Senses and perspective

Dave Woodhall on Villa’s 3-0 win at Barnsley, and some important stuff.

As Alex Ferguson once said, “Football, bloody hell.” He was talking about some match in Spain that you might have heard about but it’s an apt saying and certainly more realistic than the (mis)quote from Bill Shankly about life and death. Football is incredible, it can give some spectacular high points and some crashing lows, but it’s still only a game.

That of course was brought into sharp focus last week at Oakwell, home of Villa’s opponents on Saturday Barnsley, whose chairman Patrick Cryne has recently made public his terminal cancer prognosis. This and Barnsley’s 130th anniversary celebrations led to a few thoughts that their honest bunch of hard-working northern lads would be far more up for the game than Villa’s collection of mercenaries.

It was also on Sky, where our record is a bit less than stellar. And there were two other conflicting stats – Steve Bruce had never won at Oakwell while we’ve never lost there, or at least not for a very long time. The expected result was a close one, with probably a goal in it either way and Bruce’s immediate future riding on which end it was scored at.

And so to the match, with two strikers starting for the first time in what seemed equally long. And something that shouldn’t be unexpected – play attacking players in the right positions and the team will attack more often. Albert Adomah was in the right place to pick up on a mistake by the Barnsley keeper, Keinan Davis was in the box so the foul on him was a penalty which Adomah scored and at two-nil it was game over. That might sound an over-simplification, particularly where the Villa are concerned, but for all Barnsley’s possession they didn’t really look like scoring, with our defence solid and John Terry in particular looking like the player we hoped we’d signed.

If there was a lingering doubt about the result it was put to rest ten minutes after the break when Elmohamady’s cross gave Davis the first of what will be many league goals for the Villa – you can bet on that one. There was a tribute to Patrick Cryne shortly afterwards, which had both sets of supporters joining, and that wasn’t unexpected either. We might have our differences on matchday but we’re all ultimately on the same side and have far more in common than divides us.

Villa were so comfortable that Bruce could afford to take players off to rest them rather than in a desperate attempt to salvage something from a game. What had been the best away performance and certainly the most comfortable travelling win for a couple of years was over and we’d climbed to the giddy heights of thirteenth. Not good enough, but it’s a start.

Slightly off topic but certainly on the ‘only a game’ theme was the revelation this week that Graham Taylor had allegedly been part of a cover-up of child abuse while he was Villa manager. However big the scandal grows a former England manager is going to be the biggest name involved, and a disproportionate amount of the coverage this affair attracts will therefore be focused on him. What happened was disgraceful, and there can be no doubt about that, although fortunately how it was dealt with thirty years ago is different to how it would be dealt with now.

Sadly we will never get the chance to hear his side but the stories that emerged about Sir Graham after his death showed his character, while Steve Stride, also mentioned as a figure in the cover-up, was one of the most respected football administrators in the game before his retirement. What’s known about the former and what I know about the latter, makes me find it hard to believe that either would do anything other than what they thought was right at the time for the boys involved.

Back on football, and Villa either have the distraction of, or the chance to continue their unbeaten run with, whichever way you look at it, a League Cup third round tie with Middlesbrough on Tuesday evening. Both sides will doubtless be heavily changed from their regular league line-ups and after the way Villa’s youngsters shone in the previous round at home to Wigan, that’s no bad thing.

Another blow to football’s soul will be dealt with Spurs playing at Wembley in this round, although their opponents will no doubt relish the outing. And in the circumstances, nobody could deny Patrick Cryne his big day out.