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Author Topic: A funny old game  (Read 611 times)

Offline dave.woodhall

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A funny old game
« on: November 28, 2020, 04:35:47 PM »
Long -time H&V stalwart Simon Page got it sorted out some years ago when he wrote his wonderful book Pinnacle of the Perry Barr Pets about the 1896-97 double winning side. Halfway to division one glory, and in the first match of 1897, our heroes played Burnley at home. With the bitter irony that comes from years of broken dreams Simon tells us that as we were unbeaten at home since September and they had not won away, "the result was a foregone conclusion". You will not be surprised, of course, to learn that it ended up Villa 0 Burnley 3.

Not a great celebration of the new year for the 14,000 or so who trotted up to Wellington Road to watch the anticipated slaughter. I have good reason to believe this included my grandfather; I know how he must have felt. Especially as we lost the next match (at Sunderland) as well.

I probably was not the only fan who had similar misgivings about the Brighton game as the media - and, it must be said, a great deal of the excited Villa online chat - took us into the rarely charted territory of a ‘gimme’ three points. I think this was largely based on the name ‘Brighton’ lacking the historical resonance of ‘Arsenal’ coupled with some out of date thinking about ‘home advantage’.  More worryingly, some of our tribe were saying we had four ‘winnable’ games on the trot coming up. Make that three now, and here’s hoping…..

….but in the interests of optimism you would probably want to know that Sunderland was our last defeat in the 1896-97 season as we then put together a run of ten league victories and one draw to finish as champions, including winning the away game at Burnley 4-3. Plus, of course, we won the cup making it (with a couple of replays) seventeen unbeaten.

Had social media existed in 1897, I expect there would have been plenty of posters in early January proclaiming "Ramsay Out" and doubtless many left the Burnley game muttering much the same. Fortunately, that particular knee-jerk was largely avoided post-Brighton as most people online appeared to grudgingly accept it as One Of Those Days. "Smith Out" was, however, worryingly in evidence after the Leeds match, a full two weeks after we had scored seven against the reigning world champions, and again when a largely reserve side lost to Stoke in the League Cup. In the fulness of time the doomsayers may prove to be correct - who knows ?- but I think we should leave it a bit longer before we build the bonfire.

In a wildly unpredictable season, the see-sawing of results from superb to dull is the weekly challenge being faced by supporters of many Premier League clubs, Arsenal being a case in point. One week their bloggers are hailing a masterly tactical performance at Old Trafford, the next they are saying that Arteta was never the answer and wishing they had bought Grealish. And, no, we do not want Ozil in part-exchange next window. Thanks for the thought, though.

Talking of Arsenal, if you have not yet seen, or rather, heard, that fat bloke in the yellow shirt on AFTV then do a search this minute, but make sure impressionable children are not in the vicinity. We have all got a bloke a bit like that sitting behind us, but this geezer is another dimension.
The Brighton match did not make me downcast (for very long) as I, and a great many others I suspect, saw enough straws to clutch in the first half to re-affirm that we could play some good stuff. On another day several of our ten first-half shots may have gone in, after all we only created four on target against Liverpool in the first half, and they all went in, so it can happen. Although it pains me to say it, instead of just blasting the ball our boys could do well to have another look at how Salah took his first goal against us. It was the touch of the professional assassin.

And if you are still moping about how bad things are, remember it was only a shade over two years ago that we played that seminal match against Preston. The result left us in fifteenth place and facing a Championship relegation dogfight while the abject manner of the draw left most of us totally distraught. It was perhaps the most dispiriting walk back to the car I have experienced, and over the past decade that is saying something. Who was to know that it was to lead directly to where we are today?

Now for excuse time. We lost a key influencer almost immediately against Brighton and I hope it was not a knowing gamble to pick Barkley, Brighton’s ‘tackling’ was often criminal and Michael Oliver, not for the first time, did not appear too kindly disposed towards us. How their right back stayed on the field for more than ten minutes still amazes me; Jack must have thought he was back in the Championship. And how many times have you seen a penalty given when the defender has, in no particular order, taken ball and man?

Any of you who has been involved in club sport will recognise the regular official who becomes a life-long enemy following some imagined slight in the clubhouse after a game. Given the number of refs who seem to have it in for us, I suspect we must have someone in the director’s lounge who is either a bit tight with the Hobnobs or a bit too generous with the constructive criticism. Funny how it always worked in reverse whenever the ref’ knew he had to face Sir Alex afterwards. Even at a neutral ground. Wembley, for example.
By wonderful contrast to the gloom of Brighton the Arsenal match was probably our most complete performance of recent years.
Although there was more than a hint of Arsenal-bashing about it, it was particularly good to see how the media suddenly took to us. Virtually every Monday morning hack urged Sir Gareth to select Jack "second name after Kane", in fact I can’t wait for the next Sao Paolo wonder kid to be christened "the Brazilian Grealish"

For the first time since the palmy days of Barry-Young-Milner-Carew, the media have also begun to have a serious look at the rest of our team. We had Ross the Boss and Luiz as the midfield master, several of our guys made various team of the week selections and I liked the bit about the police, following a tip-off. looking for a disappeared Aubameyang in Cash’s pocket. It was refreshing to see AlanShearer so kind to us, especially as that Vera Lynn serenade probably still hurts.

As welcome as critical acclaim is, God forbid that we morph from being last season’s Fulham to re-invention as this season’s Sheffield United. Yes, the homely lovable club with a salt of the earth manager who does sensible things sensibly then gets hammered next year once everyone has found them out. For the record, I do not want to be homely or lovable - hated and successful will do just fine, thanks.

Returning to the Simon Page theory of inevitability, the thing that did strike me was that both Liverpool and Arsenal appeared to take it for granted that they had three points in the bag before a ball was kicked. The more modestly rated teams that have beaten us have lacked the ‘big club’ sense of entitlement and had sensibly taken the trouble to work things out before they arrived. No more of that, please. Countering this is almost Deano’s biggest challenge and perhaps this is where Craig Shakespeare will earn his money? After all, he does have previous in handling this sort of thing.

Deano’s other problem is painfully evident to all of us as there is a yawning ability gap between field and bench. We have no-one who can come on and change a game. In my opinion, and with the greatest of respect to several very loyal and wholehearted reserves,  only in a couple of instances (in goal if Tom recovers and possibly right back with Freddie) can we say with confidence that for every position we have two decent options. Given the day when the ‘big' clubs get their way with five subs we, and most of the other clubs in the division, are in some trouble unless we move quickly.

Look at Rugby Union where each of New Zealand’s seven allowed subs are often better in their various positions than any of the opposition’s first choice players. The playing field gets a bit uneven across the last twenty minutes and unless we are careful it will happen here. More good windows are essential, and we are now, happily, in the best position for years to attract some quality. Ian Wright, no less, said if he were a young player today Villa is the club he would want to join. We can start with getting ross Barkley back on the field soon and persuading that nice Mr Lampard to flog him to us.

Meanwhile, we are back in London in a couple of days for one of those other winnable games. Watch out for deflections!

Colin Brown
« Last Edit: November 28, 2020, 04:37:37 PM by dave.woodhall »


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