Friendless, luckless

Dave Woodhall on the week at Villa Park. 


There’s been an element of back to reality since the opening day of the season – and that also goes for the absence of this site, out of action for a week and still not fully fit. Birmingham Press; the Jermaine Jenas of the internet.

After that spectacular win at Arsenal hopes were high for a better showing at Stamford Bridge, a ground where we tend to either do well or lose heavily. Villa promptly played well only to be undone by a performance from referee Kevin Friend that skirted the borders between incompetence and idiocy. I don’t think our referees are corrupt, but I do think that pressure is brought to bear on them to ensure that the top teams get the big decisions. Someone with more time on their hands will be able to answer this question; when was the last time an official was dropped after a game in which the Sky Four plus One did well out of the debatable decisions? And how often does it happen the other way round? When a referee gives a penalty against Manchester United it’s news for days. When he gives them one it barely merits a mention. In those circumstances you can’t blame the referee if he chooses to opt for the quiet life but it’s nevertheless frustrating when a promising, disciplined performance is ruined by a referee who is afraid to make the right call.

This was followed by the first league game at home, and while Villa had enough chances to get something out of the match with Liverpool it was a disappointing afternoon that failed to build on the optimism of the previous week. This is always one of my least favourite matches of the season – the number of camera-toting daytrippers ‘supporting’ both teams gives the ground the air of a theme park and Villa’s home record against this lot is appalling, which leads onto another theory of mine. The reason why Villa have done so badly at home in the past few years is because, basically, our ground is too good for the team. Anyone arriving there realises that they’re at one of the world’s most impressive stadia and they instinctively believe they have to be at their best to get a result. Unfortunately for Villa ‘their best’ for a team as inconsistent as Liverpool is invariably more than enough. In fact, they weren’t anywhere near that standard; their best chance went one side of the post, Villa’s went the other or were saved. If we’d had a midfield whose passing could equal their workrate Villa would have got at least a point but it wasn’t to be.

Looking on the bright side, many people predicted no points and a hefty negative goal difference after the opening week. Villa have got their first win, with a bit of luck and a lot less refereeing incompetence could still be unbeaten, and although the defence has looked fragile at times, it’s also withstood some intense pressure with Jores Okore making the sort of impression that could see him established in the long line of top-class Villa central defenders.

And so onto the week ahead. Rotherham should be just the ideal opponents for a team who need a win in front of their own supporters. With no league games for a fortnight Paul Lambert should be able to pick a decent-strength side while also giving a few of the new arrivals a chance to show what they can do. I’ve no particular gripe against Rotherham, although their manager, Steve Evans, is one of the most odious men in football (for proof, Google ‘Steve Evans’ followed by the swear word of your choice) but we could do with a few goals to give players and supporters a bit of confidence. It might also help exorcise the demons of last season’s League Cup.

Finally, the final few days of the transfer window are upon us, but barring something really dramatic the Villa Park ‘In’ door seems to be closed until January. If we can get rid of a couple of players in the two days, though, there might still be time for a new arrival.