Something For The Weekend (249)
As the brilliant, nay, dazzling, nay, stunning news, came over from Anfield, that Villa had beaten Red Scouse by a resounding three goals to one, I was struck with a feeling which I assume a moderate win on the National Lottery, must induce. In fact, it was probably rather better than that, as I am told by those who have enjoyed a middling prize from the pools or the Lottery, that the initial glee is always soured by the irrepressible thought that it could have been a lot more.
Not something I associate too readily with Villa winning at Anfield.
Amazingly enough, on a quick glance at the records, Villa's record at Anfield is not too bad, if you are willing to go back a decade but has been quite appalling since John Gregory's boys beat Liverpool 3-1 at Anfield, back in 2001. Eight years might not seem that long for scrods, crones and wrinkles but it must have seemed like a lifetime for your average twenty-something denizen of the Holte End. So whatever pleasure I felt must have been trebled for those yelling their victory cries late into Monday night.
That result back in 2001, represented the last real high point of Villa's arc and after a wonderful early season start which had them challenging for the top, it all ended in November with a 3-0 loss at Newcastle, followed by two months of indifferent form, which led to the departure of the manager, after a clash about player-resources. Deep lows were to follow, as another cycle of cuts was introduced, to avoid the dreaded spectre of debt.
Lest we forget...
Football clubs usually have the same turning-circle as a super-tanker and so in a way, Villa's victory at Anfield might be seen as, not only a massive surprise, it might offer the hope that Villa, despite recent glitches, are slowly but surely moving up.
Not as though the press saw it that way - they couldn't really give a toss about Villa. They were only concerned with the fact that Liverpool had lost, which these days, no potential champions are allowed to do. A few years ago, I heard Alan Hansen say that to win the league, a team could only afford to lose seven games over a season but recent outcomes seem to suggest that that figure has gone down. Man United only lost four games (2008-9) and five games (2007-8). So there were more than enough reasons, to deprive Villa of any accolades.
We all know whose fault it was that Liverpool lost and with Gerrard going deeper and deeper to find the ball and being tracked every yard by Reo-Coker, it was clear that Rafa would have done better to have paid the asking-price for Gareth Barry, which would have left him with a clear profit from selling Alonzo and rather fewer problems in midfield than he has right now.
In fact, it would have been a tidier arrangement for all parties concerned, as Villa would have received rather more dosh, Gareth would have avoided the mercenary tag, and Gerrard would have got himself a midfield partner, he has a great understanding with. So all in all, a crap piece of business by Benitez.
But hey, Villa beat Liverpool and no one's going to stop me boogying:
There was rather less reason to boogie, as Villa made their exit from the Europe League and they have only themselves to blame, as having gifted Rapid Vienna a cushion, in the first minute of the first leg, they needed a little bit more than a professional performance, at home, to see them through to the league stage, where presumably the TV monies start to flow.
It was a decent performance and at least it allowed the fans to face their exit on a positive note but the victory could not disguise Villa's naivety. It was all a bit too reminiscent of Brian Lytle's exit from the UEFA cup against Helsingborgs in Sept '97, which was a similar night of non-stop attack, rendered futile by a single away goal for the Swedish cow-milers.
But at least there is one consolation - the Villa fans will not be expected to travel to Moldova, to watch the reserves play in a blizzard. Okay, they might not get blizzards in Moldova but you get my point.
Villa look to have enough problems nearer to home, to bother lamenting their European exit for too long, and the injury to Davies will require surgery at some point we may presume and then it will become a case of whether any of the new recruits can adequately fill his boots. Defenders are notoriously known to take a little time to find the right understanding with their team-mates, even when they are as good as McNaught or Vidic.
O'Neill seems to be acknowledging this as he is reportedly in the market for defenders. Stephen Warnock has arrived and a bid for Richard Dunne has been acknowledged. Warnock arrives with the reputation which earned him six minutes in an England shirt and he enjoys the same birthplace as Villa legend, Tony Morley (Ormskirk).
And, it has to be said that as a product of the Liverpool academy, he must have a great deal of natural talent. He has played forty-odd games a season for the clubs he has played for, so presumably he must be consistent and has not had too many injuries.
We welcome Stephen to Villa Park, in the knowledge that it has been a happy place for Scousers, both honorary and real.
Richard Dunne looks like one of those honest no-nonsense centre-backs, whose whole-hearted grit earn them forgiveness from the fans, for their technical shortcomings. I don't expect to see the second coming of a rather more famous centre-back with Dublin connections, often referred to as God, but if he can cure himself of his habit of getting red-cards, I am sure he will soon win the affections of the Villa fans. But as Martin Keown is often apt to say, Villa Park is a very harsh judge of players and the fans are rarely very forgiving.
But even if Dunne arrives, it really looks like its going to be one of those seasons where the Villa fans seem to be permanently awaiting the availability of one injured player, or another, especially as Stewart Downing and now Curtis Davies, look likely to be long-term absentees. Presumably Curtis will be flying out to the USA, anytime soon, to meet the surgeon who fixed up Luke Moore's shoulder, and we all know how long it took Luke to return.
So its been a mixed week for Villa and while the fantastic win at Anfield, managed to dispel a lot of the gloom, the exit from Europe was a reminder that the club are not quite where they should be.
And as ever, we keep saying shoulda, coulda and woulda; which makes it a bit like life.
Here's a man to explain it all to yous:
Keep the faith!