Dave Woodhall gazes on at Villa’s latest low.
Tuesday night’s crowd was given as 26,435. There were probably no more than about 22,000 in the ground, the rest who had already bought tickets having been lured away from the delights of Villa Park by such attractions as Valentine’s Day and Emmerdale on the telly. They might have thought they were doing the right thing by staying in the warm or going out to enjoy themselves, but in the long run they’ll be the losers. Because whatever they did, whatever they watched or meal they ate they could do the same another night when it’s cheaper and less crowded. Everyone who was at Villa Park, though, saw history being made.
I’ve always been loathe to get into the ‘Worst Performance for Twenty/Thirty/Fifty Years’ debate because it tends to give credence to the miseryarses who see gloom in everything. Besides, anyone who wasn’t at the laughably inept impersonation of a football team that turned out at Southampton in 1987 can’t possibly have room to comment.
Having said that, though, I believe there’s a good case for saying that what we witnessed against Barnsley on 14th Feburary 2017 was the lowest point in the 143 year history of Aston Villa Football Club. When Villa were on their way to division three, the players might not have been the best in terms of ability but made up for it in effort and the desire to sweat blood for the cause. What we’re witnessing now is players who are capable of much, much more, underperforming in a way that if they were racehorses would have bookies refusing to pay out on the result and demanding dope tests.
In the past six weeks Villa have taken the best players from Nottingham Forest, Brentford and Barnsley. They all then beat us without breaking sweat. Just to twist the knife we took two players from Barnsley; they had the heart of their side ripped out during the transfer window yet they managed to come away from Villa Park with the easiest three points they’ll get all season. Yes, their penalty was a ludicrously bad decision from a hilariously incompetent referee, and yes, if the shot that gave them their second goal had connected properly it would have come down somewhere in Nechells, but Villa got back into the game and at half-time there was a small amount of optimism around the ground.
Then in the second half Barnsley’s collection of journeymen and cast-offs wanted it much more than we did. They chased when we had the ball, they ran when they had it. I couldn’t but think that if we’d gone in at half-time 2-1 up away from home we wouldn’t have goot out of our own penalty area in the second half.
Barnsley deserved their third goal and even then there was no sense of urgency around anything the Villa did. The entire event was summed up when two substitutes were stripped five minutes before they got onto the pitch. Nobody was willing to grab hold of the situation, nobody wanted to take any responsibility. Nobody looked, even remotely, like they wanted to get anything from a game that a squad of Villa’s resources should have had won by half-time.
Farce, fiasco, call it what you like. I’ve certainly never witnessed footballers with such talent have less idea of what to do with the ball. Should Steve Bruce’s future be in doubt? Probably, but who the hell is going to want to be the seventh manager to be reponsible for this shower in the past two years?
It’s Newcastle coming up on Monday night next. Live on TV, a journey to the outer limits and the team are beyond awful yet we’ve sold ‘only’ 1,600 tickets. And everyone who goes there deserves some kind of recognition. There was a time when thoughts would turn to “Typical Villa, they’ll go and win up there.” Now, anything less than abject surrender will be seen as a moral victory.