Dave Woodhall reports on matters Astonian. Well, most of them.
Even on a Sunday morning when it’s empty and you’re going past on a train there’s an aura of menace about the New Den. If anyone’s wondering how you get to Shepherds Bush via New Cross, keep wondering. I’m not going to tell you.
When you get there, Loftus Road is an odd ground. You could drive past and not notice from a couple of sides, so, er ‘compact’ is it. Behind what used to be the away turnstiles is one of the roughest estates in the country, rubbing shoulders with the BBC TV centre and the shiny new Westfields shopping complex. Where we went in on Sunday rubs shoulders with seriously expensive houses and the multicultural fast-food and grocery emporia of Uxbridge Road. The Lebanese lamb kebabs come highly recommended and the Polish shop sells cheap Coke.
Thre was also a match, and an expensive one considering the antiquated facilities and view from the away seats. Villa were appalingly poor in the first half and recovered well to play some of their best football of the season in the second. Stephen Ireland showed glimpses of his undoubted ability, Barry Bannan deserved his goal even if the penalty it came from was debatable and the defence held out almost until the end. Unfortunately, only almost.
Over the years Villa have had a series of central defenders with the ability to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when wild clearances are being attempted. Chris Nicholl, Martin Keown, Derek Mountfield and Shaun Teale can now add Richard Dunne to their illustrious ranks. We got a point, we should have got three, and QPR will say the same.
Still unbeaten, and even though cynics will say we’ve had an easy start to the season, the teams we’ve played are nearly all pretty much aiming to finish around the same place we do. In particular, of the three teams we’ve played away, two finished above us last season and the third have a board whose combined wealth makes Randy seem impoverished. Perhaps a sense of proportion is called for.
We also played last Tuesday, but if the players couldn’t be bothered to make an effort where that one was concerned neither can I.