One way or another

Dave Woodhall on another frustrating Saturday at Villa Park.

Sometimes you just know it’s going to be a bad day. When your alarm clock doesn’t go off, all the post comes in brown envelopes and every traffic light is red. And then you hear the words “Grant Holt” as the Villa team is being announced.

I don’t mind Holt. I didn’t regard his arrival in January as a stick to beat either manager or club. He’s on loan; what harm can he do? A bit of experience at Bodymoor might be useful and in certain circumstances he can be a useful player to have on the bench – the final minutes of a game when we were holding on, for example. But to give him a start, even with Villa’s current epidemic of injuries, was just asking for trouble.

As it turned out, Holt was one of the few Villa players who could have felt vaguely satisfied with themselves at the final whistle. He’d scored, he might with a bit of luck have snatched an undeserved late equaliser and he couldn’t be accused of a lack of effort. But when he started the game you just knew that this was going to be an afternoon of struggle.

And so it proved. Fulham deserved their win. They’re been in the bottom three for most of the season and they’ve taken six points off Villa. That fact alone is demining enough but the others – tenth home defeat, first loss to them at home since 1973, and probably one or two more I’ve missed out – highlight the fact that things are going badly wrong. All in all it was the sort of afternoon where you aren’t surprised to find your car’s been broken into or towed away.

I’ve said before that when Villa get their act together they’ve shown they can match anyone. There have been too many good performances this season for them to be dismissed as coincidence, and too many bad ones for the team to be merely labelled inconsistent. Why this situation has developed is a mystery that only Paul Lambert can answer.

This time last year we were getting out of trouble by playing football. Now, the football has been abandoned and thank God Christian Benteke wasn’t injured a month earlier otherwise we’d have been back in it.

Villa probably need three more points to be certain of avoiding relegation, although that in itself should be no cause for celebration. They’ve got six games to get them in. That’s six games for Lambert to show that somewhere deep down, amongst the inexplicable team selections, ignoring of promising youngsters and unfathomable tactics, there’s still some semblance of an idea that he knows what he’s doing.