Dave Woodhall dusts down his quill and reports on a Villa win.
It’s been a pretty horrible few days. The events at Wycombe have been followed by Remi Garde laying down the law to players and officials alike, summit talks over in the US and stories that, not surprisingly, potential recruits don’t regard Villa Park, even just until May, a worthwhile place to be plying their trade.
In the circumstances Trinity Road before kick-off was, as you could imagine, a pretty depressing place to be. It was raining, the gathering (you could barely call it a crowd) were subdued and worst of all we were getting sympathy from Palace supporters. When anyone is getting sympathy from Crystal Palace supporters they must be in trouble, let alone when it’s the club who Palace were set up in an attempt to form a London version of.
And then, five minutes before kick-off, over the PA came the most haunting synth intro ever written. Heroes was being played in tribute to David Bowie as the teams came out and the world was a marginally better place. The rain even seemed to ease off a bit, although that might have been wishful thinking.
In a perfect world the circumstances would have been more fitting; wintry sunshine on a Saturday afternoon perhaps, and certainly a capacity crowd. Still, the mood was set and the team’s performance should have gone the same way. Talking of the team, it seemed that Riot Acts had been read and ultimatums issued, with a host of changes including Mark Bunn in goal, Micah Richards on the bench and what seemed a new signing but was actually Libor Kozak up front.
Reshuffle or not, it’s safe to say that things didn’t get off to the best of starts as Palace ripped apart the Villa defence and hit the post inside a minute. Nevertheless, the team didn’t let this worry them and began to look reasonably useful against a visiting side who were missing a few players themselves but who still possess enough strength in depth to worry anyone in the league.
Half-time, and Villa were still level. The second half began in the same way the first half ended – Palace were flat, Villa battled without any real signs of quality. It all seemed horribly familiar and I would guess most of the crowd knew what was coming next. A corner, a half-hearted attempt on goal and a comical error from the keeper that resulted in the ball crossing the line if hardly bursting the back of the net.
The reaction from the astonished spectators was as you’d expect, and the jangling nerves for the next 34 minutes plus stoppage time could probably have been heard on the other side of the Atlantic. To their credit, every player battled, and special praise much be reserved both for Kozak in his first league game for over two years and Joleon Lescott, who after a poor start to the season is now starting to become the calm head he was presumably bought for. I may as well mention the Jordans Veretout and Ayew as usual, as even by their own high standards they both played well.
We have to be realistic and say that avoiding relegation is still as difficult as it was before kick-off; that is to say it’s impossible. There are still deep-rooted problems that a single win in isolation against opposition that didn’t seem to turn up won’t cure. It was great to come out of Villa Park smiling, though.
Over to you, maestro.