Something For The Weekend (305)
I don't know about the denizens of the Holte End but I am partial to a bit of Shakespeare myself. But like it or not, I didn't expect to see Villa play the Macbeth (known as the Scottish play) formation on Wednesday night, and was left rather relieved that the witches' brew on view did not turn out to be the tragedy, it so often looked likely to be, through a gruelling 120 minutes of nervous League Cup torment.
On a night when budget-minded parents might have been persuaded to take their wayward progeny down to Villa Park, by way of a half-term treat, in the hope of providing a damascene conversion for their Sky-Four-addicted kids, it did not bode well to see a starting-eleven devoid of a striker.
With Carew requesting a number-nine before the game and needing a lie-down, and obviously with Emile being kept under wraps for more important imminent duties, at the weekend, I think most people expected Nathan Delfouneso to be given the chance to measure his progress. Houllier's decision to pick
Ireland instead, was amazing.
We have not seen the best of Stephen Ireland in a Villa shirt so far, and the Munster Talent, which I have unilaterally dubbed him, has been very disappointing since he was asked to fill the boots of James Milner.
But no one can doubt, that Steve Sidwell needs as much help in midfield as he can get, as he is expected to cover for the much unappreciated Petrov, over the next month.
Gladly, big Emile came on and Villa got more players into Burnley's box and scored what looked like the winner. But just as the Villans were emitting a collective sigh, that Villa's cracks had been papered over, a typical bit of League Cup refereeing, gave Burnley a chance to equalise.
It was a piece of total class from Stewart Downing which saved Villa's blushes and some typical brilliance from Brad Friedel allowed Villa to escape with their delusions intact. It has to be said that Villa didn't look any worse with ten men, than they had with eleven, but it was a lot closer than was comfortable, for those who like to think Villa are amongst the Premiership elite.
A vital result for Houllier and the new coaching team but it wasn't exactly what you might call sexy.
Sad news this week was the death of Paul the Weymouth octopod, who apparently lost the will to live after hearing the news of Wayne Rooney's massive pay-rise.
No one can be surprised that Germany's favourite clairvoyant octopus should lose the will to carry on, after such news, as without doubt he had a much better World Cup than Rooney, and it has to be said that even if Wazza had been suddenly blessed with eight legs, his ball control would not have been much better. But perhaps he could have rested his dodgy ankle by standing on a spare one.
Still, Rooney might have taken some advantage of the ability to breathe underwater, as judging by his performances, he was so far out of his depth, he looked like he needed a diving bell, in some games.
But the two things which Paul and Rooney did have in common, they both use a load of suckers to successfully make their slimy manoeuvres and both lack a backbone.
Alas we know more about Rooney's sex-life than Paul's but the German tabloids have hinted that the latter, was a bit of a leg-man who liked water sports.
R.I.P. for one, rip-off for the other.
Things promise to be rather funereal for at least one half of the city come Sunday evening, as Villa take on the much improved Birmingham City, in the first test of strength of the season. Blues have become annoyingly hard to beat in the past twelve months; so annoying that I usually decline to watch them when they are on Match Of The Day.
Luckily, the dullness of their play, means they are usually saved until last by the BBC producer, which saves a hell of a lot of suffering for the nation and some annoying fast-forwarding on my VCR.
The Blues' transformation has not been quite as lavish as most Villa fans had dreaded, and no super-stars have materialised on the back of the Hong Kong dollars, but the biggest boon to the blue noses, was the departure of the previous regime, who are now working their magic on the West Ham team.
Blues now have the resources, if not the crowds, to substantiate the claim that they are no longer a yoyo club, and their expectations are so high, that they were heard to boo their team for losing, for the first time in a year, the other week: not a luxury they have ever taken for granted.
On paper at least, Villa seem to have more class than Blues but whether they have more heart and the required amount of luck, we will have to wait until Sunday afternoon, to find out.
When it comes to these encounters, there are probably not many people more superstitious than myself, and whether it was the woeful period when rotten Robbie Savage held the Indian sign over Villa, and goalie bloopers were the order of the day, or whether it was the arrival of Martin O'Neill, which seemed to reverse Villa's luck, it has always seemed that the outcome had more to do with hoodoo than who was the better team.
What with Villa's second-city talisman, Gabby Agbonlahor, out injured and the arrival of a brand new manager, it would seem that all recent precedent has to be ignored, and that the question as to who the gods favour, must be established all over again.
Birmingham's Serbian giant Nikola Zigic, who, at 6 ft 7.5 inches, is one of the few players who can call John Carew 'short-arse', has notched a couple already this season, and will need to be watched. Burnley's successful aerial assault on Villa's goal mid-week, proved that Villa will need to improve.
With both sides having rested most of their senior players for their League Cup encounters, there should be no excuses for anything other than a busy game. But I suspect both sides will cautiously pack the midfield areas, spend the afternoon kicking lumps off each other, and the game will be decided by a set-piece, from one of the many resulting free-kicks.
This is a massive game, for the fans as well as Houllier and Randy Lerner. A decent result will give them a bit of wiggle room, as regards what they do in the transfer window, while a loss will be seen by the fans as a sign that Villa have engaged reverse-gear.
Many fans think that the gap has narrowed between Villa and Blues, we are about to find out whether that doubt is justified, or not.
A loss would be super-bad but a win would be super super-good.
Keep the faith!
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