So much of what occurs to us as gospel in the wee small hours, all too often appears somewhat absurd in the cold light of day.
Walking, as I came to decide when I first took it up in a semi-serious sort of way, is the best occupation to allow for thinking. Better than sitting on the couch, or in an armchair when your thoughts tend to send you drifting into sleep, better than when laying in bed at night, when and where the post-midnight madness distorts your mindset.
I assembled my thoughts as I walked briskly through Sutton Park early Saturday morning with our two Shetland sheepdogs in tow, forced to the unwelcome conclusion that despite the decisions and conclusions that my son-in-law (number two), good friend Andy, and next door but three neighbour Ken had arrived at late Friday night, when we had thoroughly and confidently discussed our fairly bright chances of picking up three precious points at Goodison Park, and entering upon a triumphant almost all-conquering march throughout the remainder of the campaign, things were perhaps not as straightforward and as much a done deal, as it had appeared when accompanied by much mind altering wine and beer, and an endless supply of background Barclay James Harvest music.
Somehow, Saturday morning, as I prepared to drive home from the park, shower, change, and head off to pick up my three partners in crime before heading off to Goodison Park, the task ahead seemed considerably more daunting, the eventual outcome of our immediate future, not quite so clear cut.
With yours truly the days designated driver, it at least gave me the opportunity to test out my new company vehicle on a Villa away-day run. The BMW 3 series Saloon 320i Luxury 4 door might be just fine and dandy for providing me with the necessary and required transport to carry out my drug selling daytime employment, but would it prove capable of obtaining the seal of approval as one of our official AVFC away-day modes of transport? I don`t believe that my company even considered that question when selecting the vehicle as my next company car, but as it will no doubt be exchanged in twelve months time with more Villa miles on the clock than actual business miles, I most certainly believe that they had ought to have done. No consideration this company of mine, certainly not when it comes to their pondering whether or not I`ll be comfortable on these many Villa away trips that I have to endure.
With the 2013 winter transfer window now firmly closed, we now know where we stand player/squad wise, and consequently we move forward with what we`ve got. No opportunity to re-assess, re-evaluate, or strengthen before the seasons end. Hello survival or bust.
Were you good people somewhat disappointed with our January transfer efforts? I know most Villans that I`ve talked with over the last twenty-four hours or so were. This individual has to admit that he was. Disappointed, surprised, angry even, and that`s probably putting it somewhat politely.
I had expected more, but as Mick Jagger and his sidekick Keith Richards first told us back in 1969, a song that they must have written with Villa fans in mind, ‘ You cant always get what you want`.
Simon Dawkins and young Yacouba Sylla may turn out to be good signings, I certainly hope that they are, but the likelihood is that they won’t be anywhere near enough to make a difference. That we didn`t do enough to rectify our failings, plug gaps, and strengthen the weak areas that repeatedly cost us dear, is obvious to all. Well, to all that is except Messrs. Lerner and Lambert.
We have to hope that come the evening of May 19th, we are not looking back with deep regret, at a wasted January transfer window opportunity.
Anyway, the winter window is behind us now, no use crying over opportunities lost. It`s time to look forward, focus, and ensure we pick up the necessary points needed to see us remain as a premier league club, when the new campaign kicks-off in August.
My three colleagues were duly rescued from their homes and the clutches of their good ladies, and it was a case of off to merseyside we jolly well go. We had plenty to discuss, Villa related and otherwise, much to read, and as per usual, rather good music to listen and croon to, as we made our way down everyone`s favourite stretch of road, the M6 Motorway.
Needless to say, ‘that` game soon entered the conversation. It always does when we journey to Everton. ‘That` game of course being our trip to Goodison Park back in early February 1981, when on our march towards the League Championship trophy, Tony Morley scored that early stunner, and we cruised to another excellent road victory, beating Everton 3-1. Bit of sweet revenge there too, because earlier in the campaign, mid-September time, the Toffees had beaten us 2-0 at Villa Park. Unlike nowadays, we didn`t lose too many home games during that golden period in our history, so the Everton reversal that season was something of a rarity.
When I`m at the wheel, and consequently primarily responsible for the days in car entertainment, the musical choices always step up to another level. Today was no exception. John Mayall`s ‘Blues From Laurel Canyon`, the Edgar Broughton Band`s ‘Sing Brother Sing`, and the Groundhogs ‘Split`, had us rocking and rolling towards Beatlesville. With Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and The Trinity`s ‘Streetnoise` to entertain us on the drive home, music wise, we were set up rather nicely thank you very much. A ‘Mothers-In-Motion`, that`s us. ‘Mothers` as in that excellent music club of our youth, situated in the High Street, Erdington, above a furniture shop no less.
No en route stop for refreshments today, no siree bob. Not for us. Today we watched the game in style, gratis, after being wined and dined, courtesy of friend Andy and his ‘connections`. Actually he has a customer based in the Wirral, Everton supporter obviously, who invited him and his three cohorts (his three cohorts being Neil, Gary, and yours truly of course) to accept the hospitality that they had to offer, and join them for a match day get together, pre-match meal, the whole shebang.
We consequently gave away our four tickets amongst the Villa lot, to son-in-law no`s 1 and 2, and accepted the kind offer from the Evertonian`s, hoping and believing that we could spread the Villa word while in their company. Not sure we achieved that goal, but we had fun trying.
A very pleasant and fully understanding group of merseyside blues they proved to be too. We very much enjoyed their company, and friends were made. They all seemed genuinely sympathetic and concerned about our plight, and virtually to a man (and woman), expressed their sincere hope that we would escape the dreaded drop into the Championship. Indeed at the final whistle, Ted, as we came to know him, made the comment that I know Villans everywhere would endorse, when he said ‘There`s no way that you should be fighting for your lives`. We know Ted, we know, but sadly four sorry wins all season more than suggests otherwise.
I don`t think that anyone of us is overly enamoured with the hospitality/luxury box thing at football games. It`s nice every once in an extremely long while I guess, see how the other half get their kicks while supporting their team, but in truth I think we`re all much happier located down in the trenches, surrounded by fellow supporters, who like ourselves, prefer their football watching to be raw and unsanitised. Still, it doesn`t hurt anyone to be pampered every once in a while I guess.
Paul Lambert made three changes from the team that started against Newcastle on Tuesday evening. Andi Weimann came in for Nathan Baker, Gabby replaced Darren Bent, while Karim El Ahmedi took over from Barry Bannan.
The starting line up then:- Brad Guzan, Matty Holman, Ronny Vlaar, Cieran Clark, Joe Bennett, Ashley Westwood, Karim El Ahmedi, Charles N`Zogbia, Gabby Agbonlahor, Andi Weimann, and Christian Benteke.
On the bench:- Given, Sylla, Bent, Bowery, Holman, Baker, and Dawkins.
The teams strode onto the pitch to the old Z- Cars theme. I used to enjoy that show. Required viewing in my youth. They don`t make shows like that anymore. ‘Yes, we`ve got to be thankful for that I suppose` commented friend Neil.
What a start for the claret and blues. Following excellent play by the rejuvenated Charles N`Zogbia, big Christian, with too much pace and power, left Heitinga for dead, and with a lovely piece of finishing he put Lambert`s Lions 1-0 ahead. Two minutes on the clock, and we couldn`t ask for better opening to the game than that. Muted cheering from the four of us, out of courtesy to our hosts.
Andy confessed in the car on the drive home that when that opener went in, it was all he could do to stop himself turning to the Everton contingent and yelling ‘Pick that one out`. There was an expletive included in his original thought, but as my reports are hopefully family oriented, and we are all rather naïve and innocent, I`ll omit Andy`s offending expletive. You get the gist, I`m sure.
The Blues came back strongly though, and Fellaini shot narrowly wide, before the home side won their first corner in the sixth minute, meaning it was heart in the mouth time. Fortunately there was no early dead ball gift handed to the Toffees, and Ron Vlaar was able to clear.
Victor Anichebe got a shot in, easily fielded by Brad Guzan., while up the other end Heitinga blocked another Christian Benteke effort.
There was no fluency to Everton`s game in the early stages, although the signs were there that suggested that they were building up the pressure.
Andreas Weimann produced a decent header following a Charles N`Zogbia corner, but his effort flew over the bar.
On the twenty minute mark Everton were level, Victor Anichebe rolling Cieran Clark all too easily, before firing low past Brad Guzan. Another well taken goal, the second of the game, both somewhat similar in build up and finish, but in truth Cieran Clark should have done much better.
Within four minutes though we were back in front. A superb Ashley Westwood right wing cross was met firmly by Gabby, and he thumped a header past Tim Howard in the home goal.
We had attempted to be somewhat reserved with our opening goal celebration, as our hosts had with the Blues equaliser, but we couldn`t hold back our celebrations when our second flew in. The ‘Brummie Jig was introduced to our Evertonian hosts.
Good response from the Villa lads. If someone had said after the Anchibe goal that there would be another goal within three or four minutes, oh we of little faith would have accepted that it would go to Everton. That showed us.
We were looking organised for once, keeping our shape, and certainly yet again you couldn`t fault the effort from the claret and blues. ‘Need to go in at the break ahead` said I. ‘`Yes, said Gary, ‘but as we well know, easier said than done`.
A lot of Everton moves were coming down our right flank. We`d kept our shape well, but we did need to tighten up in that area.
So, while not pretty, a good half of determined football from our lads saw us go in at half time 2-1 ahead. Probably a long second period ahead of us though we thought, particularly when you consider that our second half showings to date this season, have often been our undoing. Up to this point though, we`d certainly defended better, but it was a matter now of keeping focused for the remainder of the game.
Shortly after the restart we wasted a glorious opportunity to take the 3-1 lead. Gabby Agbonlahor played in Andi Weimann, and with glory beckoning Andi wastefully put his effort over the bar. Very disappointing, extremely frustrating. Definitely head in hands time. It just needed a bit of composure, but Andi suffered from a rush of blood to the head. You would normally have bet on him to tuck that one away.
Everton were looking sluggish, certainly not the team that brushed us aside at Villa Park earlier in the season, but that shouldn`t detract from what was definitely a much improved and battling Villa performance. Paul Lambert certainly appeared to have lifted the spirits following the Newcastle defeat, but we certainly needed a third goal to give us some breathing space.
That much needed third goal duly arrived following a superb Villa move. Matty Lowton swept in another fine cross, and there was Christian to brush aside the all at sea Heitinga, planting a superb diving header past Timmy Howard. Excellent goal, good build up, nice finish. 3-1. There was no stopping us now. Major celebration time. A repeat performance of the ‘Brummie Jig` that used to grace Barbarella`s and The Rainbow Suite back in the late sixties.
Even with the two goal cushion though we weren`t prepared to count our chickens. How could we after all that we`ve witnessed this season?
Sure enough, with twenty minutes left, the home team pulled it back to 3-2. Marouane Fellaini burst into the box and finished neatly following Victor Anicebe’s lay-off. Oh dear, we never keep things calm and comfortable do we?
The home crowd really cranked up the noise now, and it was obvious that we were in for a tense, and extremely important, final twenty minutes.
Yacouba Sylla came on for Charles N`Zogbia to make his premier league debut, as Lambert decided quite rightly that we needed to tighten things up a little bit. Another improved performance from Charlie, he could definitely have an important role to play between now and mid-May. Brett Holman was also introduced in place of the tiring El Ahmedi.
Neil didn`t think that change was needed, and loudly voiced his opinion telling all and sundry that very fact. That`s his biggest beef with Paul Lambert. Poor substitutions. Wrong players, wrong time, change for changes sake.
Everton were piling on the pressure and substitute Jelavic had a decent opportunity, but mistimed his close range shot and Brad Guzan was able to collect.
Six minutes of added time was indicated by the referee`s assistant, and Paul Lambert decided to send on Nathan Baker to replace the hard working Gabby.
Everton won two corners as the game wound down, and from the second, we yet again fell asleep from the set piece, allowing Fellaini to bury the equaliser. 3-3.
At the start of the game we`d have taken the point, but in view of how the game had unfolded, it has to be viewed as two more points needlessly thrown away.
Another two goal lead frittered away, and it almost got immediately worse as Brad Guzan made a superb stop from Fellaini, to deny Christian Benteke`s compatriot from notching a hat-trick.
From 3-1 up though, to only get a point was a real sickener. We throw away leads all too often, is it any wonder that we are in the trouble we`re in. We simply cannot defend under pressure. We lose concentration, and go to sleep, and all the hard work that has gone before, is wasted.
Our lads looked distraught at the final whistle. It seemed like a loss to us, so it must have done to them also.
What can you realistically say though? We`ve seen it all season long. We`ve reached a point where even a 2-0 lead isn`t enough, and a one goal lead means nothing. It hurts to say it, but you`re expecting our opponents to get back into the game, snatch a point, even go on to win it.
Our star man was Christian Benteke. Super game. Thankfully we`ve got him until seasons end, but realistically I cant see us keeping hold of him this summer, particularly if we are destined to kick off a Championship campaign in August.
Yacouba Sylla wasn`t on the pitch long enough for me to really comment as to his abilities and capabilities, but he certainly let the Everton lads know that he was out there. He doesn`t shy away from a challenge, that`s for sure.
So, overall disappointment. Yes, a draw would generally be considered a good point up at Goodison, but our needs and our current predicament demanded more.
A case of same old same old. Valuable points conceded at the death. Will we never learn?
Well, have yourselves a great week guys, keep healthy and happy, and don`t work too hard.
Don`t forget to check in next weekend after we`ve beaten West Ham United at Birmingham B6, when my illustrious partner in crime Villa_Grizzly, will provide us with another of his excellent home game reports, explaining to us exactly how we hammered the Hammers.
Later Guys. Up The Villa.
Glensider at Everton
So much of what occurs to us as gospel in the wee small hours, all too often appears somewhat absurd in the cold light of day.