Dave Woodhall and a very important person saw a very unenthralling match at Villa Park on Saturday.
When the main talking point of a match is the identity of a member of the crowd then you can safely say that the football itself wasn’t up to much.
Prince William’s visit to Villa Park was as much of a secret as it’s possible to be when a black limousine with motorcycle outriders arrives anywhere with 35,000 onlookers. They might as well have watched the car for 90 minutes; it was more interesting than the game and a lot more mobile than Christian Benteke.
Benteke’s form has been a cause for concern since his return from injury. He hasn’t looked anywhere near as sharp as he did earlier and has failed to score in seven matches. This has naturally led to all sorts of conspiracy theories about his heart not being in the club anymore and his mind wanting to be elsewhere. I think ,or rather I hope, that he’s just going through a bad patch. All great strikers have, and all it takes is one goal, however flukey, to turn their fortunes round.
It would have taken a fluke, or a moment of genius, for Villa to have scored on Saturday. They were second best against a Sunderland side who are deep in relegation trouble and whose away form is worse than Villa’s at home. The lack of imagination going forward was worrying and while Villa’s improved defensive abilities mean that the sort of relegation battle that marked last season is unlikely, the team won’t be making much more progress until there’s a change in both mentality and application.
Another special guest at the game was former chairman Harry Kartz, who celebrated his 100th birthday last month, accompanied by three generations of his family. Mr Kartz has no doubt seen thousands of matches during his life. One of them may even have been worse than this. Still, results elsewhere meant that we are now Pride of the Midlands. The table doesn’t lie; I expect to be able to buy the DVD by Wednesday.
Talking of Wednesday that’s when Villa play at Southampton in a game where our following will be bolstered by free coach travel as part of the Premier League’s initiative to help away supporters. The home side started the season well but have found it harder to play teams from the top half of the league whereas Villa on the other hand have enjoyed top six form away from home for the past year, so what looked a hopeless journey a month ago could end up better than we might have feared.
That’s followed on Sunday by the annual Big Day Out down by the riverside. TV scheduling and a resultant lesser ticket allocation will mean the numbers travelling to Fulham will be lower than usual but never underestimate Villa supporters’ ability to enjoy ourselves at Craven Cottage and its environs. They’ll have a new manager by then but still the same players, minus Darren Bent. If Benteke can get amongst the goals again (or if his attack partners can start scoring) Villa could be looking at ending the year in a much better position than they started it.