By Adam Keeble
What did Villa fans learn from the first hour against Liverpool? Nothing. There was nothing new to speak of.
But after that there were a few lessons to be had ahead of the game against Bournemouth and while there are a few days left in the transfer window.
Villa were the same old Villa against Liverpool from the kick-off. The pedestrian pace had been ramped up a little but there was still no penetration and Liverpool could and should have added to their goals. Oh, Villa had chances: a long-range header from Benteke, a Sanchez shot from 35 yards and an effort from Cleverley as a result of the only insightful pass of the half. If not for the Sterling let-off, it could have been all over.
Then Gil came on and woke Villa up. Everyone saw what he could do and it’s very fair to say his debut was as hotly anticipated as Benteke’s. He added electricity and… It’s been a long time since anyone mention the F-word about a Villa player: FLAIR. He took people on with his skill, not just his pace or muscle. And won! But it was all for nothing and Villa didn’t score, lost at home, and the weekend fizzled out as predicted.
There were calls for the manager’s head, there was the demonstration, there were boos. Not really even a shock any more. Thanks to the press coverage, Villa’s plight got a great deal of attention but to the Villa faithful, this was all a bit expected. And that’s sad. Seven league games without a win, five of those without scoring, blah blah. The stats can only add so much to the melancholy that has set in.
It’s becoming harder to defend Gabby’s performances. Always a love-him-or-hate-him type, can we as fans actually say what he’s adding to the team right now? He’s not getting shots, not making passes, not getting in crosses, and not getting subbed out despite his ineffectiveness.
Let’s compare him to some Villa players who have had their share of fans and haters: Dalian Atkinson at his best was unstoppable. We’ve all seen the goal against Wimbledon over and over, but what about the goal in the death at Tranmere that would eventually take us to Wembley? Or the goal against Man United when he got the ball, looked up, and saw the fear in Steve Bruce’s eyes as he charged towards him? But then there was the Jelly Babies. And his disappearing act in games when he seemed out of puff and ideas. His status now is unquestioned: a hero in part for what he won (League Cup over Man United), but he’s forgiven all his flaws because he was full of flair and looked like he was loving what he was doing.
Then there’s Tony Daley. His hair cut, his ridiculous speed, his spectacular goals (though there weren’t as many as there could have been – one of the chief complaints from fans)… He would terrify full-backs and while his crosses weren’t always on target (ahem… to say the least) he will be remembered for his commitment, excitement and… flair – there’s that word again. When he left, Villa Park looked lopsided without him on the wing.
Where does Gabby fit in? His exciting days seem like a long time ago now… (the winner at Anfield the exception, not the rule) and they are if you consider goals as a yardstick. He’s never scored more than 13 league goals (16 in all competitions in 2009-10) and while he scored a respectable 12 in all competitions in 2012-13 he scored just four last year and just three this season (30 in the last 5 years). The last England call-up was in November 2011.
Maybe it’s not his fault. We know he’s quick and we know he can score. So why is he so often stuck in the corner, crossing with his left foot? Or laying on the floor, laughing as another non-foul isn’t given by the ref? Is he just doing what he’s told? Either way, with his place unchallenged and the ink only just dry on a four-year deal, his place in the team is secure it would seem despite his abject form.
A conspiracy theorist would say that certain factors within the Premiership didn’t want Wimbledon to play any part in the big-money game. They were a low draw for supporters home and away, but like an irritating itch they would stay up with their no-name players and their direct style. Even misguided fans questioned their place in the top flight – a place they had rightly earned and maintained for many years.
So here’s the question: with the FA throwing another fine at Villa for lowering the tone and being nasty bully boys, are Villa the new Wimbledon in the eyes of certain factors within the league? Attendance: down. With the few name stars we have misfiring, is Villa really the draw at away grounds it used to be?
Is their current style ever enough to get the team moving up the Match Of The Day pecking order? In fact, have there been enough highlights in January to warrant a place on Match Of The Day at all? Reportedly, merchandise sales are down. Casual fans were in abundance when Ron Atkinson had a flair (again!) packed team challenging for the title. How many neutrals would want Villa to win against anyone right now?
As a product (which we as fans know it isn’t, so don’t start) Villa’s stock is plummeting. Now, nobody is saying that refs are going to start giving more and more 50-50 decisions against us or that when all we have to play for is league survival again, even fewer fans will show up – including those from other teams when Villa come to town, but… well, it makes you think.
Yeah, whatever, Robbie. It’s only controversial if it’s not true. Villa can’t score.Tell someone that cares (nobody except Villa fans) and doesn’t know (nobody at this point). And get your bloody hair cut. Whatever.
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