Send in the Crowds

Dave Woodhall on Villa’s win over Norwich.

Villa’s crowds have come in for some comment recently.

Apparently, we have the highest drop in attendances in the Premier League this season. Stuart James did a lengthy piece on the subject in Saturday’s Guardian, which was somewhat spoiled by the accompanying photo coming from a public training session, and when this  was taken down it was replaced by a shot of the away section for a game with Blackburn, never the most numerous of visitors.

The reasons for our falling crowds are many and varied but it’s obvious that Villa are caught in a perfect storm where every possible factor for numbers being down, whether throughout football in general or at Villa Park in particular, are currently applying. Some are the club’s fault, others – such as the economy and a growing disenchantment with football at the top level – obviously aren’t.

But with this in mind it was ironic that a seemingly-unattractive game with Norwich pulled in the biggest gate of the season so far – a reasonable 35,290, including Randy for the first time since May. Again, there are several reasons for this, such as some decent price cuts, a pro-active marketing campaign and, just possibly, a sense of guilt and/or embarrassment from supporters who had been staying away. It was also helped by a sold-out away section. Norwich are the sort of happy, jolly, friendly family club who just love the glitz and hype of the Premier League.  It’s all new and exciting for them; every match is an attraction. Villa, on the other hand, have been in the league so long that the novelty, such as it is, has worn off.  As so often is the case where Villa are concerned we’re stuck between two stools – in this example too big for just being in the league to be a success in itself but not big enough to make an impact. That’s why our crowds are falling and Norwich can bring almost 3,000 when they used to bring about 30.

Everyone at Villa Park saw what turned into an entertaining game, even though for the first twenty-odd minutes it looked as though we were in for another dreary afternoon. Norwich went one up thanks to yet another needless free-kick but fortunately this seemed to galvanise Villa and we equalised soon after with Gabby Agbonlahor  laying on a typically Darren Bent tap-in. After that we played some nice football and were worth the 3-1 lead with Gabby scoring one and making another for his strike partner. Villa being Villa we had to give away another daft goal just to make the closing stages a bit more exciting but we held out for three welcome points.

Gabby quite rightly grabbed the headlines but there were other causes for optimism as well. Charles N’Zogbia is starting to look a quality player, Jermaine Jenas’ long-overdue first appearance showed promise and Chris Herd is turning into another successful product of the Bodymoor Heath Academy assembly line. A word, also, about Darren Bent. For years we’ve had strikers who can score the odd spectacular goal but do nothing else, run around a lot with little end product or look good in areas of the pitch where it doesn’t matter. For most of that time we’ve been crying out for a player who can scuff in twenty tap-ins a year and now we’ve got one we complain about his work-rate. Bent’s supposedly out of sorts, playing in a team that doesn’t suit his style and not been fully fit. So far he’s got five goals in 11 league games. God knows what he’s capable of when he hits top form again.