The wheels are coming off. Suddenly Villa Park has transformed from a vibrant, happy cauldron of support into a weighty, negative, gloomy place. The expectations have been raised by our over-performing squad and O'Neil, through his success, seems to have made a rod for his own back. Our captain, largely anonymous again, has spoken since of the pressure of playing at home and its that word 'pressure' and our failure to cope with it that is most worrying for me. When we have an opportunity and need to win at Villa Park we seem to crumble somewhat. The winning mentality hasn't been installed yet, though thats only to be expected at this stage. In some ways I feel karma won't allow Villa, Hibs and Cheltenham Town to all have good runs at the same time, and at the moment Villa are being punished for my other teams good form.
This game was largely non-descript from our point of view. Bouma was solid again, and Reo-Coker combative, but other than that it is hard to extract any positivity from the performance. Harewood had his usual five minute impact but he is not good enough to do any more than give the team a slight lift. I feel O'Neil should have saved that little lift for a bit later in the game, but it is hard to criticise him for being proactive. In the end we were beaten by a team that could barely put a decent move together yet deserved to score after a succession of late attacks, none of which were dealt with convincingly by or peturbingly fragile defence. Carson has joined a growing list of crowd scapegoats, even the away fans were getting at him a bit last week, and its hard to see him recovering from the confidence void he is clearly in.
The game on Saturday was a wholly depressing experience, and one we haven't been accustomed to seeing this season. It was brightened up, though, by the half-time entertainment. First a lady proposed to someone in the North Stand, who I think was called Tony Scott. Unfortunately this was only by a message on the screen and announcement, not by pictures. It took a while to get the message back that he had said yes, which was met by a chorus of unfriendly boos from the Holte End and an amusing chorus of 'You don't know what you're doing', which was the highlight of the entire day.
This unusual event was backed up by a game of 7-a-side on the pitch between the pupils of local junior special needs schools. The fast paced, high-octane quality of this contest was in stark contrast to what we had previously witnessed and the thirty or so thousand people who stayed in their seats to watch were treated to the most entertaining football of the day. The fact that it still ended 0-0 is telling. Of the players I thought the number 7 and 14 for the team defending at the Holte looked quite handy; they took a few decent corners and went on a few good runs between them. Between the rest there was a lot of commitment, and a few good saves from the goalkeepers. One in front of the Holte drew a chant of 'England's No.1', it'll be interesting to see if Scott Carson is similarly recieved in a few weeks time.
After this welcome interlude we lapsed into the same pattern of uncreative football that had been on show before the break. The supporters vented their frustration regularly and whilst everybody has a right to voice their opinion I wish they would be more circumspect with criticism, especially when its directed at young players, and especially when those players are lifelong Villa fans. Our season is evaporating in front of us and the supporters need to transmit more positive vibes to help the players through it. Its on to Old Trafford next week, which I have the dubious pleasure of visiting for the first time. That could be the perfect resurrection for our season, and its a funny old game so you never know.