Dave Woodhall on Villa’s 2-2 draw with Preston.
I’ll start with a question. Is there another sport where two clubs with such glorious names as Aston Villa and Preston North End could have bene competing with each other for over 130 years, and could it have been anywhere other than England? For all that’s wrong with football it can still throw up some wonderful scenarios.
Another game, another two points thrown away and another question. Have Villa really moved on all that much from the brief reign of Roberto Di Matteo? On paper, it seems we haven’t but at half-time on Saturday such comparisons seemed as far away as those less than halcyon days of autumn. It was a 2-0 defeat at Preston that saw the end of Di Matteo and after 45 minutes of the return match Villa should already have been winning on aggregate. Two up and it could have been four, Steve Bruce was making the scepticism that greeted the team line-up seem short-sighted. Gabby Agbonlahor was doing well, Ashley Westwood was adequate alongside new signing Henri Lansbury. The team had more balance, more confidence and we’d just witnessed the best 45 minutes of the season.
Any other team would have been able to kill the game off but ten minutes into the second half the old frailities re-emerged. Midfield dropped ever-deeper, players tired, the opposition were re-energised. Once more the inevitable happened and Villa remain in the bottom half of ther table, another chance to haul themselves closer to the play-offs wasted.
On the positive side, Lansbury looks a quality signing. He can run, pass, tackle, the sort of thing that midfielders usually do but which are rare in a Villa shirt. With Mile Jedinak missing and Aaron Tshibola once more banished to the bench, Lansbury was a shining star in a sea of anonymous mediocrity. If Villa do sign Barnsley’s Conor Hourihane we’ll at least have a platform to build on for next season, because an immediate return to the Premier League is looking unlikely.
After the game Steve Bruce talked about Ross McCormack, and the incredible story that the player claimed he’d been unable to train because he couldn’t leave the house. No matter how bad the Villa have been over the years, no matter how our signings have under-achieved, you have to hand it to them. If an excuse exists, they’ll take it. And if it doesn’t exist, they’ll invent it.
The obvious question given recent events has to be wondering how Graham Taylor would have reacted to such a situation. Saturday gave us our chance to finally pay tribute to the great man, and although the pre-match events seemed more low-key than those of the previous week, that’s perhaps understandable given that the initial shock and grief has begun to fade. Just as poignant was the 72nd minute when Villa Park was lit up in homage. There’s just one tribute left now – to get out of the divison where Sir Graham found us.