On this day in 1988 the USA revealed it had the capacity to deliver a nuclear warhead, by stealth, to anywhere on the planet. It paraded the B-2 aircraft proudly in Palmdale Florida; it remains a statement of defiance, intent and power to this date.
Last night Aston Villa’s display could not have stood in starker contrast. Indeed it was as far from a statement as could feasibly have been made. Further, it was a clear message of simple damage limitation. If 1988 was the year of the stealth bomber’s unveiling, our response was to put up an Anderson shelter. The white flag had been well and truly raised in the tunnel.
Because Villa’s 2-0 mauling to Tottenham last night was feeble. The team selection a puzzle and the players efforts to make a system work, no matter how flawed, pathetic. The two are very seperate things – and whilst McLeish’s error in picking players was stark, those same players’ lack of desire to make it work is a massive worry. It raises questions about whether the dressing room backs our manager when it produces such a disinterested, limp performance man for man.
There need not be a great disection as many column inches and weblogs will pour over it. It lacked comprehension. End of. Alan Hutton as a midfielder to counter Gareth Bale? No, we essentially played two right backs. And it failed, with Bale delivering two telling contributions and threatening at will for the entire game. It neither neutralised the threat or helped balance the team. A catastrophic disaster – workable in theory – abysmal in application.
This decision also removed the extra creative impetus a true midfielder offers, with what little spark there was being injected by Agbonlahor, himself a striker. Villa continue to starve Darren Bent, a proven goal machine, of any service. He must truly wonder what on earth he was thinking when he made the switch a little under a year ago.
McLeish’s puzzling team selection aside there was little or no fight in the Villa ranks. There was absolutely no desire to press Tottenham, make them think about our movement and exert some effort in their quest to reach third place in the table. It was effortless for the opposition, partly because they have genuine quality in players like Bale & Van Der Vaart, but also because Villa were complete pushovers. Teams can naturally only beat what is in front of them, but one would expect competition. Its absence was telling.
Spurs will no doubt feel they were deserving of their victory having swept Villa aside – and they should take some plaudits for their composure, but this is no Aston Villa of recent years. It is a shell of a team. Hashed together remnants of prior endeavours, youth and run of the mill Premiership faces. Spurs have the makings of Champions League, Villa the makings of Premier league obscurity. Randy Lerner’s vision needs tinkering if this is the end result.
It would be fair to assess the upcoming fixtures as a worry. The top 6 pretty much makes up our roadmap, which after a favourable opening set of matches leaves one looking very much over their shoulder. Particularly given the lack of fight and the manner in which we rolled over against Spurs. Villa will face tougher tests after all, but the lack of momentum in terms of results or form amongst our key players raises innumerable questions going into the festive fixtures.
But – Last night is not the worst result, nor the end of Villa’s season. Certainly it should not be allowed to define it. McLeish will not be sacked by Lerner – so fans should forget that notion. Nor is is all the managers fault – so it’s also time to rethink the blame game. Alex McLeish has a squad that’s under funded and is blatently not good enough or were sold false promises when signed. He has not inherited an environment set to inspire motivation or brimming confidence. The remit is retaining Premier League status; as a fan base we might as well back the man that needs to steer a listing ship to safety.
What McLeish must do is find his preferred eleven and quickly. There will be brave decisions to make and regular faces will need to be removed. Because playing Alan Hutton in midfield tells me that we must have genuine problems behind the scenes or hugely over-rated opinions of Stephen Ireland, Charles N’Zogbia or the once lauded Fabian Delph. McLeish is no mug – he has been around the block – which tells us he would not pick Emile Heskey unless he really, really had to.
As in 1988, when the hanger doors opened and the world wondered whether the end of the world was nigh – having learned of the destructive powers hidden in the skies: we must take stock.
Because more powerful teams exist, wielding footballing talents far greater than our own. But it does not mean they will use it, or indeed, know how to. Villa should not submit merely through knowing mere capability – and instead, look upon it as our calling. I would rather we went to Tottenham, ran them ragged and lost – than turn up and watch them play fifty yard passes as though we know we’re already beaten.
That is not acceptable and it must be rectified. Starting at Swansea this Sunday.
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