Dave Woodhall on a week at Villa Park.
There was a time when the publishing of a football club’s annual accounts would take up maybe two paragraphs in the inside pages of the local paper. Now it’s big news, as evinced by Villa’s latest financial figures which came out last week. Turnover, losses and wages are all down, which represents progress of sorts in the madcap world of football finance, and Randy Lerner’s found another way not to take £20 million he was entitled to, which for someone who is apparently not interested in the club anymore seems a strange thing to do.
For those of us who cling to the quaint notion that the most important thing about a football club is the football, there was a match on Saturday at Reading’s Madjeski Stadum (Four quid on the bus from the station, nine quid to park and nowhere to spend anything else except Pizza Hut, McDonald’s or KFC. How I love modern grounds). It was the first of a double-bill that will play a big part in deciding whether or not Villa stay up, and the end justified the means.
Yacouba Sylla started and looked the part in adding strength to a midfield which promptly bossed the game. Nathan Baker provided this week’s obligatory error, but luckily his comedy attempt at a clearance was cancelled out almost immediately by yet another Christian Benteke goal. A flowing move on the stroke of half-time led to Gabriel Agbonlahor turning and scooping the ball into the net from an awkward position – anyone who can get Gabby back to his best will have an England-class forward on their hands and I hope the man responsible will be Paul Lambert.
There were a few anxious moments in the second half, because this is the Villa and of course nothing can be a matter of routine, but the final whistle sounded with thee points in the bag and the team out of the relegation zone. Reading are poor; they’re certainly a good bet to finish bottom, which will be just reward for the drum and loud music combination that greeted their goal. Such choreographed celebration is the curse of the modern game, and how proud I was when Villa were forced to abandon such an abomination after supporter protests.
This Saturday sees Reading’s main rivals for that coveted twentieth place in QPR, complete with everybody’s favourite pantomime villain ‘Appy Arry Redknapp, arriving at Villa Park. Rangers are coming into a bit of form and while Villa were seeing off Reading they were dragging Martin O’Neill FC back into trouble. A win won’t make Villa safe but it will go a long way to helping the team. It would also put them six points ahead of Wigan, which even with two games in hand is a big gap at this stage of the season, and seven ahead of the visitors. More than that, it would show that Villa are capable of putting together a run that could lift them out of trouble entirely. They’ve appeared to have turned the corner more than once this season only to have found themselves in a cul-de-sac. However, there does seem to be more spirit in the side in recent weeks. They know they’re in trouble and they know what they have to do to get out of it.