Ashley Young is back to his dangerous self: Causing full backs all sorts of trouble and delivering cross after cross of goal scoring opportunities. John Carew is proving to be the player I knew he was – and he’s doing more…
I tried to find the positives of Saturday, I really did – but let’s be honest, we were beat by a six goal margin in the most crucial run in we’ve had this millennium.
After folding to the feeble threat of Wolves and Sunderland, an ambitious gut fooled my head into thinking how typical it would be of Villa to then go and turn over a title chasing Chelsea. 3 points at Stamford Bridge and all would have been forgotten. And dare I say it: fourth place would have been secured.
And for 40 minutes, we fought. For 40 minutes, we withstood the threat of Chelsea and for 40 minutes, we looked every bit as competent as they did. Martin O’Neill was quoted to say that,
“We stopped competing at 3-1…”
In truth, however, we stopped competing at half time.
After drawing level courtesy of another young-carew combo, we looked in good shape to carry the fight to the home side. I was thinking such was our away form that we could probably nick the win. Instead, after an inspiring 10 minutes following the equaliser, we were undone at the back in the 42nd minute with some expert clumsy defending – and what was to follow in the next 50 minutes will unfortunately forever be remembered in this club’s history.
It was almost as if it was a race to score the third – and whoever got it, crossed the finishing line. And that’s exactly what happened: Lampard slotted the penalty in the net and at 2-1, Chelsea were home and dry before half time. Walking into the tunnel at the whistle, heads were down. Returning to the field for the second half, belief was minimal and very surprisingly for and O’Neill outfit: effort was scarce.
Unorganised and disinterested. How often does this current Aston Villa side get labelled with such tripe? Justified tripe in this case. After taking the foot off the gas against Wolves, I could see through the Sunderland result – we were good, and deserved all 3 points – sometimes that happens. But to surrender so cheaply in the heat of battle shows tremendous lack of character. Giving up is never an option and it is certainly not a desirable trait to have in any sphere of life.
Walter Payton, former Chicago Bears running back, wrote in his autobiography, Never Die Easy, that if an opponent were to overcome you then they should have to earn your death first. Put simply, they would have to go to the very edge with you before someone falls over. Even at that, you should struggle to be pushed over – never die easy. Teams lose … it’s something we have to accept as football supporters, but surely we can expect our teams to lose with dignity. Surely we can even walk away with pride in defeat – granted the opponents have earned their victory. I remember our hard fought Goodison Park victory of last year when Young fired us ahead in the last kick of the game after Lescott had equalised deep in stoppage time. Analysing the post match interviews, there was nothing bitter about David Moyes. He was sad to lose of course, but you could tell from the nature of his talk that he knew his team had pushed Villa to the very limit and to snatch victory, we needed something special from our very last roll of the dice. There was a certain honour and respect that day amongst both teams, and rightly so.
Don’t get me wrong, Chelsea are a decent team. They were my tip for the league all year (although United are looking even stronger) and there is certainly no shame in buckling under the unrelenting pressure of Stamford Bridge. The pace of their attack was admirable; they were exciting and were cutting through Villa like a warm knife through melted butter. But only when they were given the chance.
And didn’t we just give them the chance. Because as we went in at the break, a goal to the worse, self pity was rife and we came out flinching until we were knocked firmly on our backsides straight after the restart. And instead of getting up and fighting, instead of standing tall and pushing back, we lay on our knees and took whatever punishment Chelsea had in them to give. We afforded them space, time and freedom and watched on in helpless woe, through the fingers covering our coward faces, waiting for our opponents to retreat. At half time, our heads were already on the team bus. At full time, the players found the haven of the road back to Birmingham; but left behind their dignity, their honour and their respect.
And now I’m hearing we might not even get another run out at Wembley. And I’d probably agree with that decision too: because the Chelsea, Villa semi is probably better to be staged at Twickenham – they have a bigger scoreboard.
What next for Villa?
Well they can continue to freewheel down this treacherous path or begin to climb back out to where they want to be. The path they are on now is deceiving – it’s the easy option to take. It’s downhill and rose tinted, and requires absolutely no effort. But it is downhill for a reason. Because as per the nature of free falling, there is always a rock bottom to hit – and this rock bottom promises only FA Cup elimination and 7th place (Everton results pending). And what a pointless voyage this season of hope would be should we show no backbone and fold to the temptation of our current pathway.
“Losing your way on a journey is unfortunate. But losing your reason for the journey is a fate more cruel.”
Yes, Villa have lost their way – but it would be so much more tragic if they were to lose their purpose. When Martin O’Neill took charge in 2006, he spoke of the pride of 1982 and stated that ultimately, European success “is the dream”. Why lose sight of that now? Why render our endeavours futile? All hurt and physical sickness aside, we were always going to lose that game away to Chelsea so we have not lost ground. We did slip up in our previous two games but have a massive chance to rectify that against Bolton (a) and Everton (h). Tough games, but if we were to steal all six points then our season is well and truly back on track. Remember Spurs’ horrific run-in and hopefully they will fall short. The situation as we have it now is with 7 games left – 6 wins are an absolute must, and I’d go as far as saying that no more defeats are afforded. This is the road we have sidetracked off, the uphill rocky mountain which has no place for the faint hearted or the self-pitiful. But it is the road which we must climb back onto and crawl back up because at the end of it, lies Champions League riches and a possible crack at another cup. At the end of it, lies the reason for our journey. And should we fail to make the 70 points mark, should we fail to reach the end of the road, we might find ourselves slipping back down or falling over edge – but if so, I’d like to think that we didn’t die easy.