Another home defeat, but a massively different reaction; gone are the acceptance and hope from last week. This is what defeats are supposed to feel like. It says something of our season so far that I had actually forgotten how it feels to see us perform so lethargically and unimaginatively, and lose so deservedly, as we did Saturday morning. In fact the last time I left Villa Park with such a depressed, empty feeling was at the back end of O'Leary's last season when we lost to Man City. Yesterday couldn't quite match the utter disaffection of that summer evening, but it really was a poor all-round display from us.
Or at least the 55 minutes or so I saw were, a combination of work on Friday, a ridiculous kick-off time and an inneffective phone alarm meant I only arrived at New Street after 1 o'clock. According to my Dad all I missed was a sloppy own goal, a small amount of Harry Redknapp baiting and some typically pompous yet mistake-ridden refereeing from Mike Riley. What I certainly didn't miss was the kind of exciting, attacking verve our young guns have normally provided this season.
An supporter even more positive than myself would argue that apart from two fantastic long range efforts and a fortunate own goal Portsmouth barely troubled our goal until the last ten or so minutes of the match, when we were only playing two defenders. This claret and blue tinted appraisal, however, ignores the fact that generally Portsmouth outpassed us in midfield and comfortably dealt with the continual aerial barrage we sent down. John Carew was one of the few Villa players who looked reasonably in form; Laursen and Gabby being the other two, but he found it hard against Campbell and Distin, two shrewd signings you have to give Redknapp credit for.
The good work from our strikers was, though, largely isolated as the midfield failed to function against their athletic counterparts in blue. Barry has generally been one of our best performers this season but it just didn't happen for him yesteday. Couple this with a strangely subdued performance from Reo-Coker and it is obvious where the teams problems stemmed from. Good teams will exploit our lack of width on the right and Gardner struggled to make any impression until he came inside to his preferred position. Berger came off the bench yesterday but the spark he found at the back end of last season has gone out again, I don't want to write him off but it looks like the end of his career at Villa Park to me, all three of his substitute appearances have been poor. There was a great chance on Saturday after a crunching tackle from Gardner but Patrick failed to execute a simple 10 yard pass through to Gabby, a basic error which could have made all the difference. It is hard to criticise Young as he looked bright on the ball yesterday, we just did not create enough space for him. Again here Redknapp must be applauded for blending craft, strength and speed to good effect.
This is the last time in this blog, however, that Redknapp's behavious will be applauded. I have seen a lot of column inches devoted to the abuse that Redknapp recieved and his subsequent damning of the Villa Park crowd. Less notable, though, has been any discussion of Redknapp's own actions immediately before the scenes he closely describes. Following a small confrontation between some players from both sides Redknapp, ansering a chant of "Have you paid the referee?", gestured at the referee and then made a two-fingered gesture towards the Holte End. This went down predictably badly but the fans were further inflamed by the three fingers he held up towards the Trinity Road Stand. Now I normally take reaction from players to the crowd in good humour, if you can't take it don't dish it out (a phrase more applicable to Reknapp than our fans anyway), but I think managers should uphold higher standards of dignity. The quite predictable response from the crowd came in chants about jail, bribes and showers.
Redknapp's behaviour would have been more acceptable, especially considering the week he's had, if his post-match comments hadn't been so hypocritical. From what I gather he wasn't brought up to abuse people in front of his children, but was brought up to aggravate 35'000 people with offensive gestures, and comparing his experiences at Villa Park with those as a child in the 1950's seems to be fairly erroneous, or frankly ridiculous, as well. Essentially I think Redknapp is embarrassed about his childish reaction to what was fairly mild ribbing, which then became more vicious, and has chosen to deflect attention from this onto some of our fans behaving as most around the country would have. I can think of a number of examples where players and managers have had far worse insults than the one he reacted to, and then bleated about to all who would listen.
I suppose what makes Redknapp's barbs all the more antagonising is the fact that his team has just come to Villa Park and beaten us convincingly. Villa fans may want to talk about his behaviour, or the sometimes bizarre decision making displayed by Riley, but we were soundly beaten yesterday and deservingly so. Next week's trip up to Sunderland is now even more important. We really need to get back to winning ways and try to regain some of the momentum we had before the Arsenal match going into the Christmas period.