Dave Woodhall on Villa’s one-nil win at home to Derby County, plus the latest in a sad series.
Playing Derby at home inevitably brings back memories of the corresponding fixture early in 1989-90. Villa had got off to a poor start, losing 3-1 at home to QPR the previous week, in a game where Trevor Francis had scored a hat-trick and Paul McGrath had been barely able to stand up. Another defeat could well have been the end of Graham Taylor’s Villa career, and probably his England ambitions, but despite having most of the game Derby, and in particular their star striker Dean Saunders, missed them all. David Platt scored a late goal, took the points and began a run of fourteen wins from sixteen league games.
It says a lot about Villa’s recent form that such a run from now to the end of the season still wouldn’t get us anywhere near the play-off spots, even if we did miracuously find some way of instiling into this season’s bunch of misfits the ability of McGrath, Platt, Gordon Cowans and Tony Daley. Even Derek Mountfield, Nigel Spink and Ian Olnye would be a start.
Beating Derby on Saturday afternoon, though, did at least end a run that was threatening to break new records of ineptness. It wasn’t pretty and it owned a great deal to the good fortune that saw the visitors denied a blatant penalty but it was, at least, a win. We can criticise the manner in which it arrived all we like, and 29% possession tells its own story, but the day is a long time in the future when we can afford to be too sniffy about the style in which points are gained. For the moment, let’s just be grateful we got them, add enough to make safety certain and then take stock of the season and what needs to be put right.
While that’s in the future, the present sees Villa playing at home to Bristol City on Tuesday night. One of the dubious pleasure of the Championship is that you don’t get too much time to either dwell on defeat or relish a victory – the next game comes round before you have time to blink. Foolishly naive that I am, I thought one of Villa’s biggest assets this season would be the strength in depth to cope with a heavy fixture schedule, but that was before the idea of getting rid of three forwards in January and signing one. This left us with a strikeforce of Jonathan Kodjia, who if the footballing cliches are accurate will be desperate to put one over on his old club. If he does, it’s onwards and upwards to the giddy heights of mid-table respectability. If he doesn’t, another old cliche, namely two steps forward and one step back, will come into play.
Elsewhere, news broke at the weekend that former Villa manager and Celtic legend Billy McNeill is suffering from dementia. It’s best to draw a veil over his Villa Park days and remember what a great player he was for Celtic and Scotland (and it should never be forgotten that Villa’s links with football north of the border are long-standing and unbreakable). We would also do well to reflect that as the connection between brain-related illness and football is now clearly established, perhaps the game could do much to help all sufferers of such illnesses.
There isn’t a single player in the Premier League who would miss a week’s wages. Donating them to Alzeheimer’s Research would be the biggest boost that the search to find a cure for the disease has ever enjoyed.