Villa go out of the Carabao Cup to Stoke City. Dave Woodhall reports.
In 2002 Juventus got a crowd of 237 for an Italian Cup tie against Sampdoria. There was no official boycott; the gate showed just what their supporters felt of the competition and of the unwanted, unloved Stadio del Alpi where they were playing at the time.
It says a lot about Villa’s start to the season that in normal circumstances more than a hundred times that many would have turned up for the League Cup game with Stoke, but the impression given was that the club and players care just about as much for the chance of winning this trophy than those Italians did, and probably still do.
More or less the same team started as was picked for the previous tie with Bristol City, but whereas the side then looked lively and incisive, tonight they were hesitant, error-strewn and lethargic. Maybe there was a bit of over-confidence, or maybe the thought of regular football (three games in three weeks) is too much for some of them, but although there was a reasonably bright start, once Stoke scored there was little sign that an equaliser was anywhere near likely.
Henri Lansbury and Keinan Davis both missed good chances before half-time; after the break nobody seemed as though they knew where the goal was until Ollie Watkins came on and had a good shot saved near the end.
I don’t suppose Dean Smith was too fussed about losing this game, but the annoying thing was that the players didn’t seem very upset, either. It was a return to the bad old days when it seemed that no matter how the first team were doing, whenever the fringe players got their chance in the early rounds of the cups they failed to make an impact. If there is any consolation to come from this evening, it might be that Smith might be able to persuade the board that another signing or two while we’ve got the chance might not be a bad idea.
Jacob Ramsey was bullied out of the game as it went on, Davis showed that whatever qualities he might have, scoring goals isn’t one of them, and the rest of the team in general looked like they couldn’t wait for the final whistle. Villa went out of the competition in much the same low-key way as the rest of football seems to regard it now.
The League Cup has been great to the Villa over the years, and we probably think of it with more fondness than any other club, but this season has brought home the pointlessness of a competition that even the lower division sides no longer seem to care about. Perhaps it really is time to put it out of its misery.
If supporters had been allowed in, there probably wouldn’t have been many more inside the ground by full-time than there were at that Juventus game. Juve won 5-2, incidentally, and got to the final, where they lost to Parma. They also won Serie A, so they probably weren’t all that fussed about the cup in the end.
And so on to next Sunday, when Villa take on another side who got knocked out of the League Cup tonight. That’s probably the only comparison you can make between the two teams, which is reflected by the odds for the match. Villa are 9/1 to win, which is roughly the odds we were to stay up at one stage last season. Lump on – it’s fate.