Something For The Weekend (400)
Any Villan who was expecting their club's crisis to be resolved one way or the other this week, was left entirely in limbo, as the two games Villa played turned out to be neither wholly good nor wholly bad, when it came to providing evidence for Paul Lamberts failure, or his team's vindication.
The evidence provided by Villa's rather ordinary performance against Norwich was rendered inadmissible, because the panel of Villa judges decided that no team can be properly assessed when they are reduced to ten men, so the verdict was left open. And, then on Tuesday night Villa fans were offered a mixed bag of delight, horror and then sweet relief, as they in turn, dominated, collapsed and then won through, in their cup match with a very plucky Swindon team, prodded, confused and harassed into winning ways by the eccentric and redoubtable Paulo Di Canio.
Or to put it more succinctly - Swindon were miles better in the second-half.
Villa being saved by such a late Christian conversion was just reward for the faith Lambert has shown his young Belgian striker, at no little cost to his reputation. How Benteke came to be standing alone in Swindon's box, the Villa fans were happy to leave to Paolo and his defenders to argue about, but it was a massive goal for Villa in the scheme of things, and was rewarded with a none too scary away fixture against Norwich, which might be heavy with irony but was better news than an away trip to either Chelsea or Arsenal would have been.
Despite Swindon's manager courting controversy by doing what looked like the pointy, pointy, dance, at the final whistle, results elsewhere were so completely bonkers (Reading 5-7 Arsenal), that no journalist was desperate enough to make a big deal of Di Canio's attempt at mime, although the incident did bring out the drama queen in a few Villa fans. The rest of us were left to mull over the amazement of being only two games from Wembley and brush the shortcomings of the performance under our claret and blue carpets.
Some old farts were prompted to opine, that this Villa team would not have beaten the Third Division Aston Villa back in 1971, but they were told in rather strong language to shut up and go suck on another humbug, as usual.
And, talking of humbug of the other sort, it was impossible not to notice how there was an outbreak of such, in the Premiership, when Chelsea decided to open up a can of worms, as regards racism, at the weekend, when referee Clattenburg was accused of uttering racist epithets.
I have to say that it seems unlikely but once the FA had made the politically correct decision to punish John Terry, based upon probability rather than proof, it was always likely that unsubstantiated accusations would start to fly. Lowering the standard of proof always risked creating a charter for vexatious claims. If the FA exonerate Clattenburg based upon him not being a player, they will reveal themselves as partial and guilty of assumptions about the relationship between themselves as regulators and those they regulate.
It would seem that if the Chelsea players are not persuaded to withdraw their accusations, the FA's talent for concocting a fudge is really going to be tested.
While John Terry is expected to live with the shame of being branded a racist, he in fact has been instrumental in opening up a whole raft of racial issues for public debate. Black players are now talking about issues which go far beyond their totally justified demand that racial epithets should be banished from the game, and they have opened up the debate on employment issues within the game, as they point out the disproportionate lack of black coaches and managers, as compared with the number of black players in the game.
They are even talking about the introduction of a Rooney-rule to the game (yeah, I had to look it up too), which seems like a million miles away from the original issues. It would seem to most that the Premiership is far too competitive in terms of managers and the attrition every season brings, for much to be gained by introducing any scheme of positive discrimination. The fact that there has been a predominance of Scottish managers in the English top-flight over the years, is a bit of a curiosity and once you start adding in the Welsh and Irish, it seems that there is a general prejudice in favour of Celts.
Obviously, this is not America where black people were actually excluded from professional sport, and so I am hoping less for a rule, and more for a change in sentiment, when it comes to giving everyone a fair go.
I certainly hope that Villa get a fair go from the referee in their tie with Sunderland this weekend. Since Villa decided to embrace the thrills of a relegation battle, every game is now a must-win, and ex-Villa-Messiah Martin O'Neill adds further spice to Villa's desperate day out. The result will decide who gets to say, I told you so.
Sunderland have a better team on paper than Villa but for reasons unknown they are not playing very well these days and a Newcastle player was their top scorer for October. Sunderland's mid-week loss to local rivals Middlesbrough represented a particular low for O'Neill and no one ever looked more shamefaced by a defeat than the Ulsterman.
Sunderland have one of the best defences in the Premiership but are goal-shy at the moment. Villa's defence is not really convincing and, Capital Cup outings notwithstanding, they are hardly prolific in front of goal. So it is no surprise that the pundits are predicting a Sunderland win and the most Villa fans can realistically hope for is a draw.
A point would be nice but three would be a delight and I'll be unburdened and relaxed.
Keep the faith!