Something For The Weekend (572)
Hocus pocus where's the focus?
Villa fell well short over the Easter holiday weekend as they crashed to two defeats in three days and excited serious doubts about both their quality and their will to win when there is nothing at stake except their reputation. Villa didn't play badly against Reading but two individual errors from a player who shall remain nameless cost them the game. In short Villa really missed Neil Taylor and despite looking okay for long periods of the game, they looked in total disarray during the periods leading up to Reading's goals. Villa's loss at Fulham was excusable, due to their lack of recovery time and having their only goal-threat wrongly red-carded. The ban has since been reduced to one game, which is good news for Jonathan Kodjia but which is one of those decisions which defy logic, in the sense that if the decision to send him off was wrong, then why the need to punish him at all. If it was right to leave Fredericks unpunished then why punish Kodjia? Needless to say the super-strike from Grealish was the only consolation for a bad day out for Villa.
It was a very disappointing Easter for Villa but was probably a much needed rehearsal for disappointments to come, because let's face it, the way the EFL is set up, it dishes out the disappointments to the many and rewards to but a few. If having a lousy Easter is worthy of a tantrum or two, then losing in the play-offs must be an absolute killer. Having the top six positions highlighted in different colours distorts the view completely and every time I look at the league table, I can't believe Villa aren't above halfway, which is actually nowhere. This season has been an education in the realities of the Championship and the in-built disappointments are all part of the hardening and tempering process for the fans.
If the Villa fans are disappointed, then it is difficult to imagine how the Newcastle fans are dealing with having to settle for finishing second, after leading the charge since August. No one could seriously doubt that Rafa is an excellent manager, and it just goes to show how tough a Championship season is and how the pressures and fatigue take their toll. Newcastle may still finish as Champions but I think Chris Hughton's Brighton deserve all the accolades for getting promoted. Hughton never seems to have enjoyed a fair crack of the whip as a manager and it must be a great feeling to get one over one of the clubs which discarded him prematurely. He really should have been considered for the England job and is certainly far better qualified than the present incumbent.
All this fades into insignificance in the face of the shocking and sad news that Ugo Ehiogu died after suffering cardiac arrest. What a hero and what a Villa legend he was and what a tragedy, that he should die at the age of 44. His family must be devastated. He will be remembered by all Villa fans as an immense presence in Villa's back-line through some of the best times at Villa Park in living memory. To me he was always a herculean figure of awesome power and strength. A life tragically too short but the memories will live on. A terrible loss to everyone who knew him.
Meanwhile as we remember Ugo and the great days we shared together, we have to return to football matters at hand, which happens to be a high-noon encounter with local rivals Birmingham City on Sunday. A very important fixture for both sets of fans and with not only the bragging rights at stake but City's Championship status, as they hover above the trapdoor, while seemingly stuck in a hapless run of form which has resulted in three draws and three losses in their last six games. Presumably, the reason Zola walked away this week was to try and trigger enough of a new-manager bounce to avoid the drop, and Redknapp is their man. Only ten days ago most Villans would have been confident of winning the game but since Steve Bruce's team seem to have lost whatever they had and Kodjia will be suspended, the doubts have crept back. Bruce needs to win this one because so often down the years managers who did badly against Blues never turned out well, and the result will be seen as a sign. It has never been my favourite fixture and despite Villa having some great results in the past, it is the ugly encounters and painful losses which still haunt me. Some wag suggested that it could be the first derby in history where both sides lose, but I would be happy with a consoling draw. It would definitely be a great time for Scott Hogan to score, or anyone else for that matter. But Villa definitely need to get back to steady.
Keep the faith!