Villa lose in the FA Cup to Stevenage. Dave Woodhall is Not Happy.
I don’t know the exact date when the Aston Villa Football Club were founded – no-one does (and before you say it, the recently-accepted occasion of 21st November 1874 is almost certainly not true). But I do know when the biggest humiliation in the club’s fine and noble history took place. You could argue that the League Cup semi-final against Bradford was worse, but that was an anomaly; we should have been out of sight in both legs before Bradford had touched the ball, and anyway, we were shite most matches back then so a couple more didn’t make much difference. The eighth of January 2023 is a different matter entirely.
You can blame Unai Emery for the team he put out, but there wasn’t much criticism when it was announced. All the starting eleven are experienced at the top level, eight of the substitutes could be considered first-teamers. And yet between them they managed to put together a carnival of catastrophe such has rarely been equalled at Villa Park, or probably at any other top-flight football ground.
There’s no point in mentioning what happened between the kick-off and the final whistle. Even when Villa went in a goal up at half-time there was no sense that we’d kill the game off without fuss after the break. Five substitutes were brought on, each of them allegedly worthy of starting in the league, yet if anything they made the team worse.
And then came the final, best-forgotten, five minutes. If the entire day was the biggest humiliation, that short period must surely be the worst any Villa team have played, ever. And I include in that womens’ teams, youth sides and the under-eights, all of whom could have scored against this shower in those last minutes. In fact, you could have picked eleven supporters out of the crowd and they’d probably have got a result.
There were approaching thirty thousand Villa supporters in the ground, and while a lot of them would have been season ticket holders and therefore got in free, all had differing amounts of expense on the day and every one had made the effort to be there. What they witnessed was an insult to them all.
But, and here’s the thing I can never work out – it may have been the worst, but it’s far from the only time Villa have either lost to or struggled in a match like this. Bradford, Orient, Peterborough, Millwall, Swansea; the list seems to be endless. It’s been around two decades since Premier League clubs started putting out weakened sides in cup matches and in all that time I can think of hardly a single occasion when I’ve come away from the game thinking that some young lad has shown promise, or that a previously-overlooked squad member might be worth a place in the team.
There were players in this side who might not have much of a future at the Villa, but surely in the middle of the transfer window they should have been doing their damnedest to prove the manager wrong and at the least earn themselves a decent move. Instead, we got this debacle. At least everyone who made the effort today can say they saw history being made.