Something For The Weekend (273)
Talk about a rollercoaster ride. Or, how to ruin a perfectly good Sunday and then make it all better again.
Villa's performance at Reading went the whole gamut from disbelief to despair and then moved on through hope, doubt and then ecstasy but its not what I call pleasure, except for neutrals. Like the big-dipper, there is not only the gut-wrenching fear but sometimes there's also the risk of flying vomit from the people in front, and there was definitely sick in the air on Sunday. If the game had been a drink it would definitely have been a pan galactic gargle blaster.
Villa looked worse than what I'd seen of the Blues, the day before - oh the shame and what a come-down.
Gladly, just as I was contemplating what I might do with the rest of the afternoon; options which included retreating to my shed to indulge my onset of trichotillomania, Ashley scored and hope, even if not eternal, sprang anew. This was a particular relief because for one thing, I don't have a shed, which presented some logistical problems, which looked as difficult to solve as any O'Neil thought he might have.
For forty-five minutes Villa had been bullied and after some hooped gorilla had used John Carew as a bit of climbing apparatus a few times, the odd elbow or three had found the head of Stephen Warnock and Ashley Young had been trampled most ignominiously into the turf with impunity, it seemed clear that the Ref was playing by a different set of rules, than mostly seen in the Premiership these days.
The fact that Villa's midfield looked rather short of bodies when they didn't have the ball, seemed to help Reading's devilish little plan.
Amazingly it was not the result of Carew turning himself into a battering-ram which turned the game and ultimately won it for Villa but his subtle touch. The little curling flick round the corner, which Cuellar dummied (sic) for Ashley, a routine header from Downing's one perfect cross of the game and then the subtlest flick round the corner from a brilliant overlap from the battered Warnock, which put Villa ahead.
If Ivanhoe had managed to avoid the goalkeeper and score his chance, the last thirty minutes, when Reading laid siege to Villa's goal from what seemed like endless set-pieces, might have passed rather more pleasantly than it did. But the one thing which was clear about big Emile's game, is that without his power, running and physical presence, there wouldn't have been much movement of note, in Villa's front line.
Until Carew crashed in his penalty, it always seemed possible that Reading could do what they did to Villa in the first half, all over again. When the ball hit the roof of the net, we all could breathe again and delight in the knowledge that Villa had served up yet another TV classic.
By the time the numbered balls had served up Chelsea for Villa's semi-final opponents, all notions that the gods might smile on Villa, had to be set aside, and the dread that Sisyphus had reached the top of his hill, had to be faced. Happy Harry had been blessed with the plum run to the final, as per effing usual.
But for Villa, London's calling.
There was plenty of football on the telly this week and quite a bit of consolation.
Man United looked so good while thrashing Milan that Villa's defeat by the odd goal at Wembley, and a certain favour from the Ref, looked slightly less tragic, as Rooney looked nearly as good as they keep saying he is.
One perfect cross from chuckle brother number one, a mistake by Milan and young Wayne had notched his thirtieth goal of the season and the legend of Ronaldinho looked history. But the bottom line seemed to be that if Rooney had been on the end of Ronaldinho's passes and not Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, the result would have been in the Milan club's favour.
Its what the Champions League is all about - special players making a special contribution.
As Juventus proved a day later, when they gave Fulham a football lesson, the standards are very high in Italy and so it must be presumed that they must be even higher in the top four of the Premiership. Fulham looked a long way short of the best of both leagues but I enjoyed cheering them on, in the face of some diabolical refereeing decisions from the German officials, otherwise known as the three wise monkeys.
Although Fulham's technical failings were very frustrating, I have unstinting admiration for manager Roy Hodgson and a sneaking regard for big Bobby Zamora, who grafted his way through a very difficult contest with the brilliant Fabio Cannavaro, which he lost but he didn't let himself down. He always looks slightly mad but he is from Barking. Its been a long journey from his glory days at Brighton to the home of the old lady.
The maddest thing I heard on the night, was the news that Juve are to spend a hundred million euros on a new stadium but much to my amazement, it is only to hold 40 000 spectators. This had me scrambling for Google, as I thought I must have misheard.
Yep, only forty thousand and some say only thirty-five.
This is a bit of a mystery because the likes of Liverpool reckon they are doomed unless they are allowed to dig up Stanley Park and build a replica of the Camp Nou. So how Juventus plan to survive and thrive with such a tiddler, is a mystery to me. The joke is that Juventus have had more championships taken off them, than Liverpool have won in the last twenty years.
Even so, Juve couldn't beat the Villa last time of asking (smug grin).
It might be that they are not such greedy bastards or that they don't have a debt of £300m to service, or it could be that the Italians are left to negotiate their own TV money, which they get to keep, but since when has English football ever eschewed the ethic that more is always better. So what's the matter with these Italians?
The other amazing thing about Italian football, is that all the top teams are full off old men. Where's all the youngsters gone? Arsenal couldn't have bought them all, surely? I haven't watched the Italian footie since James Richardson stopped presenting Football Italia on Channel 4, and it seems that most of the players the old pun-meister used to interview back then, are still playing. I wouldn't be surprised to see Franco Baresi sitting on the bench for Milan.
It certainly says a lot for the Mediterranean diet but where are all the bambini?
But forget all that fancy shmancy Italian stuff, Villa have to take on the industrial qualities of Stoke on Saturday, a team of an altogether different stripe, where they can expect the Delap fellah to continue the aerial bombardment, which Reading started last Sunday afternoon.
Courtesy of the people who arrange the fixtures, Villa have been lumbered with a leg-sapping series of games, with several teams they would normally be expected to beat, in normal circumstances but it seems that they who must not be named, are not too keen on upsetting the Sky 4 apple-cart and arrange things to really test the mettle of any pretenders to that accolade. So at least when it comes to this particular moan, for once the Villa fans can enjoy the novelty of agreeing with Wenger.
Since Wigan beat Liverpool, the danger of one of the hallowed four being unseated from their throne, has become a real possibility and the authorities don't really want to be accused of making it any easier than it need be for any challengers. Have no doubt about it, the failure of Liverpool to qualify for the Champions League cash cow, would be a serious blow to their future. As such an integral part of the Premiership brand, none of the football big cheeses will want to see them decline.
So they arrange the fixtures for their advantage.
Thanks for nothing you bent b*******!
Keep the faith!
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