Date: 9th April 2010 at 4:44pm
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Bacon saved but can we bring it home?

Bacon saved but can we bring it home?

Martin O’Neill looked substantially relieved as the whistle blew on Saturday and he gave full rein to that relief by getting a bit physical with Ashley Young, who had just saved his bacon by scoring a beautiful goal to settle a lack-lustre but vital game at Bolton.

A lot of joshing took place, it seems, between Villa’s manager and his star winger, as his team packed up their troubles in the old team bus and headed Brumward with an invigorating three points.

It was what we all desperately needed, even if we all know how annoying it is to be the subject of someone’s daft-uncle routine, for anyone who has started to shave.

So well done Ashley – John Barnes could not have done it any better.

Job done – the game of shame was put to bed and a stolid performance showed the Villa to be, if not great, then totally undaunted. This produced a sigh of relief for the fans who had been, it has to be admitted, a little trepidatious that their team might have been left as gutted as they were, by their resounding thrashing at the Bridge too far.

With reputation and pride, if not entirely restored, then nicely patched up, the only thing left for this fan to do, was to get through the week without dwelling too much on another visit to Wembley and another fateful date with the pensioners, come the weekend.

Gladly the sun shone and there were plenty of excuses to set aside all plans for a six-pack and stuff myself with Easter-egg chocolate and watch the disappointments of other teams and get hyperbolically superlative about players of miraculous marvelousness.

There was definitely a shortage of adjectives to describe Messi’s performance against Arsenal on Tuesday and so I had to make one up. Messi-anic didn’t seem to be making too much of Messi’s performance against Arsenal and whether like Maradona you wanted to hand the congratulations to Jesus, or the benefits of human growth hormone, the little chap was just about as wonderful as any player you are ever likely to see.

I don’t know what the Catalan is for, ‘Five-foot-eight not much weight, Lionel Messi’s effing great!’, but it definitely hits the mark.

It was entirely out of duty that I sat down to watch Man United the night after and the vestige of a hope that I might see them lose, and I wasn’t disappointed. It turned out to be one of the greatest nights a man can have in front of a television set which didn’t entail the least risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Rooney proved what a great player he is by discarding his lunar boot and just by his mere presence, lifted the whole team and the expectations of the fans. He didn’t run about much but his passing from his position in the hole was crucial in opening up Bayern down the right, which quickly put United three-nil up before anyone had properly blown the steam off their Bovril let alone the German’s their Kraftbrühe.

In short, Bayern’s left-back Badstuber got douched and then flushed, twice (geddit?).

The game turned when Olic scored a brilliant goal and Rafael got a bit excited, as he crucially, not only shot when he should have passed, he also indulged himself in a Beckhamesque retaliation, before trying to recruit French Franck into starting a conga line, which got him sent off.

We all know the Germans are a bit anal-retentive but it seems they like to retain the ball too. They encouraged United to run their legs off and then scored with a perfectly executed volley from a corner – the sort of goal seen more often on a Playstation than a football pitch.

Best moment apart from the result, was Nani sprinting sixty yards towards the German goal, having his shot saved and then nearly collapsing from his exertions, when he came to take the resulting corner. That’s what you call passion and that is what you call hunger. Hate United, as we must, they are never seem short of hunger.

It all got worse after that, as we were treated to a red-faced rant from Ferguson, which verged on the politically incorrect, with his accusations and generalisations against the Germans, which would have shamed a lesser man. No doubt I will be trotting out such stuff in the World Cup, like I always do, but somehow you expect more from a professional, who managed to find excuses for Ronaldo when he got Rooney sent off in World Cup 2006.

It was at that point that I decided that Ferguson’s self-exile from BBC screens these past years, has been a blessing.

The television football marathon continued (useful training for the World Cup to come) with Fulham producing a superb performance against Wolfsburg and Bobby Zamora not only sounding like a Spaniard
he also played like one too. He scored a majestic goal from a Cruyff-turn and precise shot, after 21 seconds.

Wolfsburg then proceeded to astound us all by showing us how bad they were and many a TV spectator was left to wonder how they ever won the Bundesliga. The town has a population of 120 000, which puts it on par with Rotherham or Watford.

Wolfsburg’s history is a fascinating tale of steady and gradual improvement since their promotion from the second tier in 1997 and they have been regular participants in the Inter Toto Cup for a number of years. Their amazing Championship win in season 2008-9 was astounding, and with both their front two, Grafite and Dzeko, scoring twenty goals each that season (two big guys up front), their tale begins to look rather familiar. When you add in the fact that the manager Felix Magath moved on within a season to a bigger club where he expanded his duties to general manager, then it begins to sound like déjà vu. When you hear that the replacement manager was sacked after only a few months, it sounds like Groundhog Day.

Its gratifying to realise that football madness does not end at the English channel.

So as can be seen, I have had plenty of football stuff to distract me this week from Villa’s encounter with Chelsea on Saturday evening and even if TV sometimes is not quite the experience it might be, it sure beats trying to put your hands over your ears for a whole week, while singing la-la-la. And, much less likely to get you sectioned.

I can’t say I am looking forward to tomorrow’s public examination of Villa’s qualities or shortcomings but as long at they give a good account of themselves, I won’t be complaining too loudly. It still seems stupid that its not being played in neutral Manchester, instead of a tube-ride away from Stamford Bridge, but since when has the FA been neutral?

Not since I can remember.

I suspect it will be tough.

Keep the faith but know that its the hope that kills you.

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