Something For The Weekend (418)
Call of duty, command and conquer.
Judging by the size of Villa's crowd on Saturday, it would seem that the reports of the demise of the Villa spirit have been somewhat exaggerated. And it certainly wasn't just about glory-hunting or mere amusement-seeking. It had more to do with grim-faced duty and playing their part in what was substantially the biggest game of the season. It wasn't about silver trinkets but Villa's survival as a serious football entity, which drove the faithful to Villa Park in such impressive numbers.
It was very definitely an us-against-the-world occasion and everyone associated with the club knew it. The media were desperate to add another chapter to the 'appy Harry mythology, and to add interest to the non-contest which is the Premiership run-in. QPR beating Villa was the only result they wanted. All the reports, verbal and written, followed this same narrative and the sulking Harry played his part to perfection.
The fans were amply rewarded with a fantastic game and the only result which could have made it a happy occasion, with several outstanding performances which left them arguing about who was worthy of the Man-of-The-Match award, rather than their recent squabbles about who was worthy of taking the brunt of the shame and blame.
There was Brad Guzan grabbing more air than Michael Jordan and Billy the fish combined, when he clawed Christopher Samba's goal-bound header around the woodwork. There was the all-action quick feet of Andi Weimann - Vorsprung durch Kunst und Leidenschaft - scoring a great goal and setting up the winner. There was Gabby scoring yet another crucial goal for Villa, which broke the hearts of Redknapp's team according to the media narrative. And there was Christian Benteke slotting home the winner with the sort of cool aplomb Chili Palmer might well be proud of.
Personally, due to my overwhelming prejudice in favour of Gabby, he would probably get my vote. Redknapp cast his vote in favour of Brad Mk2, as he more or less accused Villa of taking unfair advantage by playing a goalkeeper at all, never mind one as red hot as the galvanic Guzan. But the papers voted unanimously in favour of Andi Weimann by starting rumours that he was heading for Milan. And no one can deny that he was worth such an accolade. He was great.
But in massively important games like these the whole team has to take credit and pride in getting the right result.
So Saturday night turned out to be a rather joyous occasion for a change and it was only a pity that the party feeling was cut short by Wigan beating Newcastle on Sunday; a result which seemed to be decided more by the contentious decisions of the refereeing officials than by any excellence of Wigan's. The horror tackle and the hand-ball which were overlooked by Mark Halsey and his assistants certainly stood as an instant reminder to any Villa fan who thought their team were home and hosed, that the us-against-the-world struggle is a long way from over.
It definitely looks like it won't be Villa's mistakes alone which will decide things but the team's performance definitely was encouraging. Once again they proved that they were unfazed by an early set-back and we can only hope that if the mistakes don't entirely disappear, they are at least better these days, at dealing with them.
Their learning curve has been as spiky as Sideshow Bob's hair-do. Ten points from eight games still looks like a mountain to climb but at least they are still in with a chance.
The fans must wait another week before they get the chance to discover whether Villa can keep on the same level or even improve. A winning performance against Liverpool at Villa Park would provide a superb bookend to go with the brilliant win at Anfield back in December, when Villa dreams looked like they might come true.
In the meantime we must distract ourselves with the trivial pursuit known as International fortnight and be grateful for the holiday from our Villa worries and wonder whether England's shortage of centre-halves is enough to ruin their chances against San Marino and Montenegro, as the fallout from the Suarez race row continue to rumble on.
With England in mind it seemed just the right moment for Michael Owen to announce his retirement this week, and although he hung around a bit too long to do his reputation any good, if not his bank balance, he certainly will be remembered for the joy he brought to England fans in his youth.
Someone else who deserves a mention when it comes to England players and who announced their retirement this week, is Arsenal and England Ladies captain Fay White, who has been central to England's emergence as a force in the world game over the last decade. A no bullshit centre-half who has won everything in the domestic game and several times over. She was always one of my favourite England players. Definitely a woman to look up to because she is not only 6ft tall but a model professional.
So good luck to her and prayer-mats out for Villa.
Keep the faith!