By Dave Woodhall.
One thing in football I would love more than anything is to see Villa win the FA Cup. At this stage of the season I’m usually consumed with jealousy towards the supporters of the finalists, but not this year. At least, not towards half of them because I would rather Villa lose every game and end up in the Conference than have to watch the appalling, awful stuff served up by Stoke City. It isn’t just anti-football, it’s something else entirely. Stoke supporters claim their team gets an unfair press and they’re not that bad really. Stoke supporters are wrong. Short of accusing the entire team by name of bestiality, you cannot unfairly malign Stoke City. They are truly, spectacularly dreadful.
Stoke’s one attacking ploy is based around Rory Delap’s long throws. They must be the only team in history whose players get the ball and don’t aim to beat defenders, or even keep the ball in play. This might have been marginally acceptable had not referee Chris Foy done his best to allow them to use this tactic to its best advantage. We weren’t playing Stoke City, we were playing Rory Delap’s Throw Ins FC. That was what the crowd had come to see, so Delap must be given every advantage. Defenders aren’t allowed anywhere near him, he can take as long as he likes, Stoke players can impede Brad Freidel.
Once the inevitable goal went in, Stoke retreated to their own half and rarely came out again. Villa, though, were poor, with the only bright spot another goal from Darren Bent, this time a header despite being marked by what seemed the entire Stoke defence. On this form Bent is world-class, and on course to join the Dwight Yorke/Gary Shaw roll of Villa goalscoring legends.
After that, the rest of the game was stupifyingly ordinary. Stoke didn’t want to play, their only acts of note being to think up new and original ways of time wasting. Villa lacked ideas, with Ashley Young particularly off-form. How much influence Gary McAllister has been able to have on the team is open to debate, but if he’s in charge for the rest of the season I’m glad we won our previous couple of games. That’s not a criticism or otherwise of his abilities, but Gary Mac has no experience of being in charge of a team at this level, and on Saturday it showed. There was no change of tactics and substitutions were made too late to have any impact.
Villa probably need another couple of points to be absolutely safe. Realistically, though, the season ended when Gabby Agbonlahor scored that late winner at West Ham last week. We have to go through the motions for another month before starting a rebuilding job bigger than any since Ron Atkinson breezed into Villa Park twenty years ago, and with Albion in the same position next Saturday’s game is about as low-key and, dare I say, unimportant as this fixture has been for many a long while.