Villa lose to Liverpool with Dave Woodhall rueing the same old story.
On Friday afternoon there were three stories about the Villa on the BBC football home page. All of them concerned Steven Gerrard’s return to Anfield. Granted, it was probably the biggest story of the weekend but his club scarcely merited a mention. That’s the level of media obsession with the big clubs that we’re competing against.
And while I don’t particuarly believe in conspiracy theories and official influence to keep the Sky Howevermany permanently at the top at the expense of the rest of us, I do wonder just how much this sort of coverage affects match officials, even if only subconsciously. If you, say, turn down a debatable penalty for Liverpool in front of the Kop, and then give a more clear-cut one to the opposition, resulting in the unfancied side coming away with three points, you know you’re going to be in the spotlight and come in from all sorts of criticism from Stockley Park to Sydney. Do it the other way round and there’ll be a cursory glance at your decisions before you’re told you’ve got them right. Paranoia, or reality?
As well as being on the receiving end of those two penalty decisions, Villa’s trip to Anfield went much the way that could have been predicted. The team more or less picked itself, the manager got the ovation he was always going to get and Liverpool were on top for most of the first half. Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa got in the way of almost everything while Emiliano Martinez pulled off a couple more brilliant saves when Liverpool did get the ball past the Villa defence.
The midfield worked hard, John McGinn was up to his usual standard but for much of the game there was no real sign that Villa might ever do enough to beat a side who had won their previous six in a row.
The second half continued in much the same vein as the first, with Villa’s effort neutralising Liverpool’s superior ability, then just as hopes started to rise that we might be able to sneak a point, or even get something better, the faintest excuse saw yet another appeal and the referee points to the spot. Was it a foul? Possibly, but the 80/20 rule comes into play here. If it’s a Liverpool player brought down, there’s an 80 per cent chance that they’ll get a penalty. If it’s an opponent, the chances are closer to 20 per cent, if they’re lucky.
Villa came increasingly into the game for the final fifteen minutes, with substitutes Emi Buendia and Danny Ings both looking dangerous. Then came the second contentious decision, and the second harsh reality. If an opponent gets brought down by a Liverpool player in the box, during the final minute of the game, with Liverpool a goal up, forget the 80/20 rule. It’s just never going to happen. If that one had been given, the narrative changes from Gerrard’s Sentimental Return to Liverpool Fall Behind in Title Chase, and that won’t do.
We battled, we came close at times but in the final analysis, no matter how aggrieved we might feel, we just fell short. Take heart from the many positives, learn from the experience and move on.