Dave Woodhall on Villa at Eastertide.
Two games, two draws, two points closer to safety. That was Villa’s Easter. There was also two goals, two leads squandered and two x two points dropped.
At Anfield Villa’s patched- up side played a Liverpool team going through in a bad run of their own. They’d lost to Wigan in their last home game, but anyone who thought this had any relevance was deluding themselves. Liverpool are still a decent side and it’s rare that they lose two in a row against uninspiring opposition. Besides, as we all know, when you’re in a bad run there’s only one team you want to be playing.
And so it was that Villa promptly went a goal up after ten minutes, courtesy of Barry Bannan providing for Chris Herd. Yes, the Academy struck again. After that we had eighty minutes if solid defending, as da Pool battered Villa’s goal, hitting the woodwork and having a couple of penalty appeals turned down. The inevitable equaliser-from-a-corner came with eight minutes left, but there was still time for Samil Carruthers to come on and have his own definite, stonewall, no doubt about it penalty rejected.
One of the most oft-heard phrases in football is “Another Premier League record” and while it’s annoying in the extreme, I’d like to know if Villa have set one lately with the number of Academy graduates in the side. Five started, three came on as subs and another couple were on the bench. Those with longer memories than mine might also be able to say whether this is the youngest Villa team of all time – are the McLeish generation even more Minor than their Mercer predecessors? They went to what has always been one of the most daunting grounds in the country and none of them looked overawed.
After such an experience the last team you want to play two days later is Stoke. There was just one change in the starting line-up, whereas with a full squad four or five might have been left out. Again a youngster opened the scoring, this time Andreas Weimann, who has come through the ranks nicely and is now looking as promising a young striker as we’ve had for many years – particularly impressive when you remember that a couple of them have played for England.
Weimann’s goal was the one touch of class in a first half that was only challenged for tedium by the second. The equaliser came, not surprisingly, from a central defender, Robert Huth, who seemed to have fouled James Collins in the process but this was Stoke and referees appear spellbound by their approach to the game. It’s almost as if officials take the attitude that it’s Stoke, so what do you expect? Rory Delap must be given every assistance with his throw-ins and the help of a stray elbow or two at every opportunity is no more than they deserve.
Anyway, the game fizzled out into a damp, dismal draw on a damp, dismal Bank Holiday. Villa Park was once more much well under capacity and the usual turnout of Stroke supporters was severely depleted – although given Villa’s pricing policy for away supporters this isn’t surprising. We didn’t sell out our allocation at Anfield either, which is almost unheard of on a Saturday afternoon. The treatment of away fans is something which has hardly improved in football’s shiny modern age. Admittedly, facilities are better and the risk of assault or wrongful arrest far less, but the most committed members of the crowd still have some of the worst views and usually have to pay the nose for the privilege.
Results elsewhere went our way, so Villa took another step away from the relegation zone, once more with the grace and stealth of a gout-ridden tortoise suffering from bronchitis. I’d like to think that with safety now virtually assured Alex McLeish might send a team out to enjoy themselves and, just maybe, entertain the crowd. Or not.