Something For The Weekend (396)
It wasn't much of a surprise that the Baggies proved themselves the Midlands' top dogs last week, as they edged a close encounter of the Villa kind, in a 1-1 draw on Villa's erstwhile sacred turf. Albion seem to be still enjoying the Hodgson effect and played some very decent football with Shane Long not refusing the freedom offered by Villa's defence and the opportunities provided by his colleague Morrison. Given the choice he might have preferred to have added his superb headed goal to his tally rather than the lucky rebound which gave Albion the leave, but he was ruled off-side.
Villa enjoyed a lot more of the possession and had rather more shots than Albion; they even played some very decent football, but once again it was Darren Bent who came off the bench to head off the sense of crisis which a defeat to their nearest rivals, would certainly have triggered.
This was all very unsurprising. What was surprising was the meagre size of the crowd, which weighed in at a disinterested 34k, and was totally pathetic for a local derby. We know why Villa fans are not too keen on visiting Villa Park these days, after last season's pusillanimous performance from both team and club. But why was there so few Baggies fans? We know that the tin-bashers of the Black Country have all been revived by Tata's massive investment in Jaguar and Land Rover, so we know that any Yam-yam with their own Toetectors and a bag of spanners will be minting it these days.
So where were they?
Obviously, we know that Adrian Chiles was off spooning with Catherine Tate in America, so his entourage was missing and Frank Skinner is at banjo boot-camp, so his crowd was missing too, but where were the rest?
What with only thirteen-thousand turning up to watch Blues, which takes less explaining, and Villa just about cracking the thirty-thousand barrier, football looks dead in second city. I seem to remember that the appointment of Paul Lambert was supposed to solve all Villa's problems and with the single reason for Villa's woes having left the building, it is surprising that so few Villa fans have hope enough to attend the games. It really looks like its going to take more than a few inspiring words to turn the Villa spirit around.
You can always tell when the fans' spirits are low and they are struggling to make a decent case as to why others should join them in their trivial pursuit, because their appeals depend less on extolling the sheer quality of the experience and start to substantially depend upon appeals to loyalty and tradition. But clinging to such straws has become a specialist art amongst Villa fans these past three years.
By the size of Sunday's crowd, it can be assumed that despite the visible improvement in the way Villa play under Lambert, there are ten thousand Villa fans who have had enough, after three years of piss-taking by the club's ministry of truth. It all offers proof that sentiment is the most precious commodity when it comes to football, and if the a club is to defy the law of price elasticity (demand falls as prices go up or quality goes down), then being perceived as taking the piss, is best avoided.
But even so, you don't have to be Maynard Keynes to conclude that watching a game on the TV down the pub, entails far less opportunity loss, than spending substantially more money on a match-day ticket. Milton Friedman might have explained that buying a ticket in the hope that it does Villa some good is akin to the fallacy of the broken window, or in Villa's case, the fallacy of the broken promise.
The extent of that broken promise was revealed last week when the Times' Fink Tank team revealed through their statistical analysis, that Villa have the weakest squad in the Premiership, when they calculated the relative weakness between Villa's best eleven and the quality of their reserves. In short Villa are more at risk from a injury-crisis than any club in the Premiership.
It was nice to have it confirmed but it came as no surprise. The information certainly exposed all the paper-talk about Darren Bent being surplus to Lambert's requirements as total rot, because as every Villa fan knows, Darren's goals look like the only thing which will stand between Villa and ignominious relegation, come next May, just as his goals provided the slender margin of error which kept Villa up, this.
The papers can't be blamed for reaching the conclusion that Villa's new manager might be trying to assess whether he can dispense with Bent's services because the England striker's wages are out of step with Villa's relaunch as a cheap and cheerful brand, but there is little or no evidence to suggest any player currently on the roster, is capable of single-handedly scoring enough goals to ensure Villa avoid the drop.
So it would seem that the ugly numbers next to Darren Bent's name on Lerner's spreadsheet are set to remain for some time, unless the club's ambitions to experience Championship football are stronger than any of us are aware of.
Having blown their chances to take some comforting points off their peers, Villa must travel to Spurs this weekend for another super Sunday, and see how they compare with the mighty Lily Whites who represent the entry-level for inclusion in the Premiership's top clubs. Spurs have long represented the next level above Villa in the Premiership pecking order and what with money earned through their recent Champions League campaigns and Villa's self-inflicted enervation, that which was once a decent gap has now become a huge gulf in status and ambition.
Anything less than a thrashing will represent a good result for Villa. When it comes to quality Spurs are miles ahead and last week's fantastic result at Old Trafford suggests that their new manager is making some progress in the club's transition from the days of Happy Harry.
It promises to be a painful 90 minutes for Villa fans but just maybe Villa can keep busy enough to cramp Tottenham's style, while scoring at the other end.
Either way, I expect either exquisite pleasure or exquisite pain from Villa's trip to White Hart Lane.
Keep the faith!