Well what is there to say after witnessing an utter catastrophe of a football match? And frankly, where and how should one begin picking through the ashes of another flawed Aston Villa FA Cup run.
The match preview was full of optimism, and why not? On the back of a fine victory over Blackburn and having actually beaten Man City recently – nobody expected Houllier to field such a weak side.
And it was a weak Aston Villa team in all senses of the word.
The concerning aspect for all Villa fans should be that this team was full of a number of fringe and prospective young players. It also featured a couple of ageing faces whose days in the side must be numbered. Admittedly Villa faced a very strong Mancester City side, but our boys looked at times woeful. Misplaced passes were like loose change spilling over the pavement, the impossible ball was attempted over and over and we looked utterly bereft of any meaningful creativity when required. The game should be remembered as one long groan of discontent.
So what of the regulars?
Petrov is becoming a continuing concern for those fans that have memories longer than the last few months. This once great player looks an absolute shadow of the midfielder he once was. He has lost the ability to move the ball smartly after a burst of pace and was redundant for most of the evening offering little or nothing to the team. Even more baffling was the fact he played the full 90 minutes. There cannot be much prospect of seeing Stan starting all that often from here on in on these displays.
Michael Bradley put in an awfully average to an, occasionally, dismal showing. Indeed at times he looked way out of his depth. Passes went astray and he was caught in possession time and time again. His showing tonight certainly goes a long way to answering queries as to why Villa fans haven’t seen much of him since his loan move. Much more needs to be done to justify a permanent acquisition but it is still early days in his Villa career.
Heskey huffed and puffed in the first half and most fans will be reassured that Bent is now at our disposal. Bent’s instinct for a goal was sorely missed tonight, but you could have stood Pele up front and he’d have wondered if there was a “service”. Agbonlahor again gave lots of effort, frustrating Man City frequently across the evening with penetrative runs. Not much seems to be going his way right now and it will be interesting to see how his Villa career progresses playing out of position, out of sorts and out of the goals.
Dunne put in a reasonably solid showing against his former club but the tired looking Friedel, whilst vastly experienced, just does not have the agility on a chilly Wednesday night. Manchester City’s goals were powerfully executed but Brad looked more than a little slow to make any attempts to keep them out. Friedel no longer dives but crumples -a fine goalkeeper – but aged and not helped by a defence (featuring an out of sorts Clarke) which was as culpable in the goals in any event.
And what of the youngsters?
One must be careful when criticising Aston Villa’s academy as the players produced are often heralded as mercurial in the eyes of most. But there was an expose tonight. Chris Herd for all his commitment and effort contributed nothing other than an abysmal headed clearance leading to the second goal. Committed challenges across the pitch all night, yes. Cut it in the Premiership? Unlikely.
And Barry Bannan. I want him to be great. Everyone at Villa does. But he is physically minute. And please withhold on the ludicrous “as tall as Messi” references. It’s absurd & delusional. It is fine being able to pick a pass against Fulham, the reserve leagues or with the youth squad – but stand him next to Yaya Toure – and this is Premier League opposition – and it counts for nothing. The problem is that up against the true physical reality, Bannan is forced to try the impossible with the ball nearly every single time. And as this invariable fails, it will unfortunately in time, wear very thin indeed.
Defouneso brought little to the show after much promise having had a recent glimpse against Blues when he rattled the bar. One wonders if his moment will come or indeed if has already gone. The continuing progress of young Austrian Weimann should be of concern to him.
This analysis is not a criticism of the youngsters effort – that cannot be faulted. The worrying truth is that these players are not going to progress us and they certainly are not going to put us in a position to compete. As a fan I know this. It is there in front of us now as it has been before (Hendrie, Cooke, L&S Moore etc etc). And Houllier must know this too.
But at the heart of the problem is that this is another season that Aston Villa will not win a trophy. And it has been even longer since we have won a major honour. The club and Houllier need to reflect on whether the side put out against Man City was justifiable given that if we had gone for absolute broke, then a tie against inferior opposition in the form of Reading awaited us. And in a week where Birmingham City won a League Cup – is this response the right message to be sending out?
And that is the frustrating aspect. Man City played within themselves all night. Yes, Villa had periods of promise, but it came to nothing. And few Villa fans reasonably would have expected it to having seen the line up. Had the team given it’s all, or had it been picked to show a degree of ambition then some discontent would be quelled. The fact that as the game was lost at 3-0, Young & Downing were introduced; it only serves to infuriate.
And it is arguable whether Houllier has dropped a genuine clanger not dissimilar to that achieved by O’Neill versus CSKA Moscow. For those fans who are on the fence, they will question what the point of even entering a competition, then progressing, if the team is only going to fold at the first sniff of opportunity. The contempt shown for those fans who parted with hard earned money, in a meaningless cup run, is a point evidently lost upon the club again.
The justification for such a poor side and showing? The risk of relegation. The risk is there – but even the most pessimistic of Villa fans would be pushing it to have us down as odds on for the drop. We have had a poor and inconsistent season for sure, but looking at the table and our fixture run in, it would have to be an almighty collapse to see us go down.
And so it is that on March 2nd 2011 – Aston Villa have nothing left to play for.