Dave Woodhall watches Villa lose at Crystal Palace.
It’s not that hard to get to Selhurst Park – just go to the ends of the earth, turn left and keep going a bit longer. It’s reckoned that when Barrow were voted out of the Football League in 1972, neighbouring Workington Town knew their days were also numbered, as their geographical isolation mean that they’d be got rid of as soon as was possible. They promptly went five years later. If relegation from the Premier League was decided in the same way, Palace would have been long gone.
And so Villa made the long and arduous trek to south London on Saturday afternoon. The team was unchanged from last week’s memorable win over Everton but the performance was nowhere near.
Referee Kevin (nobody’s) Friend set the scene with a display of incompetent officialdom that can have few equals. He might have a history with Villa but while he was definitely sympathetic to the home side on this occasion, over the years it’s not just us who have fallen foul of his incompetence. As the saying goes, never put down to malice what can be explained by incompetence, and Friend isn’t malicious – just unfit to referee.
If you want stats, at one point on Saturday both teams had committed eleven fouls. Villa had five players booked, Palace one. That’s not to defend Villa’s poor display – they were second best for most of the game – but it must prey on a player’s mind when the referee is so blatantly favouring the opposition.
And then came the moment that caused so much controversy. You’ll have seen it many times since Saturday afternoon so there’s no point in repeating it. Whether Jack Grealish dived or not (and never has a player had such an undeserved reputation with so little evidence to back it up) is immaterial. He didn’t commit a foul, neither did any other Vila player. Therefore I can’t see any grounds for stopping the game and disallowing Henri Lansbury’s equaliser, and neither, it seems, can any broadcaster or analyst who’s watched it. And what’s the point of VAR if it can’t be used all the time? So far tt seems less a way of righting wrongs than of defending poor referees..
Some unsavoury scenes after the final whistle concluded the most disappointing afternoon for a few weeks. Unlike the disallowed goal there seems to have been more than one angle to this particular story, and I hope that any investigation punishes the wrongdoers regardless of which side they were on.
Back to the football, and with an international break imminent it’s time to take stock of what’s happened so far. I’d have settled for four points so far, and incompetence aside that’s what we should have, which would have seen us in eleventh place. As it is, we’re in the bottom three and need a few points on the board to avoid a few nasty flashbacks to 2015.
The biggest fault the team are showing is the individual errors they’ve been able to get away with for three seasons but which can prove fatal at this level. They have to be cut out and there has to be a greater physical presence in midfield. Trezeguet’s suspension could lead to the introduction of Ezri Konsa or Marvelous Nakamba, adding a bit more protection and allowing Grealish to get further forward. Kevin Friend’s suspension could allow football to advance by light years.