The reason for the delay in this write-up is partially lack of time, but mostly that I couldn't actually bring myself to relive this game in its aftermath, and have preferred instead to recollect it in tranquility. This is exactly the state we started the game in, despite the daily assurances of our players and manager in the run up to the match that it was one of the biggest of the season. In a way I think our non-show and Middlesbrough's gritty display was karma's reward for my near merciless ribbing of a smoggy supporting friend. I'll not make that mistake again.
Until Portsmouth away on Saturday we had scored in sixteen games in a row. To be honest we were lucky to score against Boro and could easily have conceded three more than we did, Mido enduring a particularly hapless performance in front of goal being the main cuplrit. One of my main, repititious criticisms of the Boro team is it lacks heart and strength, especially in the midfield. This and how Southgate fails to inspire his players at crucial times (to be fair both of these were fairly evident in the last two FA Cup games they played, one of which went through extra time and three team talks without rousing anything more than a whimper). These two assumptions were royally rammed down my throat last week as Boro kicked us out of the game early and then didn't let us into the match.
It was probably a bad time to play them, especially with George Boateng as willing as ever to prove his 'legend' credentials. However I still think a good twenty minutes at the start of that match would have seen a Villa win. So what went wrong for us? Well I'd say out of the eleven players who started only two played well: Bouma, Ashley and Laursen, but neither were near their best. Reo-Coker was ok but overran. The rest had games littered with basic individual errors and a distinct lack of urgency. The biggest culprit was Gareth Barry; wasteful in possession, positionally tactless and generally impotent. The last few weeks have seen some discontent from the fans with our midfield partnership, lets hope they resolve the issues apparent and Barry recaptures his pre-England form.
Last week was one of those horrible games where you travel for hours, look forward to it all week, spend loads of money you can barely afford and then are pretty disgracefully let down. Thankfully this rarely happens to us anymore, I haven't felt that bad leaving Villa Park since West Ham at home in O'Leary's last season (the only time we have lost after having a half-time lead at home in about 6 years). Our team is still developing and growing, and the squad's obvious lack of depth is beginning to tell: a few no-shows like this are bound to come over a season.
It is slightly irritating, though, to think that it is the winnable home games our team has choked on, rather than tougher fixtures away from home. Maybe that last minute Arsenal equaliser has rocked them more than we thought, and that would have been a massive win. Maybe, though, we just don't have that winning mentality that the top 5 have all displayed at some point in the season. Everton needed to win the other week, I think against Portsmouth, to stay fourth. They scored in the first minute. A win against Blackburn would have seen us fourth, we were average and rescued a point. Last night saw a worse display against a worse side, O'Neil still has some magic to work.