Merry Christmas Liverpool.
Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle All The Way………
Well we were certainly a more upbeat foursome, compared to how we have been of late, as we climbed into Andy`s brand, spanking new jalopy, for the trip up to Merseyside. That more than decent performance and result achieved in East Anglia the other night, had put much extra cheer into our days, and a jaunty spring in the step. We were definitely in a more upbeat, positive, and perky mood on this occasion, compared to how we had been just a couple of weeks back, when we journeyed to Loftus Road more out of a sense of duty, rather than by choice.
I for one, without a doubt was certainly far more upbeat, if only because after being the designated driver for the midweek jaunt to Carrow Road, and doing the honours for the Loftus Road trip, today I could kick back, take five, relax, and enjoy the trip to Liverpool from the front passenger seat.
Today saw our forty second visit to Anfield over the years to support the claret and blue cause. Eight more visits and hopefully we`ll all be presented with a gold watch by Liverpool Football Club, in recognition of our attendance efforts. Those forty plus visits comprise old first division games, premier league encounters, and three F.A. Cup ties. Never had to go there for a League Cup tie, which is perhaps a tad surprising.
Our first two visits were back in the 1967-68 season, when we were at Anfield on two consecutive Saturdays in February. The first game was a top flight league fixture. We played poorly, and got beat 1-0. The following weekend we were back there for a fourth round F.A. Cup tie, gave a much better account of ourselves, but again came out 1-0 losers, Ian St John scoring via a diving header in front of the Kop, when we were only ten minutes or so away from a deserved Villa Park replay. Actually over the years we`ve had some bad experiences at Anfield, in fact I can recall the fact that between the years 1953 and 1992, we played twenty six times at the stadium, and got beat twenty times in that period, winning only once. Not good, eh?
Our early trips to Liverpool saw us journey up there on good old Flights coaches out of Stockland Green, then we moved on to the famous (or infamous) football specials from New Street station. As many of you fellow old timers will recall, travelling on the footie specials was an experience it itself. Boarding the train after it first pulled into the platform was akin to attempting a survival course, as body upon body attempted to force themselves into the carriages (there was certainly no, ‘After you sir`), and once that was achieved, and you were still in one piece, you faced the mad dash, scramble, and often fight, to secure your seats. Oh the fun of it all.
The chanting began almost immediately the majority were seated, and we`d pull out of New Street station with the popular chants of the day reverberating throughout the carriages (that`s right isn`t it Derek? – Thomas Holte from the forum – I do not mislead my fellow younger Vital Villans). Then we`d finally arrive at our destination, we`d all pile out of the carriages onto the platform, and the ‘fun` would really begin as the march from station to stadium got underway.
It was around 1973 if I recall correctly that we finally decided to do the away-day experience in style, and travel in our own cars. Looking back, we should have had made up car stickers that read, ‘We survived the football special experience`. Survived it, but we`ll never forget it.
Oh those were the days. Young, single, not a care in the world, football specials. Where did it all go wrong?
But, I digress, so back to the here and now, and this the latest journey up to Liverpool, as we attempted to pick up a valuable point or three to help towards our climb away from the wrong end of the table.
I suppose we should have been playing Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Searchers, Billy J. Kramer, Merseybeats, Cilla Black music etc., etc., to get us in the mood for our arrival on merseyside, but not today. Andy was treating us to Neil Young`s ‘American Stars and Bars`, The Faces ‘Long Player`, Colosseum`s excellent 1970 ‘Daughter Of Time` album, and Hawkwind`s ‘In Search Of Space` gem. Yes, we were rocking and rolling all the way up the M6.
There were plenty of fellow Villans also negotiating the worst stretch of motorway in this green and pleasant land of ours, scarves, flags, and other claret and blue regalia, displayed with pride, and in abundance. Yes, we all love our club, no doubt about it.
Hi to fellow Four Oaksers Greg and Brian, two other ‘always there`s`, come wind, rain, sleet, snow, or as at Carrow Road the other night, come fog. We would have tried to keep up with you guys and drive into Liverpool in tandem, but we prefer to keep to a maximum of five miles above the speed limit!
There are definitely times throughout the course of a football season, when a win is, in fact, a win. Your team doesn`t play well. It overcomes in spite of itself. Heave a sigh. Turn the page. Keep the faith. I think that maybe that`s where we are at right now. It`s points on the board we need, and I think that the time is now when perhaps the performance is of secondary importance. We all agreed that if we were making the return trip to Brum this evening following a Villa victory, none of us would be overly concerned as to how the victory was achieved. If we have to leave the flair for our League Cup drive, and achieve premier league points by battling and scrapping, then just to let the world know, that will be fine by us. Mm, very interesting pre-match thoughts those.
We had a one minute of applause prior to the kick off following the passing of former Liverpool manager Phil Taylor. I think that I`m correct in saying that he was the man at the helm prior to the arrival of the great Bill Shankly, back in the late fifties, but I stand to be corrected on that one.
Right, down to the team news, and unsurprisingly Paul Lambert pretty much kept faith with most of the Carrow Road hero`s. Brad Guzan returned in goal of course, while deservedly the Vital Villa Player of the Month for November, Ashley Westwood, came back into the starting line up to replace Karim El Ahemedi.
Our starting eleven then:- Brad Guzan, Matty Lowton, Nate Baker, Cieran Clark (who continued as skipper), Eric Lichaj, Brett Holman, Ash Westwood, Barry Bannan, Chris Herd, Andi Weimann, and Lord Christian Benteke.
Sat on the bench, awaiting the call to action, Shay Given, Jason Bowery, Karim El Ahmadi, Charles N`Zogbia, Joe Bennett, Fabian Delph, Marc Albrighton.
I found myself stood right alongside three extremely attractive young ladies, and the prospect of a huge hug from any one of those fair maidens should we score, made me forget the heavy dose of man flu that has invaded my body over the course of the past twenty four hours. The very fact that I was old enough to be their great-great grandfather was irrelevant in my book. Hey! You take the rough with the smooth. On Tuesday night I was embraced by a slightly obese heavily bearded gent, four days later I have the opportunity to balance things out. Father Christmas was about to, I hoped, smile on me. That he sadly didn`t, actually makes me believe that there is after all, no such thing as Father Christmas.
We started brightly, and won a free kick out wide left. Barry Bannan swung the ball in, where big Christian, giving notice of his afternoon`s intentions, out jumped his marker, but was unable to direct his header either side of Pepe Reina. Still, encouraging all the same. Good start.
The home team though soon picked up the challenge, pushing forward at every opportunity, and had us on the back foot as we defended the red tide that threatened to engulf us.
Must say that ex-Villan Stewie Downing, rather boringly booed throughout by the travelling Villans (musn`t say travelling Brummies anymore – Todd from Shrewsbury has taken me to task again for failing to acknowlege that the travelling support heralds from all over the U.K.) was pushing forward to good effect, while on the other flank, baby-faced Sterling threatened to give Eric Lichaj a testing afternoon.
The nineteenth minute brought the usual Stan Petrov applause, and we really do have to dof our titfers towards our hosts. While it is a common occurrence now for opposition supporters to join in with our Stan support, few sets of rival supporters have joined in with such gusto. You really would have thought that Stan was one of their own. Top marks to the Liverpool crowd.
We were very much playing on the counter, thankful for the fact that Liverpool, for all their possession, weren`t causing us too many problems at the back. Indeed after our hosts had wasted a series of half chances, we once again broke at pace, and big Christian found the bottom corner of the net, in off the post, from outside of the box to put us into the driving seat. 1-0 to the good guys.
Christian`s first premier league strike away from Birmingham B6, not that he hasn`t threatened or deserved to break his duck on many previous occasions on the road this season.
You have to smile at the odd few detractors who continue to claim that ‘he misses as many as he nets`. Next time I hear that claim, I am going to insist that the individual go stand in front of Christian and make the observation to his face.
The day you stand in front of Christian Benteke and ask him about a misplaced header, or a poorly struck shot, is also the day that you buy up all of the bottled water at your local ASDA store. You stock up on batteries and toilet paper, you fill up the car`s petrol tank, and you make that long drive down to Bodmin Moor, where you locate a hole in the earth, and await the end of the world.
Anyway, 1-0 up, wild celebrations in the lower tier of the Anfield Road end, but not even so much as a look in my direction by the young ladies to my left. Oh well, I`ll just have to settle for the three points that were to be heading back down the M6 with us later in the afternoon.
We grew in confidence after the opener, with our young defenders snuffing out everything that Suarez and co could attempt to conjure up, and with our colonial cousin Eric Lichaj looking as if he was starting to get the measure of Sterling, despite the home teams domination of the possession, they were looking a decidedly impotent outfit when they came within sight of Brad Guzan`s goal
Andi Weimann was inches away from putting us 2-0 ahead when he chipped Pepe Reina after latching onto a poor Glen Johnson back header, and then a truly superb piece of skill from Christian Benteke set up Andi, who swept home from ten yards, to round off an excellently worked goal to silence the home support.
Arguably one of the better well-worked goals, that we have scored since Patrick Berger`s third goal in front of the Holte against Sheffield United a few years back.
Andi had released Christian into the inside-right channel, and then exposed Liverpool`s defence to collect and dispatch the Belgian`s clever backheel past Reina. Super finish. Excellent football. A definite contender for our goal of the season, and I say that even with Christmas not yet upon us, and many, many more Villa goals to fly in between now and next May.
We closed out the half without any scares, and while it has to be admitted that most of our first half defending had been pretty much last-ditch stuff, it had been effective, and Brad Guzan consequently had enjoyed a relatively trouble free opening forty-five.
On the break we had been giving Liverpool plenty of problems, and they simply didn`t appear to have the slightest idea of how to keep Christian Benteke in check. Mind you, in fairness, they are not the first opposition defence who have struggled to keep him quiet, nor will they be the last. When do we bestow the freedom of Aston and Witton on young Christian?
There was very much a happy go lucky atmosphere amongst the Villa support at the break, all of us delighted with what we had witnessed, particularly coming on the back of the knees up in East Anglia just the other night. If we had feared a case of ‘After the Lord Mayors Show`, then how wrong we had been.
Into the second half we went, and while we remained unchanged, Liverpool decided to throw on Joe Cole, as they attempted to get back into the game.
Liverpool had claims for a penalty denied by referee Swarbrick, but as it was up at the Kop end, I couldn`t really see whether their protests were justified. Apparently not according to a Liverpool fan, who we began talking to as we walked back to the car after the game. He said that while it could have been given, both Clark and Agger were tugging at each other, so it was the classic case of six of one, half a dozen of the other.
Then on the fifty minute mark we struck again. Joe Cole was dispossessed by Brett Holman close to the halfway line, Christian Benteke collected the ball, drove forward, danced his way through the home defence, and buried the ball past Reina. 3-0.
Liverpool came at us for the remainder of the game, but rarely looked capable of breaching our defence. We were content to allow them the possession, because in truth they just didn`t have enough about them to break us down. Brad again enjoying another comfortable forty five minutes.
Eventually, with Anfield emptying by the minute, Gerrard turned a Glen Johnson effort past Brad, but by then it was all a case of way too little, way too late. They were well beaten. Turned over in their own backyard.
As I said at the very start of this report, ‘Merry Christmas Liverpool`.
So there we have it. Two memorable away wins in the space of four days. Seven goals scored, just one conceded. Progress into the final four of the Football League Cup, and three valuable away points as we strive to achieve a respectable premier league position.
Yet again, another outstanding all round team display, with every individual giving their all, and playing a part to the full.
There were outstanding individual efforts too, just as there were at Norwich City, but you cant help but believe that the Paul Lambert revolution is coming together mainly because of the united front that there now seems to be within the dressing room. The youngsters continue to improve, develop and progress, thriving in the responsibility that has been thrust their way.
So, it was a delighted and exuberant Villa following that exited the stadium, and made their way back to their various modes of transport for the trek home (probably Brum, but possibly not Todd).
A very enjoyable afternoon had been experienced by all those of the claret and blue persuasion.
Have a great week guys, don`t work too hard of course, and I`ll be back with you following the win at Stamford Bridge.
……Oh what fun it is to see, the Villa win away.
Glensider at Liverpool
Merry Christmas Liverpool.