Date: 8th February 2007 at 8:23pm
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Steve Wade’s excellent column continues as he asks: What am I on about – I don’t even like Chardonnay!

I suppose I’d rather be sipping Chardonnay on the decking of some ex-pat’s mansion on Tamborine Mountain this week, than shovelling snow, but I guess the conversation would be the same – what a relief it was that Villa won on Saturday. But whether wondering who it was, who put the first footprints in the snow along the early-morning pavement today or being amused by the call of the kookaburra as my steak sizzled on the barbie,it was quite a relief, that Villa won what was an absolutely crucial match against West Ham. A team very, very eager to invite as many as possible, to the miseries of the relegation struggle they find themselves in, after their bout of self-destructive tinkering.

With Villa’s new boys on parade for the first time at home, let’s not kid ourselves, a loss would have been just about unbearable and even a draw, would have pooped the party to a painful degree. The balloons and tinsel of not so long ago, had begun to take on a certain frazzled appearance, despite some stoic efforts to keep the choir singing and the orchestra playing a jolly Villa tune.

Villa’s season was definitely teetering and although there has been evidently worse teams in the division, on occasion, they didn’t seem to number much more than the fingers on one hand. A twelve point cushion is some relief.

But for me, it was more than just a win – Villa have gathered in the points, when they have been desperate enough, several times over the last couple of seasons, for it not to be a complete novelty. Things looked definitely different and the new mobility and movement brought an entirely new impression, than I had become inured to, and I found I hadn’t quite realised how static and rigid Villa had become in their forward play, until I saw the movement of the new strike-pair. Its true, we’d seen a glimpse of a more dynamic system when both Gabby and Moore had played in the early part of the season but having three players on the pitch, with the ability to morph the formation into something unmanageable for the opposition, seemed something else entirely. I think the word ‘exciting’ came to mind, which is not a word bandied about too often, in recent times, when it comes to the Villa.

For non-Villa fans and there are many, especially down London way where the media tend to congeal, all the points accrued to O’Neill’s boys only because a post intervened and robbed the Hammers of an equalizer, but my positive impressions were confirmed, when opinions less inspired by love for Bobby Moore, began to pick out an array of Villa players to heap their praises on. One said Olly was superb in defence; Shearer said Carew’s movement made a big difference; Carlton Palmer said that Young was the best player on the pitch; and Mystic Mart, said Sorensen had saved them.

What happened in those final few minutes when Villa began to defend deeper and deeper, I’ll leave to the manager and his coaches to analyse but it did give the impression that a little bit more quality is still required for Villa to look a little less desperate, when the opposition puts on a late spurt.

It might have been all very different though, if Wright-Phillips had decided to come for a little loan spell, and I couldn’t help but think that it was definitely his loss, after witnessing his latest poor performance in an England shirt. A short phone-call to James Milner might have informed him of the benefits of a short break in the bosom of the Villa faithful – the Newcastle player has played more games than any other member of the squad since he returned this term. Ian’s son might have enjoyed his time making sure Bennett of Notts Forest had the most miserable time he’s ever had on a football pitch, in the FA Cup the other week, but as of yet he’s failed to make a convincing case that he deserves a place in the England side.

Alas England are looking very shoddy these days and Wednesday’s friendly against the Spanish did nothing to lift the gloom. Once again the so-called special generation of multi-talented players, who were good enough to win the World Cup apparently, failed to look anywhere near competent and it just seemed a very strange coincidence that after the new Wembley had been lauded, which required the sacrifice of the School of Excellence, along with Sir Trevor Brooking, to bring it into being, the national team looked so technically bereft. It all seems so consistent with what we know about the country – we just prefer monument to sound infrastructure, symbol to concrete under-pinning and jingoistic war cries to properly financed medical care. Just as the only salvation for the poorer parts of Manchester is a super casino, the prestige of the national game, is going to survive on a jejune diet of heroic architecture and lachrymose choruses of the National Anthem. It is hard to be too critical when you have just confirmed that the present political status quo, enjoys the endorsement of the will of God.

England were so bad, they managed to embarrass Old Trafford – a place I habitually associate with annoyingly high-quality play. That slight glimmer of poise and savoir-faire, which seduced us into thinking that real talent was being oppressed by the icy Swede, has now completely vanished and not even the genius Wayne Rooney can remedy the dreary reversion to type, which has so far marked the McClaren reign. It seems a pretty good cert, that Man United will win this year’s Premiership title and England will fail to make the European Championships. For Villa fans, Gareth Barry did okay and although he never did anything likely to win the game, his ball-retention was excellent and he did rather more than Joey Barton and a few other rather better established names. It seems inconceivable that until the return of Owen, the manager can see no other attacking option than Crouch. Absolutely no provision has been made for the possibility that Michael might not return to his former glory. It almost seems as if his position/role is being held open, to pave the way for an easy return, while various players are given the odd game so they conveniently fail to establish themselves.

I don’t like McClaren, his ousting of Beckham stank too much of self-serving pragmatism, but while his team is this bad, every young player must feel encouraged, that it is not beyond their wildest dreams to get into such a side, especially in the striking positions, where there is such a paucity. So come on Young. Come on Gabby. And come on Moore. Owen can’t be there for ever – can he?.

What am I on about – I don’t even like Chardonnay!

By Steve Wade