Go Fourth And….

Without a Villa game at the weekend, Dave Woodhall has a moan at UEFA, FIFA and a non-league club.

Aston Villa from the Aston ExpresswayVilla didn’t have a game at the weekend. Everything had to stop for the internationals so that England had to rack up some target practice against San Marino while such essential matches as Lichtenstein v Lithuania and Albania v Iceland also took place. The latter games are of no useful purpose; they only reason such minnows are allowed into qualifying tournaments is to give the top nations another couple of opportunities to sell more TV rights and allow England to con another 80,000+ idiots with more money than sense into paying off a slice of the FA’s mountainous Wembley debt .

There’s an argument that the only way the smaller nations can improve is by playing the better ones. Did anyone notice any improvement between San Marino on Friday night and their team which lost to England in 1993? Teams don’t improve by getting hammered in almost every match. By all means allow them to play in the World Cup and European Championships, but first of all let’s have some means of pre-qualifying. Even if a full tournament is out of the question, the two bottom-ranked nations in each qualifying group could play each other with the winners entering the group proper.  That way we would have less turkey shoots, less games played in front of three-figure crowds and Villa could have played Reading at the weekend instead of on what’s bound to be a freezing cold and horrible Tuesday night in November. The only practical advantage to the current bloated international programme was that non-league day on Saturday saw many clubs getting a few extra supporters.

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With no match for Villa there have been a couple of talking points, the first being one which has split supporter opinions, namely the future of Darren Bent. The club’s record signing is once again reported to be unhappy, although I wonder how much of the media gossip is inspired by mischief makers who’ve still not forgiven Villa for signing Bent without them knowing first. Bent’s supporters say he scores goals, his detractors say that’s all he ever does. I’m still mystified how we can spend so long looking for a goalscorer of his quality then even think about getting rid of him. Despite playing in a team that have ranged from average to appalling, a series of injuries and loss of form, Bent has scored 22 goals in 46 starts. That’s a better ratio than any forward I’ve ever seen at Villa Park – Peter Withe, Andy Gray, Dwight Yorke, Gary Shaw, the lot. And they played in much better teams. Yet for some reason Bent has never been taken to heart by Villa supporters in the way his predecessors were.

The other talking point, though, has united just about all of us – namely being labelled ‘completely useless’ by Rangers chief executive Charles Green. Mr Green has since apologised for the remark, and perhaps we should accept this apology and move on. After all, both clubs have work to do in maintaining a current position of fourth place in a particular table.  In Villa’s case we’re hoping to preserve our record as the fourth most successful club in the history of the richest and most lucrative league in the world. Mr Green’s Rangers, meanwhile, will be aiming to hold on to fourth place in a division where last season the average gate was 475.