British airports and then play Chingachgook through the Bulgarian wilderness, where a talent for reading the runes written in donkey entrails, to find the old hideout of Vasil Levski, was essential, and where the ability to read traffic signs written in the script of Saint Cyril, was definitely no disadvantage.
By the TV evidence, many of them made it, and were there on time for the kick-off, (which is more than Channel 5 managed) with the creamy foam of countless Boliarkas, Kamenitzas and Shumenskos, still dripping off their chins and their Villa shirts greasy from their late supper of Lukanka. I guess, if you can master the complexities of Spaghetti Junction, you can find your way to anywhere - but fierce respect is due.
Villa were pretty, pretty good on Monday, as they played Spurs off the park and so it must have made travelling to Bulgaria, rather easier to contemplate than had they lost, but lets face the facts, even if Villa had been thrashed, these guys would have gone anyway. Once again - totally awesome.
The game against Litex was very educational, even if Villa looked like they were still in the dazed bovine state which the modern British airport experience is designed to induce these days. O'Neill decided to give Gardner a humbling experience by playing him out of position, so, we are to presume, as a way of keeping his feet on the ground after his eye-catching man-of-the-match performance against the Icelandics. Villa's sage in residence, might have been trying the same thing with Gabby, as Erdington's own was given a taste of what its like to plough a lone furrow, or what is generally known as - in the shit without a shovel.
He did okay but didn't get much joy.
Say what you like, it was an eccentric formation and with the Olbion coming up, we were left to assume, that the ones he rested, were the ones he considers, key players not worth risking.
But it has to be said that Litex were great and but for a lack of discipline, in getting themselves sent-off, they might have got themselves a very honourable draw. Their Brazilians were excellent and Popov caused Villa all sorts of problems. The locals can take a lot of pride from their team's performance. Villa might take consolation from a flattering result.
Even though I can't really approve of a club the size of Litex preferring Brazilians to their local lads, the quality of their play made it look like a very nice club to support, and should I ever get round to buying that Bulgarian farmhouse, for ten grand, Litex might be the perfect club to divert my attention, when I am not growing mangelwurzels or rooting for truffles in the woods.
Stan the Man was right, Marlon Harewood was key to turning the game round for Villa - even against ten men and then nine. Although the Hare is never going to be the world class finisher the fans crave, he could become a bloody good player, if he could add a little to his game, in the way of holding the ball up and laying it off. If he thinks he might be ousted by the arrival of Heskey, which can never be discounted, perhaps he could learn to play like him. As the big galoot laid off the ball for Petrov to score, I couldn't help but wish he could do a bit more of that sort of thing.
As he gets older and a bit slower, he needs to adapt his game, or risk running his career head-down into the buffers.
But even for those intrepid souls who spent Thursday burping Bulgarian beer and sheep's cheese, this was not much of a Villa performance and the whole game turned on the intervention of a friendly divot, which killed Barry's speculative long ball, bamboozled the Litex goalkeeper and rewarded Reo-Coker's endeavour.
It was a great result which will hopefully paper over the cracks of the performance but I have to say I saw very little to take much pride in, and but for a very forceful performance from Nigel Reo-Coker and a solid display from Villa's central-defenders, I found very little to boast about.
All praise must therefore go to the fans, who underwent the long and almost unrewarded trek - the players put in a minimal performance. I have little doubt that Villa will finish things off at Villa Park and I suspect that when we tell the visiting Bulgarians that Aston Hall, is the manager's house, they will be as equally nonplussed as the Villa fans were, trying to read Cyrillic script.
Meanwhile the Villa fans must travel to the little village on the heath of broom, and take on the hostile tribe of the ancient nail-makers, where, if tradition is anything to go by, there will be no place for faint hearts, or the lackadaisical. Albion are still is possession of their full quota of self-belief and from the bits and pieces I have seen of them, they look capable of offering a stern challenge to Villa.
Hopefully, with big John Carew back and the mesmerising Ashley Young out wide, Villa will have enough to get past the Baggies.
Despite the slightly disappointing performance in midweek, should Villa beat the Albion, and so consolidate their fourth place in the Premiership, the fans will be travelling en masse to cloud cuckoo land, never mind Bulgaria.