Dave Woodhall on what might prove a significant week at Villa Park.
During an edition of the seminal nineties comedy Men Behaving Badly, womaniser Tony (who I never liked) ended up spending the night with Dorothy, his best friend’s girlfriend (who was otherwise rather nice). She woke up next morning, took one look at him and threw the sheets back over her head screaming “It never happened.” In much the same way, if I keep saying last Tuesday night never happened I might convince myself.
At least Dorothy got, presumably, some pleasure out of the incident at the time, however much she regretted it later. All we got was an hour of torment, when Villa looked like getting the three points that would see us safe for the season, followed by a couple of minutes of calamitous defending, then the rest of a game when the action off the pitch was more newsworthy than what was happening on it.
After looking impressive throughout the first half and going a goal up on the hour, Villa managed to forget how to play once they’d taken the lead. Once they’d gone 2-1 down they never looked like equalising and the closing stages saw the crowd’s patience communally snap. It wasn’t a pretty sight and it led to a statement from Randy and Paul Faulkner that stopped a long way short of total support for the manager, the strange sight of Doug offering his backing and the rest of us wondering where the next point was coming from.
At the Hawthorns on Saturday, was the answer. The line-up might have been defensive, but to their credit the team showed some spirit, and could easily have won the game. Both sides had chances and penalty appeals turned down, but Villa’s defence did well and Shay Given made a couple of top-class saves. It wasn’t pretty, but needs must and at least the game showed that the players are still willing to battle.
The weekend’s results went well and safety now seems virtually assured. This led in part to a flurry of cyber-rumours late on Sunday night that Alex McLeish was on the verge of being sacked. None had any truth in them, most were down to the usual internet curse of attention-seeking. McLeish does seem to be living on borrowed time at Villa Park; I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he goes once the season’s finished. The crowd reaction on Tuesday night went beyond the immediate frustration of watching three points thrown away and neither could it be explained away as the actions of a vociferous minority. Villa supporters seem to have en masse had enough of the manager and once that happens the end is invariably in sight.
Sunday sees the final home game of the season, when Spurs are the visitors. We probably will need one more point to make sure and then the fun can begin. The traditional after-match lap of appreciation by the players promises to be a festive occasion.