Garde’s first game gave fans plenty to think about. What did Aston Villa fans learn about the team and the new gaffer from a 0-0 draw against top-of-the-table Manchester City (and the return of F****n D****h)?
HE’S NOT KEVIN MCDONALD
Once the line-ups were announced, Villa fans would have felt much better about the game ahead. McDonald’s brief was difficult, knowing he was just a stop-gap and hoping to pick up a point at Spurs, while presumably targeting a penalty shoot-out against Southampton in the cup, he can’t be blamed for some of his defensive caretaker-manager decisions.
But Garde’s first starting XI will hopefully indicate this is his strongest XI and everyone else will be fighting to get into it. It was creative, packed with flair, guts and passion. And yes, it included the players we brought in to replace the players we sold.
The players who have been sleepwalking in some games, especially after conceding or in the last 20 minutes, played to the end – something McDonald, Sherwood and Lambert all struggled with, and something even Gerard Houllier complained about. Yes, it’s early days, but early reports say he might be on to something – despite the lack of clear cut chances in front of goal.
HE’S NOT TIM SHERWOOD
Remi Garde wasn’t wearing anything to draw attention to himself other than his poppy. He was dignified, calm, and the occasional gesturing to his players aside, seated. More Arsene Wenger than Martin O’Neill.
On a day when he was just one of the biggest acts in the circus (the other one slithered on for his traditional 15 minutes at the end of the game), he took the emphasis from himself and put it on the players – and they stepped up to embrace it to a man. There was no saluting players, nor gesturing to the fans that the team still had a pulse. And yet but not doing either one overtly, he let the fans salute the players and see for themselves that there are signs of life that weren’t there in the last few comatose weeks.
That’s not to say the fans didn’t appreciate Sherwood’s “I’m in it with you” attitude at the time, but once the cheeky cockney facade was revealed to be a distraction from… “not knowing what he was doing” is harsh, but his party was over at the FA Cup final and since then the magic had gone. The new man’s era started brightly without a fanfare but with some good fortune and hopes for better things to come.
HE’S NOT PAUL LAMBERT
Bomb Squad? Never heard of it.
The shock inclusion of Charles N’Zogbia to the squad – and then seeing him play and doing well – proves that everyone at the club has a clean slate. Charles has been moping and complaining online, dressing like Lady Gaga and upsetting fans with his boasts about his wages while letting his career go (further) down the crapper for far too long.
But unlike Paul Lambert and his infamous exclusion of players he didn’t like (or wanted to sell) Garde doesn’t care. Last week, this column was mistaken in thinking N’Zogbia would never play for the club again, even with a fellow Frenchman taking the helm. But if he can add something to the team, he’s welcome to continue to push for a starting spot. All any fan has ever wanted was to see something of the player we signed to replace Ashley Young. Clean slates can apply to fans too…
… but fans aren’t quite as forgiving to Fabian Delph, who made his long-targeted return to Villa Park after leaving the club after making a big song-and-dance about staying. Stan Collymore’s “thumbs down” gesture was probably the kindest gesture aimed at Delph all afternoon.
Delph’s impact was minimal, as you would expect coming off the bench after a long injury, and his welcome to the field was predictable, but the Snake’s return couldn’t take away from a focused, solid Villa performance.
While it would have been great to see him concede a last-minute penalty, to watch him as an afterthought midfielder who gave up the captaincy of a club he claimed to love and leave with just a point will be satisfying to most fans. The focus, rightly, was on Aston Villa, not the club’s former players.
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