When the fixtures for this season were announced I, like most other Villa fans, was excited by the prospect of finally beating one of the top sides. Whilst this didn't quite come to fruition I saw enough on Saturday evening to be fairly optimistic for the season ahead. However, the events during the game yesterday do not stick in my mind as much as several other incidents throughout the day.
The problem with 5.15 kick offs on a Saturday evening, other than long journeys back north for away fans, is that they give everyone two hours more drinking time. Never has this been more apparent than at Villa Park on Saturday. In all the games I have been to only the Blues derby last year had a nastier feel to it. Granted the atmosphere on Saturday is rarely bettered these days but the two are not necessarily inter-dependent. Looking at various internet forums, from both clubs, it becomes clear that most incidents were extremely unusual for this fixture. However I have read accounts of ; groups of families and fans being confronted and riled by both sets of supporters, unwarranted batterings before and after the match and sets of 'up for it' fans from both clubs prowling Aston. The new positioning of away fans seems to be more difficult to police, I hope lessons are learned by the time Man Utd or Blues come to town. This is a lone quiet voice in a virtual backalley but football would be much better off if eight out of ten games were played on a Saturday at 3 o'clock, one on a Sunday afternoon and one on a Monday evening.
Another moment that sticks in my mind was the sight of two suited men, probably employed by our club, walking round the pitch with giant yellow and black balls advertising Setanta Sports. They walked past the Trinity and threw them into The Holte End. They were thrown back out a few times, whilst from my vantage point in the Upper I hoped someone put a lighter to them, but were there for quite a while.
Setanta, we are not an advertisement for your cynical destruction of the values of English sport. I hope this never happens again, but fear it is just the first of many commercial opportunities we will be seduced by.
And the match itself? Well its quite hard to say just how well, or badly, we did. Liverpool recently lost the Champions League final and have obviously bought some quality this summer. At times the movement of Kuyt and Torres was too much and to be perfectly honest we did not look likely to breach their defence for large parts of the game, despite competing with Liverpool and having sustained possession and pressure in the second half. At the same time, though, they scored a lucky own goal and a free kick that would not have been given if Steve Gerrard was not refereeing the game with Jamie Carragher as his ever enthusiastic 4th official. I would like to say now that I do not generally moan about referees, however almost all of them are intimidated by the big name players - you can tell by the way they act on the pitch - and incidents like the one on Saturday should not surprise anyone anymore.
As for us, well Barry displayed his usual class and looked like the one Villa player who would have been comfortable in their team. There was nowhere I would rather have been in the world than stood on the Holte when he knocked that penalty in, I thought my head was going to explode. Ashley Young showed glimpses of his massive talent and further convinced me he's going to be a massive player for us. And Nigel Reo-Coker, whilst not having the perfect start to his career in genuine claret and blue, displayed enough passion, determination and presence to suggest he is the midfielder we've lacked for years. Anyone at the game would have noticed him celebrating the penalty award by standing in the box, facing the Holte End and roaring with his fists clenched. Great character.
Jermaine Pennant also deserves a special mention for proving that you can take the player out of the scum, but you can't take the scum out of the player.
I'd like this blog to be a positive one, though, so I'll finish by talking about Craig Gardner. A 20 year old central midfielder starting at right-back, he had a storming game showing great touches and technique, commitment, spirit and bravery. Its great to see young Villa fans living out all of our dreams, I think Craig is a real gem and would like to see him in the midfield where he belongs. The more he gets used to the Premiership the more composure and assurance he displays, hopefully he'll become the player Lee Hendrie should have been.
So its on to Newcastle next week, which I'm making the trip up for, so heres to three points for the Villa and a great weekend.