Dave Woodhall on Villa’s start to 2013.
The Christmas period came, went and is best forgotten. Villa were truly abysmal and ended 2012 in much the same way as they’d gone on for the preceding twelve months– playing badly and losing.
But, hope springs eternal and the arrival of a new calendar provided hope that there are, indeed, good times around the corner. The first day of the year saw a visit to Swansea, complete with the usual unoriginal jokes about being back in Europe. Villa went a goal down early on, were outplayed for the rest of the first half and somehow found themselves equalising just before half-time thanks to Andreas Weimann. If that wasn’t surprising enough, they went 2-1 up with a late penalty from Christian Benteke. Unfortunately the result wasn’t a complete travesty of justice as Swansea got an injury-time equaliser. I know the amount of late goals Villa concede is annoying but consider that out of the eight midfield or defenders on the pitch at the time only two or three would be first choice in a full-strength team and a little slack can be cut here.
Villa were lucky to come away from Swansea with a point, but every team needs a bit of luck occasionally and God knows, we haven’t had much of it for the past few years.
Then it was on to the FA Cup third round, an occasion which the traditionalists amongst us still regard as one of the highlights of the season, although the gates at many of the ties held over the weekend indicate that such old-stagers are a dying breed. Ipswich have been on a bit of a run lately despite their league placing and went ahead in the first half, but Villa’s combination of youngsters and experienced returnees from injury soon got back into their stride and won a lot more comfortably than the 2-1 scoreline suggests. Goals from Darren Bent and another from Weimann showed that while our forwards might have problems scoring in the league, cup matches are a different matter – 17 in five ties is as many as we’ve managed in 21 league games.
The reward (and in the circumstances, rarely is the word ‘dubious’ more apt) is a trip to another Championship side, this time Millwall. They’re on the fringes of the play-off places and it’s ironic that this might be where their priorities lie and they’ll therefore be less of a problem than a side further down the table. At least, that’s both the theory and the fond hope.
Before then, this week sees two big games that couldn’t be further apart in terms of approach and, probably, atmosphere. A packed Valley Parade will witness fourth division (whatever it’s called now, fourth division still sounds best in the circumstances) Bradford City take on the fancy dans and very likely Soft Southern Jessies from Aston in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final. This one’s going to be a special occasion for many reasons. Whatever bad luck we’ve experienced, it’s nothing to what Bradford supporters have had to endure over the past three decades and they deserve a memorable night even if their team are going to lose.
Then on Saturday relegation strugglers Southampton are at Villa Park. Hopefully by then a few more of our injuries will have cleared up, Villa’s defence will consequently be tighter and three points will help show that 2012 was just a bad dream.