Monday night and the gates are low

Dave Woodhall is still unimpressed with Paul Lambert’s Villa.

The worst thing about last night’s game wasn’t anything to do with the match. I could carry on in this vein, giving another half a dozen bad things each tagged “but that wasn’t the worst”. More on that later.

The worst thing about the build-up to the game was the certain knowledge that if Villa won it would be a surprise, with a performance build around defending and luck. I’ll never use that hackneyed and insulting phrase “the likes of Southampton” because you are what you are. Bigger clubs have bad runs while smaller ones put together good teams; that’s the nature of football. Southampton are well-run and have been able to ignore potentially catastrophic happenings such as losing their manager and selling most of their top players during the summer without a second glance. Losing to them would not necessarily be a disgrace for any club.

But the fact remains that six seasons ago, when Villa had their third successive top six finish, with two trips to Wembley thrown in for good measure, Southampton started on minus ten points in League One. What they’ve done since then has been phenomenal; what Villa have done in that time has been a bit less impressive. Given that original gap in the two clubs’ relative status there should be no way Southampton should have overtaken us to the extent that they were odds-on to win on Monday and that victory for them was regarded as such a matter of routine.

And so on to the evening’s proceedings. A parade of former heroes to celebrate what some marketing genius has decreed to be Villa’s 140th anniversary (without a single bit of conclusive proof, but that’s the historical anorak in me) also marked Paul Lambert’s 100th game in charge.

Many of the half-empty Villa Park crowd made it clear that they hope it’s also his last. I don’t – I’d love him to win the next six, all talk of sacking to be forgotten and for Lambert to get to 200 with no more about him leaving except a minor worry every time a big job in Europe became available. I’d then like him to mark his double-century some time towards the end of 2016-17 in front of a packed house roaring their appreciation at another scintillating display by his top four-bound side. But that’s not going to happen and only in the briefest of glimpses during those hundred matches has there been any sign that it might.

Earlier this season Randy Lerner indicated that he was getting his enthusiasm for owning the Villa back. I don’t know his current mindset but an absentee owner is always an obvious target for criticism while the recently-installed Tom Fox is starting to justify my oft-stated belief that the main role of a football club’s CEO is Chief Scapegoat. There is, of course, one action they could take to boost their popularity immeasurably.

Which leads me on to the worst thing about the match. Which is that everything is now so predictable at Villa Park that I wrote this article, except for a minor bit of editing to make it a bit more readable, by 12.30 on Monday afternoon. Then I changed the word ‘defeat’ to ‘game’ in the first sentence. How much of it was subsequently proved wrong?

To finish on a positive, the team defended well except for the inevitable error that ultimately cost the win which would, incredibly, have seem them level on points with Liverpool. Jores Okore showed (at last) that he was worth the wait. But against that, we’ve got matches coming up that are eminently winnable. You know that if we do, it will be with the minimum of style and yet again, owe something to luck. This can’t go on.