Something For The Weekend (259)
I've never been much of a fan of bonfire night and whether it was shivering my little nuts off, as a kid, or seeing crowds of Brummies staring satanically into the flames at Pype Hayes park, I've always either been cold and bored, or felt like a bystander at the burning of a heretic.
Memories of another life and death, perhaps?
I felt like the heretic this week, as the disappointment at Villa's late loss at West Ham got translated into general discontent with Villa's recent lack of sparkle. Although I was mightily disappointed, I didn't see it as quite the disaster some of my Villa mates did. I just saw it as a reasonably competent team performance, which was decided by a couple of clumsy challenges by stand-in right-back Beye, which cost Villa dearly.
He is not the first to lose their head at the Boleyn Ground (geddit?).
It was obviously a game Villa might have been expected to win and what with Ashley Young doing a fair imitation of Kenwyne Jones' last penalty-miss and the team losing it in the last seconds, it did look like they had snatched nowt from the jaws of a three-pointer. So inevitably there was a certain amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth, from the Villa faithful. But alas, no one was willing to deny that had Villa made it into the top four, by winning, it would have rather flattered them on recent performances.
The size of the squad is the problem.
The problem for Martin O'Neill seems to be working out a system, which might include not playing his best team every week, for the sake of keeping all his squad players fit and up to speed. No player can be expected to maintain Premiership standards, if they don't play and so although fans might find themselves rather dismayed why certain players get in the team and seem to make it worse, they might have to accept that if these players are left to kick their heels in the stiffs, they are not going to be in the best possible form or condition, should circumstances dictate that they have to play.
Which according to those, who must be presumed to know, is why Rio Ferdinand looks so crap lately: he never enjoys a long enough run in that hateful team to establish his core fitness and sharpness. The same explanation might excuse Habib Beye (32) for his mare at Upton Park.
But what a goal from Ashley - I am sure he meant it.
Having a big squad is brilliant for the fans though and having a Smorgasbord to choose from, offers a myriad of combinations, which allows every fan the opportunity to tell the manager where he went wrong, when his team has lost a game, while a quick use of Occam's razor (entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem) might simply suggest that a tired team going down to ten men, might be vulnerable to shipping a late goal.
So it seems inevitable that the level of fans' moans, grows exponentially with the size of the squad.
But lets not kid ourselves, the disappointment is real and the pain palpable. And, say what you like about the size of the squad, it still seems to be crying out for what Andy Townsend calls a 'marquee player', in the centre of the park, or even up front.
There were consolations though and they were quick to arrive, as there was a chance to see Everton totally out-classed by Benfica on the telly, the very next night.
Everton are a very decent side and have possibly the best manager outside the top-four and not at Villa Park. They even have a genuine twenty-goals-a-season man in Yakubu. But without their technician Arteta, they looked a million miles away from even the standards of the second-tier of European competition. Moyes looked wistful but resigned to that fact.
Once Benfica had scored their second and had started to take the piss, I was rather glad that it wasn't Villa being shown up for their shortcomings and it was quite a reminder, that when it comes to Europe, like Everton, Villa are still a work in progress. And at least, Villa fans could salve their hurt feelings of late, by making the not too unrealistic claim that the referee's questionable intervention had rather more to do with the recent disappointing outcomes, than Villa's own failings. Which is rather more than the Everton fans could do, late on Thursday night.
In fact, the recent explosion in red cards, seems to be a definite change of policy, which seems designed to advantage the clubs with the biggest squads. Add that to the few weeks when in reaction to Eduardo dive-gate, when the rules as regards penalties changed overnight, it seems that the FA are becoming more interventionist when it comes to the way the game is refereed.
According to the television evidence, diving is as bad as ever (excused by the usual purblind commentary) and refereeing standards are hardly beyond reproach. Its impossible to make the case that this constant PR-driven tinkering does anything to solve the perennial problem of the game - consistent interpretation of the rules.
No referee can possibly achieve consistency, if he is told a different policy is in force, every other week.
But what do those in charge, care about these things? Sweet FA.
In the meantime, Villa must redeem their midweek disappointment and take on the bruisers of Bolton. And, lets hope the referee can control the game without sending anyone off and O'Neill has given his players a rocket and we can look forward to a cracker.
Nothing short of a win will be acceptable.
Here's some girls.
Keep the faith!