A tale of two city clubs

Dave Woodhall on Villa’s latest failings.

There’s probably some law that says any time Villa play Everton everything written about the game has to include a reference to it being the most-played fixture in the top flight.

They are, as I say probably as often, two clubs who share a remarkable similarity – both giants of the game in the Victorian era, both with periods of success since then, but who have never punched their weight on a consistent basis.

I’ve got a lot of respect for Everton and a certain amount for their supporters – it can’t be easy keeping the faith when your neighbours were the most succesful club English fotoball has ever seen, then when they faded another near-neighbour took their place, only to be succeeded by yet another. And when Everton did manage to briefly elbow their way to the top, it was at a time when English football was at its lowest ebb and had more important things to worry about.

But what I do admire about Everton, almost to the point of jealousy, is the way they’ve coped with the fast-changing world of the past decade or so. They have a ground that can’t be expanded, that will never be a blue-chip attraction for corporate clients, they haven’t got a sugar daddy owner and they compete for off-field income with the three monoliths mentioned above.

Yet they manage to survive and thrive when clubs of similar size and ambition (Newcastle for one, and we all know who the other is) spend every season struggling. Everton bring through youngsters, they manage to find the money to buy established names despite always claiming to be skint, they hang on to their star players when better teams are sniffing around and when they do sell, they invariably re-invest the money wisely. In short, they’re everything that Villa should be and have failed at for the past five years.

And that, more than anything, is why the latest chapter in the age-old rivalry between the clubs might have been the most one-sided. Everton scored four times without really trying, Villa looked demoralised from the kick-off. Any hope that the point gained at home to Manchester City was the start of a revival to send us effortlessly out of the relegation zone lasted about as long as the referee’s whistle to signal the beginning of this mis-match.

There’s no point in going over the ninety minutes – you either watched them or have read enough about what took place to form a conclusion already. Villa are in deep trouble, and Remi Garde has no doubt at all now about the size of the task he has ahead of him.

I’m trying to find some consolation, and failing, apart from a brief moment wondering how it is that a club that has had such a poor record in appointing managers recently can have been the first one to recognise hat Roberto Martinez had the ability to succeed on a larger stage and wonder what might have happened had we been successful in luring him away from Wigan to take over from Gerard Houllier what seems a lifetime ago.

In conclusion, and really, really, trying to clutch at a straw, I’m looking ahead to next Saturday’s game, which has assumed an importance out of all proportion to the routine win you’d have hoped it would be when the fixtures were announced during the summer. Losing away at Everton isn’t the sort of result that gets you relegated, but failing to beat Watford at home most certainly is.