Dave Woodhall doesn’t watch Villa lose at Burton in the League Cup. Probably just as well.
Nothing says more about the Villa’s fallen status than the fact that getting drawn away to Burton drew responses of boredom at having to play there again rather than the interest that usually accompanies a different ground to visit. Add the invariably weakened teams that both teams were bound to field plus the £22 ticket price to stand (again, less of a novelty than it should be) and it’s testimony to our support that we sold out, yet again, well in advance.
There were the usual wholesale changes, and with Jack Grealish and Jonathan Kodjia missing from the bench it was clear that either Steve Bruce expected the starting line-up to do better than they did in the previous round at Yeovil, or else he wasn’t too bothered about the result. With five defenders named there was also the usual debate about where they would be paying and what the formation would be. It turned out to be 4-3-3 with Axel Tuanzebe’s (out of) position for the night defensive midfield.
Anyway, I’m not there, neither are any cameras, so it was a case of listening to the radio and hoping for the best.
The referee blew his whistle at 7.45 and for just over three-quarters of an hour 22 players attempted to pass the ball to each other, usually without success. Or rather 24 players, because Burton managed to sustain two injuries in the first half-hour, which was some achievement given the nature of the match. If the tie at Yeovil was played with the intensity of a pre-season friendly, this was more like a pre-match warm-up.
Burton started the second half the better side and deserved their opening goal. There wasn’t much else happening after that until, as always seems to be the case lately, there was a drama in the dying minutes. Villa get a penalty, Burton have a player sent off, Albert Adomah steps up to save the day, and misses…twice.
And that was it. No further incident, Villa slipped out of the League Cup with barely a whimper. Again, it was a night when senior players failed to step up and fringe squad members did little to impress. As it has been in the past couple of games Steve Bruce could point to individual errors as being the team’s downfall, but again, they shouldn’t have mattered. Even a Villa side as weak as this one should have been able to see off Burton Albion.
Better Villa managers have had equally bad results but whereas they used to be brushed off, this one will add to the sense that Bruce is now living on borrowed time. Of course, those defeats at such footballing backwaters as Cambridge, Oldham and Bolton were back in those halcyon days when the cups counted for something and caused a national stir at the time whereas Tuesday night’s events will barely crate a murmur outside the confines of the two teams’ supporters – Norwich winning at Cardiff is far more newsworthy in these Premier League-obsessed times.
But equally the managers who presided over them could counter such setbacks with a list of achievements and nobody seriously suggested, for example, that Ron Saunders should get the sack in 1980 after losing to Cambridge United or Martin O’Neill be dismissed after a couple of Villa Park upsets.
I doubt if losing an early rounds League Cup tie would see any manager fired these days, but with Villa are away at Sheffield United on Saturday the first pebbles of the avalanche could be starting to move.