It’s an early arrival at the Lane for once. Oogfather and Oogbruder are in town and have procured last minute tickets in the west upper. As is his wont, Oogfather insists on getting there at 2pm to enjoy the lack of atmosphere. As is his wont, Oogbruder is gabbling on about whether they will serve Bovril. Yeast Army.
So there’s time to sit back and soak up all the lowgrade tat the Jumbotron has to offer. Special deals for ‘lateral and medial cat branded’ football boots. Aspirational commercials for morons who i) want to be just like Jamie and Louise Redknapp and ii) think that booking a holiday with Thomson’s will make it happen. Highlights of our game at Villa Park last year. I still find Agbonlohor’s bundled in opener infuriating even though I know we equalised. I’m glad he’s not playing today as I am scared of raw pace more than of anything else. Raw pace won’t necessarily do you as much damage as tiki-taka or Drogba-like power, but it always looks threatening. The kind of threat that will humiliate you again and again. Ever since Craig Bellamy single handedly beat us 3-1 in his Newcastle days, raw pace keeps me up at nights.
Its Ged Houllier’s Villa now, but it still looks like a Martin O’Neill team. In the words (sentences, even) of Alan Hansen: Pace. Power. Commitment. I like Villa games. Along with Everton and maybe a few others, they aren’t a CL team that terrifies me to death nor a relegation candidate that bores me to death. They are a proper test, but one I expect us to pass. They are slightly less good than us.
Not that we ever actually beat them, of course. And the team news is a bit bewildering. Hudd at the back. Jenas in for King is the only change and it seems like big squad or not Harry has arrived at a few conclusions. Kranjcar is on the bench but seems to be regarded these days as filler. Gio has used up all his chances I hope – I’m bored of talented Adel players who Taraabt flatter to deceive.
Davewatch. As usual Dave’s 2:59 pre-match analysis consists of an arbitrary psychological profile of the players based upon the colour of their boots. Dave says he wouldn’t play in pink boots no matter how much you paid him. Dave says some other things and then says “put that in your blog”. Dave is told that isn’t going to work anymore.
On to the game. It’s a tough opening 25 minutes and it looks like we might be overrun. An earlyish goal in which Heskey outfoxes Bassong with worrying ease is the least they deserve. They are outplaying and outmuscling us. Lots of words beginning with ‘out’. Is this a CL hangover? If so it’s not just the players. The yid army isn’t feeling the buzz either. But as the crowd slowly rouses from its slumber (Villa’s taunts of “Just like the library” help), we claw our way back into the game.
These days we have a brace of playmakers of unquestionable vintage but the subtle tones that differentiate them are now beginning to emerge. Modric can dictate the pace of a game on his day and is probably the more beautiful player to watch. But Fvondefvoort has a hungrier, grittier quality to go with the obvious skill. He can wrest the initiative from the opposition and turn a game back in our favour. It doesn’t have to be a moment of genius. He’s just there when you need him to be. Just before half time Crouch nods a header from a sumptuous Pavlyuchenko cross (yes, really) across the goalmouth and Rafa, leaping like a tiny Dutch salmon ready to breed with his attractive salmon wife, rises above Richard Dunne to level the match just as a depressing half time beckons.
And he was Dunne again in the second half. I’ve watched our second goal about ten times and I still don’t understand. Is it a piece of genius by VDV or dunne Does just get in a tangle all by himself? It Doesn’t matter. The point is someone special has arrived at our club. This gritty quality I mentioned in a ‘skill’ player is quite rare. Tevez definitely has it. Rooney has it in spades (though maybe he’s a grit player with skill). Zola had it, and to please Oogbruder, so did Moravcik for Celtic. Arshavin almost has it. Early days, but the prospect of having this kind of talent is mouthwatering. And he’s not even our best BALE BALE BALE player. How long’s his contract?
A month ago we were worried about how any of our strikers could play upfront alone. Turns out we just needed a genius Dutch midfielder to play in the hole. I think I know who may suffer as a result. Whereas Defoe needs space to get his shot off , VDV has the close control to take a couple of touches, find himself some room in a crowded penalty area and fire home. If he can be a creator and do some of Defoe’s job by feeding off Crouchy’s scraps, our injured England superhero may be hanging out with Keano on the touchline a bit more. Talking of the tall guy, he’s growing on me. In Crouchy’s comedy corner (literally) this week, his stepovers to waste time were again causing belly laughs, in block 28 at least. Get this man his nachos.
So a really good match. Not a classic, but a quality piece of premiership product. I predicted that we would probably beat Twente stylishly, creep past Villa and then lose at Fulham away. I haven’t forgotten West Ham and I don’t think we’ve suddenly changed. But sometimes it’s good to forget about league positions and formations, score predictions and squad rotation. Sometimes you can just enjoy a cracking game of football.