I was not in the best of moods this morning. To begin with, I refused to wear any of my many Villa shirts, feeling that the luck has gone from every single one of them. Unless they buck up their ideas, they are through, I tell them. My mood isn’t helped by Lawro predicting a Villa win, which is pretty much the satanic kiss of death to any self respecting Villa fan trying to feel positive over a low calorie breakfast. In a week in which Lambert and Lerner have been furiously lambasted for causing everything from the German Hyper-Inflation crisis of 1923 to the Cuban Missile Crisis; our players castigated for being either too young, too inexperienced, over paid, under paid, over played or just plain played, Lawro has got a cheek in predicting a win. Indeed, given everything I have read and heard this week, I’m half expecting to get off the bus at Witton and find a hole in the earth where my club used to be.
[Note: Before we leave the Mrs takes me to one side and tells me that, should we lose, I am not, under any circumstances to strop, become withdrawn or look out the window with that glazed look that suggests that all joy has been sucked from the earth. I promise her that I’ll try.]
Before a ball is kicked I do the maths. Villa have picked up 10 points out of the previous 33 available. We have the worse defence in the league and have managed a measly 8 goals at home all season. No surprise then that our defence is under pressure when we can’t score at the other end! Only Wigan and QPR have worse home records than us. Southampton, although down the bottom, have recorded only two defeats in their last ten games so they will be no push over. Our one saving grace is that they are wobbly on the road. They will need to be if we are to get the win. Fingers and toes all crossed.
I am relieved to find that Bennett and Lichaj are out and that Enda Stevens is back in. Right now, I would welcome Fray Bentos to our defence if it meant that Bennett and Lichaj didn’t have to play. Vlaar is on the bench so we are stuck with the three amigos of Baker and Clark at centre back with Delph in the defensive midfield hole (how apt). Lowton continues at right back, Holman joins Westwood in midfield and Benteke and Weimann are up top. I’m pleased to see Westy back. Hopefully, he’ll bring some rhythm and fluidity to the centre of the park, complimenting Delph’s exceptional range of sideways passing.
We are at it from the off. I will give the team credit. They do keep getting back up and going at it. Their work rate is exceptional. If only you got points for that. Alas, you get points for winning League football matches, something that we have forgotten how to do. [Note: If I here one more person around me use the word ‘promising’ or ‘potential’ in their in-game conversation I may have to start ruining their pies]
After a few nervy minutes Southampton bloom quickly into the game courtesy of Enda Stevens who seems slow in tracking back after popping up in support. [Note:What is it with Villa and left backs? Warnock was utterly dreadful at LB last season (so much for experience), low impact buy Bennett seems prone to game changing mistakes and Lichaj (a RB) is a stop gap who can struggle for pace. Stevens, having made significant progress under Lambert, now seems to be stuttering as well] Stevens labours getting back leaving us split open. No surprise then when Saints hit us on the break, though Rodriguez gets his run into the box all wrong and misses his cue. Guzan collects the ball easily after Clark gets a toe on it. Nice interception. A few minutes later Stevens, (yes, him again), puts in a high challenge on Ramirez. There’s some handbags though nothing comes of it. [Note: replays will show that Steven’s was a very naughty boy indeed.]
Villa win a run of corners, the colossal Benteke cloud jumping to knock balls on hither and thither. Nathaniel Clyne looks as though he may need step-ladders and potassium bromide if he is to compete against the Belgian giant. Indeed, the game plan is starting to look like they’re targeting weak link Clyne, playing balls toward the flanks and the corner flag. Amazingly nothing comes from Villa’s opening battery though it’s starting to look like they’re might be something in the game for us! The team seems confident though -damn and blast it- the creativity just isn’t there. We’re effectively waiting for a knock on or a mistake from Southampton. Football God’s, if you can hear me……
……and just as I was communing with the above, the one person I’d forgotten all about goes and messes it all up -welcome to the game then referee Mark Halsey. Admittedly we didn’t help ourselves and what transpires is reflective of what usually gets me out of my seat screaming at the pitch like some Toilet Duck sucking madman.
On the 33rd minute Villa get another corner. N’Zogbia sends in an awful kick that fails to clear the first man (one of my absolute pet hates in football). As a result Southampton break yet again, ripping down our right flank. Stevens trails the runner like a puppy caught up in a toilet roll though its not all on him. A red carpet and a champagne reception is provided by our shambolic defence for the on-coming attacker as Southampton enter our eighteen yard box with menace. As a result there is a scramble in the box. Momentarily some of the players fractionally slow sensing that there has been a foul or an offside. It is as if they are waiting for a whistle that never comes or maybe the goal that they expect to come. The ball comes back toward the goal line so we try and clear though said clearance is stupidly aimed at ankle height and duly rebounds of someone’s shin. (You couldn’t make this rubbish up.)
Somewhere in that fracas dear old Steven’s tries to get the ball. Jay Rodriguez takes the opportunity to fall at his feet. I look to the roof for sign of a sniper as Mark Halsey blows and points to the spot. The ref seems certain about this one. [Note: Replays will clearly show that no contact was made and that the player dived.]
Protests prove futile so penalty king Ricky Lambert is left to do the honours, sending Guzan the wrong way. 1- 0 to the referee. That was an awful decision given by a referee who got caught up in the moment. Everyone in the lower Holte saw it for what it was -simulation- (I am still seeing it now) though defensively we created the mess that led to it. We bring it on ourselves. It does make me wonder what they do on the training pitch. I imagine in my head a conversation at Bodymoor Heath.
Lambert to Stevens: “Son, I want you to run forward and support runs on our left flank but when we lose the ball I want you to power back and close down the space and the man. Got it?”
Stevens to Lambert: “Right you are gaffer. Understand completely. When they break down the right I’m to set up an artists easel and begin painting a work in oils called ‘counter attack with ball’.
Lambert to Stevens: “Exactly.”
Villa try to get back in the game, though it feels like a lot of forced huff and puff. By the 42nd minute I have had enough. It’s been another dreadful first half at home. Holman looks tired and Delph, as driven as he is, doesn’t have forward on his compass. We head down to the concourse. I am cold and the tea flask’s magic is just not there today. I feel thoroughly depressed. I am just so sick of us getting beat and playing like cadavers at home that I could literally blart over my PG Tips.
History will bizarrely show show that the road to our demise began with a Billionaire spending hundreds of millions of his own money on our club and its players, having backed his manager to the hilt. Now, having watched the club become an academy, fans are asking that he underwrite the club again which, even to my mind, seems cyclical, though if this is all our ‘old money big club’ can afford without recourse to a Billionaire’s pocket book, what has actually happened to our club? Should we need a Billionaire to bail us out of trouble given that we play in the world’s richest league? Perhaps we should sign a petition- ‘Dear Randy, we the undersigned demand that you give Paul Lambert £50 million of your own money or we’re screwed. By the way. Thanks for doing up the Holte Pub.’
We start the second half brightly and with renewed energy, dynamic dwarf Bannan replacing Wizard of Oz Holman in the middle. We switch to a flat 4-4-2 and take the game to Southampton. Now, as much as I am in awe of Benteke’s performances for the second time in a week I watch a Villa striker fluff his lines and miss a gaping net. Stevens, having a better second half, the sort of half that might keep Joe Bennett cleaning boots, fired a scorching effort at Saints keeper Boruc. The Polish shot stopper sends the ball out in the direction of Benteke who has the goal at his mercy. Having watched Bent ignominiously mistime his jump and head over against Bradford I am now forced to watch Benteke snatch at his effort, sending the ball over and wide. Better anticipation and a tidy touch and that’s a goal.
Whilst I am grumbling and angrily replying to goading text messages from glory hunting friends Jason Puncheon hits the bottom of our post after a mazy run takes him into our area. Charles N’Zogbia, who is starting to show the sort of form that will one day see him become as good as Jason puncheon, is then taken off for speedmeister Agbonlahor.
Villa proceeded to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at Southampton. With the crowd roaring them on. Somewhere in the middle of this Mark Halsey develops a fetish for accurate throws, calling Villa back to retake them much to the ire of the Holte End. Indeed, when the game stops for for the Luke Shaw injury on the 76th minute, the Villa crowd take the opportunity to let Mark Halsey know exactly what they think of his officiating.
We continue to press though that final ball or killer touch is obviously never going to come. I’ll take a fortuitous bounce or a knock on right now. Anything, just as long as we stick it in. Then, in injury time a chance arrives! Gabby Agbonlahor accelerates to nick the ball from Boruc causing the ball to loop back toward Benteke. Unbelievably he fluffs his lines again. The anticipation and the touch just isn’t there. A simple placed shot anywhere to the left of Boruc and it’s a goal. The Mrs is not impressed. She really likes Benteke though ‘that’ will be viewed as akin to personal betrayal.
At the death of the game Baker, climbing to beat his man, puts the ball onto the bar with a meaty header. Halsey then puts us and himself out of our misery and blows for full time. Final result: Aston Villa 0-1 Mark Halsey and the Southampton Theatrical Society.
Feel completely miserable and gutted when I leave the ground. At this rate I’ll be on crack let alone a diet. As we trudge to the bus stop the Mrs discovers that Reading have stormed back to beat the Baggies courtesy of Android. A sad look falls over her face. I feel slightly guilty as I did introduce her to the Villa. Greatest soap opera on earth, I told her. How right I was. Now she can’t get enough, though ‘her boys’ (as she calls them) leave her feeling ridiculously low and annoyed most weekends. I suggest I start an evening support group. “Hello everyone. My name is [insert name] and I’m a Villa Supporter.”
Its galling because we played better today, we matched Southampton for most of the game though the bleeding obvious still rings out. We have no leader, no gravity, rubbish left backs, are often defensively shambolic and we lack cutting edge. We couldn’t unlock a music box at the moment and with numbers this bad, if it does not change soon, we are undoubtedly heading out of the Barclays Premier League.
I have one more thing to report though (cough)
I, Villa Herbert Grizzly, do hereby confess to being a) stroppy b) withdrawn and c) guilty of looking out of the window with a glazed look, as though all joy had been sucked from the earth, so help me God.
Vital Villa’s Match Report: Villa v Southampton