The return of club football can’t come too soon. Meaningless international friendlies followed by pointless World Cup Qualifiers, certainly in England’s case. It’s hard to know whether widespread media coverage of football is killing the national team or the mediocrity served up. The latter certainly doesn’t help, that’s for sure.
Thank goodness there’s none of that at the Villa, eh?
If it wasn’t so derogatory, you’d compare Villa to a box of chocolates. At times, we’ve been like Forrest Gump FC; you never know which one is going to turn up. Now, we’re more sure; a decent side, by this season’s standards.
One defeat in six, with five wins. It’s been a good run as well, no goals conceded in any of the wins, and Huddersfield limited to a single goal victory. The games may have gone as you’d expect on paper but there’s a world of difference between theory and reality.
Norwich are out of sorts, to an extent that cost Alex Neill his job earlier this month. Alan Irvine registered a draw and win at home. The opposition wasn’t great – Blackburn and Barnsley – but you can only beat the team in front of you.
And that’s what Villa must do. Win; it’s vital that we build a head of steam going into next season. If you look at the remaining games, I think I’ll be disappointed if we lose. I’m expecting us to, most likely in a game we least expect it. This is Villa, after all.
But we have a kind set of fixtures, a platform upon which Steve Bruce can build. This afternoon sees Jack Grealish and Nathan Baker both fit while Mile Jedinak is being assessed after international duty.
The afternoon will be most testing for Neil Taylor. Let’s make no bones about it, his tackle on Seamus Coleman was horrific. We talk about Taylor “not being that sort of player” as if that mitigates the outcome. I don’t think anyone claimed he tried to end Coleman’s career but Jamie Carragher nailed it when he said that every player has that tackle in them. It’s a split-second between being a good, solid challenge and a career-changer.
I’m not for one minute trying to make Taylor out as a victim but there has to be a psychological impact. Steve Bruce touched on it at his press conference when he said he and the coaching staff had checked on the player. I hope it affected him; it borderline psychopath behaviour for it not to have done. Being affected marks him out as decent human being.
The question is whether it impacts his performances. The test of that isn’t the first tackle, or the first foul; it’s the first foul where his opponent needs treatment. Undoubtedly in those circumstances, his mind will return to the experience of the World Cup qualifier.
That’s not the over-riding thought for today. Winning is and fair play to the club for trying to make Villa Park more of a ‘fortress’. OK, so the players are pivotal in that but generating atmosphere helps as well. It’s not a unique problem to Villa, just summing up how football crowds have changed down the years.
Anything which tips the scales in our favour, no matter how small the margin, has to be worth a try.