Has your club ever played a vastly under-strength side in an important Cup Competition and been on the end of a beating as a result? Well, in a week that Aston Villa bowed out of The FA Cup for yet another season; Villa fans like myself are left wondering why the experienced Gerard Houllier devalued the competition by naming such an under-strength side. Villa travelled to Man City and were on the receiving end of a 3-0 beating on Wednesday night, so what was going through Houllier’s mind when he named that team? I intend to assess Wednesday nights events in relation to the remainder of another season without silverware for Aston Villa.
Living in Birmingham, I have had the chance to talk to a great deal of Villa fans this week, which is why I suggest the fans are fuming. As a Villa fan myself I can assure you the frustration is incredible as the club now face another trophy-less season after Wednesday nights’ farce.
900 Villa fans travelled to Eastlands and were left thoroughly shortchanged before the game even kicked off. Questions were asked when the likes of Michael Bradley, Fabian Delph, Barry Bannan, Chris Herd and Nathan Delfouneso were named in the starting 11. The most exciting part of the night for Villa fans was when they were given the chance to steal match balls that flew aimlessly into the crowd in the latter stages of the match.
So to assess the credentials of Villa’s suprise selections on the night, Michael Bradley showed that he is more than a million miles from being able to competently play at the top level; opitimised by an almost woeful performance. Fabian Delph has returned from a very lengthy injury lay-off and was played well and truly out of position by Houllier on the night. Delph should be returning with Reserve Team football until he is ready to make the step back up to the First Team; though I do not doubt he is a very exciting player. Barry Bannan has shown real maturity at Villa Park this season and has demonstrated he is capable of playing well, but had little impact in this match. Chris Herd’s inexperience showed on his first start for the club as he was careless in possession and was at times turned inside out by City’s strong side, resulting in numerous fouls being committed. Finally, Nathan Delfouneso is another players who despite progressing through Villa’s successful youth academy just will not cut it at the top level and would probably benefit from a loan spell in the Championship.
Houllier summation of the night’s events was as follows: “We wanted to do well in the cup. I am hurt myself. I don’t think we played badly but I think we could have hurt them more from an offensive point of view. But at the moment, the priority is to get more results and progress in the league.” Well Gerard, I don’t imagine you are hurting, Villa did play badly and their is little realistic chance of the side being relegated from the Premier League. Houllier had the audacity to cite the fact that the played two England international players up front on the night, like Emile Heskey and Gabby Agbonlahor have had sparkling and successful England careers!
Recent form in the Premier League leaves Villa with a five points cushion above the relegation zone. Furthermore, Villa have home matches against Wolves, Newcastle, Stoke, Wigan and Liverpool remaining this season; at least four of which are winnable. The chance of Villa being in bottom three when the season ends are minimal. Houllier has in essence removed the one remaining chance that Villa had of winning a trophy this season. I do believe that with the likes of Albrighton, Young, and Downing in the side from the start we would have given Man City a serious run for their money on Wednesday night. Better still, had we sneaked past City Villa would have been rewarded with a home tie against Reading for a place at Wembley in the Semi-Finals.
Ex-player and Villa fan Paul Merson was almost speechless on Gillette Soccer Saturday this afternoon; suggesting that the traveling fans deserve a full refund for Wednesday night. He also cited the fact that the in-form Downing and Young were left on the bench as one of the reasons for such a meager attacking display.
What now for Aston Villa? Houllier will want to make amends for Wednesday night when Villa travel to Bolton this afternoon. I would expect to see at least seven or eight changes to the side that were trounced by City. The return of the likes of Albrighton, Walker, Young, Downing and Bent will make Villa an attacking force to be reckoned with at the Reebok, where Bolton have had a lot of success this season. I don’t see that we will have the strength to win at Bolton, but stranger things have happened!