What can you say about Saturday that hasn’t been said at least a dozen times already since August?
We went into the game on the back of a run of decent results. Villa were almost in a position where we can look forward to the rest of the season with optimism and even enjoy ourselves, only to put in a display of such stunning ineptitude that we’re back to square one, making frantic calculations and wondering how Wigan got on. Yes, we were back in familiar territory alright.
Actually, that’s not strictly true. For the first half Villa played well, a goal to the good and looking to wrap the game up well before half-time. Even after the equaliser we were the better team, particularly after Albion were reduced to ten men. Then came the most ridiculous, inexplicable substitution of all time.
With Albion starting to struggle Gary McAllister decided to do the neighbourly thing by replacing the limited but efficient Nigel Reo Coker with Robert Pires. I don’t know what strange hold Pires has over the Villa management; I thought at the time it was a good idea to sign him, as we had so many injuries were in danger of having to put a couple of ballboys on the bench, but now we’ve got a full squad to choose from there should be no place for a player whose legs have so quite obviously gone. Putting Pires into the team at such a stage deprived the Villa midfield of anyone capable of tackling, naturally gave the home side added impetus and their inevitable winner came six minutes from time courtesy of another goal from the Laurel & Hardy manual of defending.
Poor individual performances apart, some of the reason for this defeat has got to be the continued absence of Gerard Houllier. It’s a fact that the team haven’t been the same since he was taken ill and the fragility which seemed briefly to have been sorted out has returned with a vengeance. A decision about his future has to be taken as soon as possible, although there is obviously a dilemma between doing the right thing for the Villa and doing the right thing. It’s very easy to say the board should put the club first and hang the consequences, but we all know that’s not how they operate – and I for one wouldn’t want it to be.
The situation will almost certainly not be resolved by next Saturday, when anything less than defeat by Wigan would put even the most lingering doubt behind us. Whether we should have ever have been in such a situation is, of course, another matter entirely.