Dave Woodhall on Villa’s draw at Anfield and new signings.
You could get 14/1 against Villa winning at Anfield, which gave some idea of the battle that lay ahead at kick-off time on Saturday. I hate 5.30 kick-offs; at least with a 12.45 the match is out of the way early and there’s the rest of the day ahead but 5.30 is neither here nor there. It’s not a night match and it’s not a proper afternoon game – it’s a compromise to suit people who watch football on TV rather than go to the ground.
Anyway, at 5.30 Villa were 14/1. I suspect that 36 minutes later their odds were considerably lower. To put it mildly, the team had been bloody brilliant. They pressed Liverpool, tackled, passed incisively and when Christian Benteke scored his second in two games to put Villa two up, the unlikeliest of wins seemed possible. Then things went wrong, with the home side pulling a goal back deep into first half stoppage time, Gabby Agbonlahor going off injured five minutes after the restart and Luis Suarez doing what Luis Suarez does best to con the referee into giving Liverpool a penalty. Not since Maradona has a player combined such awesome talent with such a vile personality although of course the TV pundits saw it as a definite foul, mainly, or so it seemed, because Brad Guzan gave Suarez the opportunity to fall over. So, what DO Messrs Souness, Hansen, Lawrenson, Redknapp, Carragher, McManaman, Owen, Fowler and Murphy all have in common apart from appearing on our screens regularly?
Villa were left with the best part of forty minutes plus stoppages to hold out and they did so with ease, becoming only the second team in eleven league games to earn a point at Anfield this season. Goalscorers Benteke and Andreas Weimann got the plaudits, as did Fabian Delph, many observers’ man of the match, but credit also to debutants Ryan Bertrand and Grant Holt. Bertrand’s arrival came out of nowhere on Friday morning and he slotted into the side as though he’d been with his colleagues for years rather than a matter of hours, as well as leaving those of us of a certain age with Ca Plane Pour Moi going round in our heads on and off ever since.
Holt’s loan signing was met with reactions ranging from incredulity to outright hostility, but his experience stood the team in good stead in the closing stages of the match. Whatever the rights and wrongs of his signing, Villa have been too nice for years. We’ve lacked the type of player who can stand on the ball to prevent the opposition taking a quick free-kick, hold up play when necessary and generally get on their nerves. It’s one of the reasons why we let in so many late goals and Holt’s experience came in useful as Liverpool pushed for a winner.
Of course, the game just begged the question as to why Villa can play like this away and so badly at home. We’ve lost just five away league matches in the past 19, which is borderline Champions League form, yet at Villa Park the team has often been abysmal. If they’d played half as well all season as they did on Saturday relegation worries would scarcely register and we’d have a game in the FA Cup this weekend instead of a couple of days off. As it is, the next chance to finally show some decent home form comes a week on Wednesday with the arrival of the Albion. I can’t think of a better time to batter the opposition and set us up for the rest of the season.
Of course, the game would be a lot easier if we’ve finally signed the midfielder, and hopefully spare central defender, we need. There doesn’t seem to be anyone on the horizon but Paul Lambert surprised us twice last week; he may do so again.