Villa go out of the FA Cup at Fulham. Dave Woodhall reflects.
There’s a million things to be said about the FA Cup these days and most have them have been done to death already. Players, management and the football authorities seem to view the competition’s early stages as an unwanted distraction and a lot of supporters feel the same way – which is unsurprising conidering that there was barely a team in the third round who didn’t make wholesale changes from their usual league line-up.
Villa’s weakened team was further reduced by the crop of injuries that have occured over Christmas, meaning that one or two of the starters at Fulham wouldn’t have been expecting to play any part in a competitive match, even in the early stages of the cups. Therefore, the theiry goes, they’d be busting a gut to impress the management and ease themselves into first-team contention for when the ‘proper’ stuff comes round again.
Wrong. Villa have been playing weakened teams in the cups for most of this century, certainly back to the days of Martin O’Neill, and off the top of my head I can’t think of a single player who’s really impressed. We’ve certainly lost to worse teams than Fulham so we should be used to it by now even if it is still annoying that players representing Aston Villa can give anything less than their all, whatever the circumstances. Indeed, there’s a temptation to say nothing about the match, on the grounds that if they can’t be bothered neither can I.
Anyway, playing 4-3-3 again (and I do hope that was a ruse to keep future opponents guessing rather than a return to the tried, tested and failed) Villa had a couple of chances in the first half, the best of which was squandered, to put it mildly, by Anwar El Ghazi. In the second half Fulham scored two quality goals that were far too good for the occasion, although Villa’s defence did deserve some credit for allowing the chances to be set up. El Ghazi had equalised in between but as is invariably the case Villa didn’t look like getting back into the game again. The sixty-three years of failure will continue for another season at least and rarely in all that time have we gone out of the cup so quietly.
Fixing the Villa’s problems would be much easier than reversing the decline of the FA Cup. Half a dozen players, properly coached (I know…) and our future would be a lot more promising. Bringing a couple in this week particularly would show that the club means business.
The cup, though, seems to be on a long, slow and above all irreversible decline, and I’m not sure that even Premier League-sized prize money or the prospect of a Champions League spot for the winners would do much to reverse this state of affairs. There are few sadder sights in football than third round day, what used to be one of the highlights of the season, reduced to a sideshow that gets in the way of the real business. And we all know what the ultimate bu$ine$$ of football at the top level is.
If that’s not depressing enough, we have a League Cup semi-final coming up this week. There’s no particular excitement at the thought that we’re one step from Wembley, just the realisation that it’s another distraction away from the only show in town.