Something For The Weekend (274)
Four points out of six, away from home, is not what they call championship-form these days, when the top teams are more or less expected to win every game, but it is a decent haul for a team like Villa who still await the signing of a Rooney, a Torres, or a Drogba.
As the high winds blew the steam off the Staffordshire oatcakes at Stoke and Villa's back-four headed away every single one of the Delap fusillade, the fans dreamt of interesting things like drying paint, looked forward to their post-match pint and found themselves feeling rather glad when it was all over and nothing bad had happened. The final-whistle went and they looked for consolation in a single point. While the rest of us rehearsed our 'could have been worse' self-talk.
By Tuesday the Villa soldiers of solidarity had to don their lucky pants once again and trek off to the land of pies and pie-eaters, in a town called Wigan, mecca of northern soul, where the wild woollybacks wander and where the pier does not reach the sea. The streets where George Formby used to lean on his lamppost with his hand upon his stick of Blackpool rock, in the days where an up-and-under was a rugby term, rather than a Saturday night love tryst in a bus shelter.
A mild night where Spring was in the air, some decent football was played by both sides and star man James Milner reminded everyone of Steven Gerrard, as he won the game with a long-distance shot through a crowd of defenders.
Three satisfying points were Villa's, the March hoodoo was exorcised and Villa pleasure abounded. Beer was drunk and pies were eaten. Satisfied Villa heads hit soft pillows and they dreamt sweet dreams of hope and glory, until Wednesday's alarm-clock intruded.
With this happy feeling and the nascent spring urging the sap up every young man's legs, it was a pleasant way to start the week. But just in case the pleasure of a win and the rising sap proved too intoxicating to Villa egos, the powers that be put Barcelona on the box, just so we wouldn't get too carried away.
Even so, Barce looked less than perfect and it was the magic of Messi which made all the difference. The Argentinean twinkle-toes scored a wonderful goal to open proceedings and then proceeded to delight the eye and leave us in wonder for the rest of the game. The legendary Henry looked more like Lenny than Thierry on the night, which was as surprising as it was disappointing. Arsenal have a big task on their hands in the quarter-finals but Barce don't look unbeatable, even if Lionel Messi looks peerless right now.
But by far the best result of the week was Fulham's routing of the Juventus geriatrics. This was a bigger treat than a Harrods hamper and an occasion which must surely go down as the greatest, most exciting, night in the club's history. French Eric might have done a better job in the preening celebration stakes but he couldn't possibly have managed a better chip over goalkeeper Chimenti than Clint Dempsey, which killed off expectations of extra-time and the hopes of one of the biggest names in Italian and European football.
Just as Villa fans may inevitably mention the name Phil King when they talk of great European nights, the name Clint Dempsey will echo down the ages for Fulham.
So well done Fulham you did the nation proud and you reminded Juventus that football is a game best played by young people.
Meanwhile, come Saturday lunchtime at Villa Park, no doubt visitors Wolves will have their minds set on ensuring they get to visit the likes of Manchester next season, rather then getting dreamy about beating the magical Magyars of yore.
McCarthy's battlers have demonstrated some remarkable fighting spirit of late and if Villa's draw at Molineux is anything to go by they are going to have to work pretty hard for anything they might get.
Wolves were unlucky not to get a point against Man United; they had enough chances to have won it.
A victory for Villa would certainly prove that they are well on their way to making the breakthrough. Seven points from nine, in a week, is certainly top-four form and achieving it at the time of year, which has for evermore been associated with a fizzle and a flop, would certainly go some way towards substantiating the case that Villa are a club who are definitely on the up.
A win tomorrow will definitely make them contenders and will shake off the last suggestions of any hangover from their Wembley disappointments.
If Villa have the will to win tomorrow, I will definitely be impressed.
Keep the faith!
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