Capital One Cup -Semi Final Second League
The Mrs and I finished early and changed at work, both appearing from the toilets dressed like Eskimos. We decided our winter hats were not up to scratch so, full of hope, we purchased new bonnet warmers from the Villa shop in a bid to keep out the cold. Indeed, there seemed to be a run on hats, scarfs and optimism. London Hotel anyone?
A packed flag bearing Villa Park heralded the arrival of the two teams to a fanfare worthy of a cup semi-final. Their wasn’t a spare seat in sight. Most of the season ticket holders around us had taken up their allocation with a few new faces thrown in to the riot that is Holte Lower L7 and L8. Everyone stood up from the off, belting out the classics in passionate and throaty voices for the team. The 6,000 Bradford City fans who were housed in the North Stand upper tier and the far end of the Doug Ellis Stand. With a 2 goal advantage I would have thought they’d have given it some early on though the sight of a rocking Villa Park seemed to still the custard and rust army.
Villa turned out in a 4-4-2, Vlaar has returned to partner Clark at CB which is a massive relief. The 5 man defence formation seemed reactionary and poorly organised. Good to be back to basics though I look nervously to LB. This is our soft spot- the Lion’s underbelly. Everyone who comes to Villa Park now targets us on the left flank. Tonight’s LB is Bennett, a young player who is learning fast; an athletic agile full back who has great positional sense though poor timing on the tackle and clumsy with it. He played well against the Baggies though the boy always looks like he’ll give away free kicks and is a penalty waiting to happen. Given that set pieces are killing us this does not bode well. With Bannan Delph and Ireland setting up as a midfield three, Agbonlahor and N’Zogbia are left to support the towering Benteke up front in a three pronged attack. All guns are go. Villa Park pantomime hate figure Phil Dowd blows the whistle and we are off.
Villa are at it from the start. In fact for most of the first half Villa pulverise Bradford. I expect nothing less. A fourth tier team should be getting pulled apart here. Benteke is dominating their back line. His early bullet header is saved by Duke though he gets the goal that counts on the 24th minute, poking the ball high passed the Bradford keeper from six yards. I feel we should get more. There’s a shot on the turn from Agbonlahor and two rasping efforts from N’Zogbia, who is playing like a man possessed. The last three games have somehow resurrected N’Zogbia who is looking like a talent again. Feels like a new signing.
Bradford are camped in their own half and their fans are quiet. We look commanding at the back and are surely on for more goals in this one. We go down to the concourse to get some hot tea inside us on 43′ minutes. Half way home.
The new hat is a revelation. My head now all the tog of an Eskimos boiler. With double layers all round and thick socks I’m toasty and still confident as the second half kicks off. Heaven knows why because our Achilles heal is about to floor us.
Bradford win a corner. I feel myself tense up. The Mrs grabs my hand and pulls the peak of her new hat down so its ready to engulf her face should something bad happen. Something bad does happen. On 55 minutes’ Ron Vlaar, who was supposed to take our defence back toward competence, loses his man on the near post, allowing Hanson to nut in a power header. The atmosphere goes out of the stadium like a fly away balloon, as Bradford City erupt into ecstasy. I am left reeling as my heart enters my stomach. We are now back at square one, needing two goals with just over 30 minutes to play to get us extra-time. The Mrs is now covered by hat.
Bradford nearly seal it with an instant second. Hanson, however, misreads his chance and heads over when the net was at his mercy. As the clock ticks down to 70 minutes Thompson’s pure strike clips the Villa cross bar. My heart has now moved from my stomach to my mouth. Bradford City should be out of sight and we should be dead and buried.
As the doubt creeps in Villa begin to lose faith. The forward play is now bitty and the sideways passing game is now in full swing. The movement on the front line is at times static. Nobody seems to want it. It isn’t long before we are lumping it forward for Benteke’s height and Agbonlahor’s pace.
Desperation is setting in.
Lambert rings the changes Weimann for Bennett on 70′. Weimann looks hungry for another goal. He is without doubt a trier and a striker with an eye for the net. Bent replaced Bannan on 62′ though has been largely invisible, which now consists of Steven Ireland in front of a back three. We are literally going for it with all we’ve got.
Two things now happen. Firstly, the gentleman behind me, who has been a pain all night long, pushed someone over the edge. He has obviously just come out for the big game and has proceeded for the entirety of the second-half to lambast the team and the manager with an array of Fing this and Fing that. His language is disgusting; his ‘support’ non-existent, his frustration all too familiar. I can tell he doesn’t come out often. The gentleman in front of me, a season ticket holder, has had enough and turns to Professor Negative to tell him so. Fing this and Fing that are now flying past my shoulder at a rate of knots. I am a big lad. I quite fancy joining in but think better of it. professor Negative is invited to watch small heath town on a regular basis. His face goes purple. It is looking as though it might kick off. Secondly -remember the game?- Andi Weimann collects a Darren bent knock on in the 89th, rounds Matt Duke and scores to make it 2-1. All those heading for the exits are now stood hoping upon hope that we get that third goal. We don’t get the third goal as Bradford expertly run down the clock. They are deservedly on their way to Wembley. Congratulations to them for a heroic Roy of the Rovers performance.
Much to ponder. Villa have the worst goal difference in the Premier league and over two seasons now they have struggled from seat pieces. If anything they have got worst. We also struggle to score goals up front and have an awful home record; because we were playing Bradford City, the Villa faithful believed those problems wouldn’t rear their head, particularly as they have been more reflective of our league form than our adventurers in the League Cup. Football, however, is the same game regardless of competition and those problems were there for all too see. Such a combination, if unaddressed, is guaranteed to sink us. Worryingly, Lambert, whose credit is starting to run out, has not been able to find solutions. He picks the team and sets the tactics. He is right, it is not ‘rocket science’ but it is his job to ensure the team are competent enough in key areas.
For me, this nothing to do with money or the quality of the playing staff. These are basic things that footballers from League two upwards should be doing. We know this because Bradford are doing them. Villa must have had 20-30 chances over the tow legs and have managed to score 3 measly goals. We have conceded four goals from set pieces alone! Simply not good enough at any level. I am not suggesting we sack the manager though there must be a review of what is happening at Bodymoor Heath for these same stupid mistakes to keep occurring.
I am inconsolable on the way back. The cue on the Lichfield Road for Aston Station is ten deep. A mass snowball fight breaks out. The Mrs, allergic to round objects flying through the air at speed, cowers against me. I find this amusing but then I take a clump of snow to the head. My now trusty hat saves me though I am not impressed. We are both tired, cold and angry. As the Mrs puts it: “The players are taking the **** out of us at the moment. Not fit for the shirt.” I couldn’t agree more. Not only is my beloved club getting pulled apart most weeks I’m now getting snowballed.
As Lambert has acknowledged, they let us down tonight. The manager seemed gutted, the players hurt and angry with themselves. (Credit to Vlaar and Lowton by the way for having the guts and the face to come and applaud the Holte End. Duly noted). Not as let down and gutted hurt and angry as well feel though.
I mumble a prayer: “Lord if you can here me, I, your humble servant Villa Herbert Grizzly do ask thee for a talented ball playing midfielder with leadership qualities. I know that you are busy spinning planets and with that whole middle east thing but if you could see to it that we sign someone good we’d all be chuffed. Oh, can you send a number 67 bus along as well, because this cue is doing my head in. Thanks Lord.”
Vital Villa Match Report: Villa v Bradford
Capital One Cup -Semi Final Second League