Martin O'Neill

Last Monday evening Skybet's odds on the first Premier League manager to lose their job shifted. In an unexplained twist Martin O'Neill had resigned from his post and the club had accepted, and suddenly Villa's season was in total jeopardy. It is still far too early, especially in light of the complete lack of official explanation, to judge O'Neill's motives for leaving yet, as ever, the truth is on the pitch. Against West Ham United the Aston Villa players gave a clear demonstration that O'Neill had started to become a negative influence on the club.

Many new managers have enjoyed false dawns, and I am not suggesting that Kevin McDonald has suddenly become the ideal candidate for the job, but the manner of Villa's performance; the freedom and potential displayed, the pass-and-move football and above all enjoyment was a welcome tonic for any supporter. In truth this Villa side had rarely played attractive football under the previous manager, especially in home games. Spirited, dogged and counter-attacking, but not stylish, O'Neill's side consistently exasperated fans at Villa Park for the last two seasons.

As with most successful managers, O'Neill had a carefully cultivated public persona which should not influence any balanced assessment of his reign. Unfortunately the English media are unable to look past this persona, as anyone who sits through the following clip from the Sunday Supplement will surely testify -,23791,13989,00.html. In various ways the three journalists; Hayward, Holt and Robinson, repeatedly imply that Martin O'Neill is bigger than Aston Villa, and draw on the Clough stereotype to back up their opinions. O'Neill has not and will not follow in Clough's hallowed footsteps, and the outright disrespect he has shown by walking out five days before a new season has probably reduced his chances to do so elsewhere.

On a slightly separate note, Oliver Holt 'doesn't set any stall by what some bloke with General or Colonel in front of his name's got to say' (Holt had previously called General Charles Krulak 'Colonel Tom'). I invite any reader to look at Krulak's personal record of service (in Vietnam and Desert Storm) and try to defend the disgraceful words of this arrogant and ignorant excuse for a journalist.

Regardless of the short term causes for O'Neill's shock departure, the truth is that his relationship with the club had displayed frayed emotions for some time. Previously a messiah for Villa supporters, a growing faction became frustrated with his apparent inflexibility, though it must be said that many still retained confidence in O'Neill. This frustration occasionally poisoned the atmosphere, not altogether unreasonably, at Villa Park, to which O'Neill responded by subtly castigating the supporters. A number of reports also suggest that Villa's discreet chairman, Randy Lerner, was unwilling to match previous levels of financial support his manager.

The outcome of these uncertain but by no means hopeless circumstances is most poignant when one recalls the scenes which O'Neill's arrival at Midlands club heralded. For the first two and a half seasons progress was rapid, the stadium was full and good news emanated out of the club. However the fact that I, like many supporters, increasingly approached Saturdays with a feeling of dread rather than excitement tells its own story. Once O'Neill's initial impact subsided, he was increasingly exposed tactically and in his management of the club, and now his Villa legacy is another false dawn.

A Victory for Anti-Football

A deserved victory for Spain, but anti-football was the real winner - not just of this World Cup, but of the entire season. One can imagine Jose Mourinho's satisfaction at seeing the World's international footballing elite duplicate the tactics which brought him and Inter an historic treble this year. However whilst tactical sophistication, physical dominance and military drilled defences are all in their own way admirable, the constant niggling fouling, haranguing of referees and unsportsmanlike behaviour plunged to new depths in the last month.

It did so because nobody commented on it, save the odd commentator. We have become so used to the sight of Sergio Busquets squirming into the turf, his face contorted with burning agony, that we are no longer surprised when he springs up and slots into his space-closing, Xavi-feeding role. Busqets would probably win the award for the most cynical player in the tournament, though he faces stiff competition - notably from other members of his own team.

That is why this triumph for Spain leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth. The best footballing side in the world won, which is as it should be, but their cheating (now apparently called gamesmanship) and treatment of referees did them absolutely no credit whatsoever. Fouls occur in the game and at times some Spanish players may have been targeted by less skilled opposition, but from the first minutes of last nights final, and actually all the games I've seen from them, five players surrounded the referee at every opportunity.

This criticism does not absolve the offending tacklers from any blame. When lesser countries play against far better sides it is natural to expect solid defending which might test the boundaries of the rules of the game. Thats what the referees are there to monitor, which on the whole they did fairly well I thought. However Holland's unedifying performance last night was a disgrace to the history and prestige of the tournament. One red card, given when Howard Webb really had no choice, could have been three quite easily. The total-football stereotype has long been irrelevant, but after last night it will surely be consigned to history. Instead the anti-football culture reigns supreme.

So congratulations to Spain, it is a shame that noone really wanted to play football against them. Hopefully next year wide-players and new systems will conquer the double defensive shield of this World Cup and, much less likely, the cynical cheating which has become so rife in the game at all levels, and is no doubt taught in football's academies, will be stamped out. The problem with this last hope is that the responsibility lies with Fifa, and the receipts from this World Cup will probably make it a successful one.

Aston Villa 1-0 Birmingham City

How cruel for Birmingham fans to see their team to come to the ground of their hated rivals, have an equal share of the game and more clear cut chances, yet still suffer defeat. Even worse a defeat that leaves their neighbours with a slim chance of playing Champions League football next season. For the second time this season Villa stole all three derby-day points with a goal in the last ten minutes. For the second time it was an unconvincing and barely deserved victory.

A home win looked the least likely outcome as the second half wore on. Uninspired though Villa were in the first half, they still managed to create opportunities and pass through Birmingham's packed midfield on occasion. In the second forty-five even these rare moments of quality deserted the home side, and Blues grew in confidence as a result, seriously threatening to score four times in quick succession.

Yet whatever credit Birmingham's players should claim for their composed performance in this period will be overshadowed by some less savoury moments. First was the unfurling of a bed-sheet banner in the Birmingham fans section which read 'Danny Is A Grass'. This refers to one witnesses of the tragic murder of Christopher Priest, run over after the last derby at Villa Park by three Birmingham fans, who are now in prison.

Sadly it isn't the first time Blues fans have chosen to show their support for the jailed driver Lee Mockble, and I doubt it will be the last. Anyone who wants to read more about this story and find out the facts can do so here.

This crass behaviour off the pitch was then matched by those wearing blue and white shirts on it. I would have been angry if that penalty was given against us (though many have supported Atkinson's decision) but Stephen Carr's fit of spitting, stamping rage and scuffing up of the penalty spot was disgraceful for a club captain. Walking off the pitch he then made an obscene gesture in the direction of the North Stand - our family stand. He'll probably now become a club legend, no doubt joining Paul Tait (look him up).

Derby games always have an electric atmosphere and we know that emotions run high in the stadium, but it is the responsibility of players - particularly captains - to try and maintain their professionalism. Carr lost his, as ours have in the past, and he deserves his one match ban.

All of which obscures what was a vital victory for Villa. Now we go to Man City in the knowledge that a positive result will give us a good chance of finishing fifth, which in my view would cap a great season, and a win leaves us with a glimmer of fourth and all its glamour. Reading various recent articles one could be forgiven for thinking the Premiership is rubbish this year, what with Chelsea and Manchester United having the temerity to actually lose games. On the contrary, I think it has been a fantastic season, and long may the challenge to the sky-sponsored hegemony continue.

"Typical Germans"

Alex Ferguson's ungracious post-match interviews have been a feature of our football landscape for a long time, long enough for nobody to really bat an eye-lid at the latest xenophobic outburst.

Interestingly, though, I think Ferguson betrayed regret at his own team with these comments. Rafael's sending off was completely justified, no matter how many Bayern players helped him on his way. Equally justified, had it happened, would have been Dan Van Buyten's red card for seeking out Wayne Rooney's injured ankle and stamping on it (for the second time).

Where was the typical United response to this foul? Rooney hopped in pain, but didn't throw himself to the ground and writhe in agony (which, lets be honest, we've all seen him do). Likewise United's midfield, betraying inexperience, failed to follow in the hallowed footsteps of Keane, Giggs, Scholes, Beckham etc. by surrounding the referee and exacerbating the situation. Gibson and Fletcher were rabbits in the headlights - Carrick as anonymous as ever.

Ferguson, as ever, used his post-match interview to deflect criticism from his players, probably in the knowledge that our press would love nothing more than an opportunity to slag off those bloody Germans.

A Dose of World Cup Reality

Throughout the season murmurings of South Africa have become tremors of excitement; Capello is photographed or quoted at every turn, phrases such as 'on the plane' and even 'in the waiting lounge' have somehow entered the vernacular when describing players' chances of making the squad - all we need now is a World Cup anthem.

It's the time of the season when possible squads and starting elevens are mulled over by every fan in the land, Brazil shirts become omnipresent in a country five thousand miles away in which less than one thousandth can claim Brazilian heritage, and nauseatingly triumphant adverts creep onto our televisions. On the field if a player stays on the ground for more than two seconds after a challenge their country's World Cup prospects are immediately questioned.

For most top nations this would be an overreaction, unfortunately for England if the player in question is Wayne Rooney it's probably reasonable. This highlights the only aspect of the whole World Cup hype that the media have failed to pick up on - England essentially have no chance of progressing into the latter stages of the competition.

Rooney, on reputation and form, is England's only World Class player heading into the tournament. Ashley Cole would probably qualify if fit, Terry and Ferdinand would like to think they do but haven't now for a couple of seasons and Gerrard arguably never was (based on international performances). Capello is in fact England's shining hope alongside Rooney - a manager who can inspire and demands respect from his players and any opposition.

However elsewhere the squad and first team is full of glaring deficiencies: there is no reliable goalkeeper, there are currently question marks over every defensive position, our best winger (Lennon) is injured, a pedestrian midfield of Barry and Lampard have never proven themselves in tandem against quality opponents, Gerrard has spent most of the season in the doldrums and beyond Rooney the striking department looks toothless at this level (Defoe could prove me wrong here, but I doubt he will get the chance to).

So before any media-drum starts beating our brave boy's chances we should recognise that our squad lacks the technical talent, mentality and experience of big international games to be anywhere near favourites for the competition. And when we go out in the quarter-finals these will be the reasons for it; not poor refereeing, cheating foreigners or the heat.


In virtually every manager's reign there comes one defining result. In recent times one could have been forgiving for hoping that a Wembley win might bring Martin O'Neill his moment of history, his claim to Villa greatness. Sadly it seems that his tenure may be defined by the most harrowing defeat for many a year. Wembley dreams, though still possible, have been shattered and O'Neill's defining moment instead joins the legion of underachievement. Think Doncaster 3-0 Villa (O'Leary), Birmingham 3-0 Villa (Taylor) and Blackburn 5-0 Villa (Little).

Whilst our manager undoubtedly has the managerial nouse to revive our flagging fortunes ominous portents appear to be hovering over him - our worst defeat in forty years naturally acting as the catalyst, but not sole cause, for wider fan unrest, reports of more rifts with players and alleged friction with the chairman. There was even a bogus Talksport lead that he has walked away from the job. O'Neill must certainly be feeling the heat right now.

And so should he after a performance so abject and result so shocking it took me three days to even watch the highlights (thankfully on Saturday I only watched the first half). The cliche 'men against boys' does not do justice to the chasm between the two sides; this was marines storming the toddler's sandpit. Even more depressing was John Terry's revelation after the game that Chelsea knew we would be ripe for the picking after 'fifty-five or sixty minutes'. So Chelsea fully expected to coast for at least a third of the game against a bedraggled, listless, energy-sapped side - it was no surprise for them to score seven against a top-half side.

I don't feel it is necessary to analyse any specific points from the performance. The whole team was abysmal, it's as simple as that. Now the next few weeks only provide them with the opportunity to restore pride to the club. If a response does not come this season then I can only sadly infer that O'Neill, our saviour four years ago, has lost the dressing room and his appetite for the job. Conversely he can reignite the spirit that saw us over-perform so often during his tenure.

Two weeks ago I posted and predicted a crucial run-in for all teams, and felt that we would come up short. Well the end of the season is even more integral to our club's future prospects now, even though any chance of fourth spot had quite patently dissipated with those insipid home draws before the Stamford Bridge horrow-show. Simply put - Martin O'Neill must prove to our owner, staff and supporters that he can improve our club and fulfill the ambition we all felt when he took over. The fans and players are still there for O'Neill, on the whole, the situation is definitely retrievable, but it has to start soon.

"In light of ongoing and perplexing reports - despite my efforts to bring clarity to the situation earlier today - I would like to reiterate one or two points which, to me, are essential. Every summer, since taking this job in August 2006, I have sat down and discussed the season in general with my chairman, Randy Lerner, attempting also to formulate plans for how we hope to keep improving the club year on year. This summer will be no different. I have a yearly rolling contract and I hope to continue to do a job, the challenges of which I enjoy immensely."

Martin O'Neill

The Race for Fourth

The final Champions League position, like it or not, is hugely important this season. In fact it cannot be underestimated just how large the ramifications may be. Consider that Liverpool are already hanging on by the skin of their teeth financially, and would surely have to sell Torres, and possibly Gerrard, if they finished fifth or lower (unless that mythical takeover happens). Even without speculating on who else might leave both of those players are irreplaceable, and they still couldn't afford to sack Benitez if he chose to stay on.

Liverpool are a big enough club with a committed enough fan-base for financial meltdown a la Leeds to be unthinkable, but then an immediate recovery to the heights of last season is equally unthinkable. Liverpool need to finish fourth more than any of the other three contenders. Whilst that might work in their favour, and they have players with experience of high pressure situations, it is no guarantee for results on the pitch. And the team have been consistently abysmal this season.

Manchester City not only crave Champions League football like everybody else, but now feel like they belong in the competition. Hundreds of millions of pounds and arsehole chief executives tend to lead to such delusions. In fact imagining the lengths to which Gary Cook's smugness could stretch if City actually achieved anything is surely enough to convince anyone that they cannot, for the good of the game. Yet the good of the game is an abstract and much abused value - the hard currency of results and league position cannot be argued with.

If City do finish fourth then the combination of Champions League football and perfectly understandable £££ related professional career decisions could well see them replace Liverpool on all of Sky and ESPN's sickeningly populist advertisements. Even if its only a matter of time before all of this happens anyway, I'd just like to stave it off as long as possible.

Spurs are the team in possession at the moment, and it must also be said the team in form. There is always the danger that a possible cup semi-final appearance may provide a distraction and tire the squad. However the rather chastening experience of clicking 'My Club' then 'Spurs' on the BBC site has revealed they face Portsmouth at home after Fulham next week, the ideal game really. The Spurs squad is durable and has good variation in key positions - I'm sure they can deal with the extra games. A lot has been said about their run in but no game is easy at this stage of the season against teams from either end of the table - its a one-game-at-a-time battle from here on in.

If they do finish fourth Spurs, who already punch above their weight in the transfer market, could really improve their squad and move on to the next level (though I'm sure any such talk is tempered by memories of the Juande Ramos era and all its promises). If they do not then we could reasonably expect to see any of Defoe, Huddlestone, Pavluychenko, Modric, Lennon and Gomes turning out in sky blue/royal blue/some version of red shirts next season. That would mean another season of rebuilding at Spurs, and realistically little chance of challenging for 'honours' (as if fourth should really be something to celebrate) next season.

If Spurs represent a lot of neutral fans best chance of a change at the top, then Aston Villa are probably the side that most fans hope make it (excluding Birmingham, West Brom, and undecided Craig Gardner-esque supporters). Martin O'Neill remains as popular as ever and a largely British, young squad has attracted many plaudits. As a Villa fan I would love us to finish fourth but realistically I just don't see it happening. Anyone who has consistently watched us this season would be as unconvinced, especially when we appear to be flagging in crucial positions and O'Neill, infuriatingly, refuses to trust squad players to start games, or even come off the bench for any meaningful period of time.

In fact I don't actually see us as being realistic contenders for fourth spot. Games in hand mean nothing until they're won, and the last few games have really provided as many questions as answers about our team. If the unthinkable were to happen it would be wonderful for the club, the area and, I think, the league in general. However as it stands we are definite outsiders, a role that suits us as a club but also recognises the deficiencies in our squad.

The end of the season will doubtless see twists, shocks, and general mayhem - the first two thirds of the season deserve to serve such an end. And with the title race seemingly between three sides who would all deserve to be Champions, and the relegation battle being fought out by numerous teams who are definitely bad enough to go down, this season might just be one to savour.

The FA Cup

After an hour of this weekend's first quarter final any watcher could have been excused for asking what all the fuss is about. A low-key, low standard game between Portsmouth and Birmingham City didn't, on the face of it, do any justice to the Greatest Cup Competition in the World©. Portsmouth, clearly bereft of confidence, failed to rouse their usually fierce home support whilst Birmingham's toothless performance belied a seemingly inflated league position and lack of quality in attacking areas.

And then the spark was lit by Fredric Piquionne. Some would call it scrappy, or a poacher's finish, but it was the classic FA Cup goal. The ball seems to take on a mind of it's own in the box on these occasions, confusing defenders and strikers alike. Fortune favoured the Frenchman and he stabbed home from inside the six yard box. Now the Pompey Chimes struck and, whereas previously only Jamie O'Hara's performance and effort had matched the occasion, now the whole team responded.

Piquionne's second less than five minutes later was a fine break away effort. Causing havoc in the Birmingham box equalled only by the Fratton End's manic, cathartic celebrations moments later, he outwitted Birmingham's stunned defence and swept home. In one moment all the stress and desperation of financial strife, administration and near certain relegation were ecstatically surmounted. The whole club rose as one and refused to buckle, and how fitting that the FA Cup should provide the scene for this resurrection, however flitting it could prove to be.

Birmingham then rallied and had a perfectly good goal not awarded when Ridgewell forced the ball a good six inches over the line, only for the linesman to inexplicably not see a goal which was obvious even on television from a far inferior angle. That said Ridgewell must himself take some of the blame for not burying a chance from within a yard. McLeish graciously refused to lay all the blame at the feet of the offending official, admitting that the goal may have proven to be only a consolation. One feels the Birmingham fans will not be so magnanimous.

The weekend continued in fine style I though with a raucous cup tie following at Craven Cottage. Spurs will feel that a draw and replay at White Hart Lane leaves them with a decent chance of progressing, and indeed on chances, if not overall play, then Fulham should have won the game. Zoltan Gera was especially culpable, missing a gilt-edged header from the edge of the six yard box.

The game was fast, direct and played in the right spirit, from what I saw, in front of a vocal crowd. The same description could be applied to our game at the Madejski earlier, yet the scoreline and storyline could not be more different.

Firstly Reading deserve all the plaudits for their performance. Without wanting to patronise the Royals they did exactly what a lower league team has to on such occasions, and they actually did it with style and flair in key areas. When Shane Long scored his first - a close range header after Mills flicked on a corner - it was no surprise and no more than they deserved.

Previously Jimmy Kebe had lashed home a left-footed half volley, only for referee Mike Dean to rightly disallow the effort for a push by Simon Church in the build up. From every set piece Reading had looked dangerous, as they did throughout the game. In midfield and defence they were first to every ball; Mills nullified Carew, repeatedly stepping in front of him and winning the ball with ease and midfielders Sugurdsson and Tabb combined industry with effective passing. Only two last ditch Richard Dunne blocks prevented Reading from improving on their lead before Long notched his second after a fine counter attack, involving Sigurdsson then Kebe.

Villa were frankly appalling in the first period. I'm not convinced by the argument that last week's final effected us too much - the second half performance disproved this. Rather we were just not on the pace of the game and not at it against eleven players who were. At any level of football that approach will only end in defeat. A dubious offside decision prevented Carew from scoring but really it would have been a travesty in a first half that saw virtually no threat from any of our attacking players in the face of committed defending.

The second half demanded that we fight for every ball, concentrate completely in defence and use the ball much more intelligently in the final third, whilst matching the workrate of our opponents. Credit to the players that they were able to do this and turned around a seemingly impossible deficit into a 4-2 win. It was never comfortable until Carew blasted home a penalty for his third and our fourth - though Heskey could have wrapped the game up far earlier.

Reading rallied from Villa's early second half onslaught to match us for the last twenty minutes or so. A spectacular goal-line clearance from Ashley Young was emblematic of our defence's efforts in the second period: committed blocks and saves were demanded from all of them. In the end we just about did enough to book a place in semi-final. This should go down as one of the classic FA Cup games, and I suppose from a neutral point of view it was probably great to watch.

Chelsea's comfortable victory over Stoke rounded off the weekend. Lampard scored a deflected goal, Terry a deflected header - both from corners. Stoke huffed and puffed but didn't really threaten the nonetheless unconvincing Hilario. The draw has paired us with Chelsea in the semi-final and I hope Cech's understudy is still between the sticks.

So a fine weekend of knockout football ends with one great story, one classic near-upset, one favourite marching ominously on and one unresolved London derby. No complaints from the fans, I suspect. Here's hoping that Villa can turn over Chelsea at Wembley, and that they sort the pitch + ref out before we get down there.

PSG 0-3 Marseille

An awful night for PSG ended with one set of supporters fighting the police, the other throwing flares at them, and both sets abusing each other - "Ici c'est Paris" indeed. The cursed club can, however, only blame themselves for this heavy defeat. Toothless attacking play allied with a porous defence meant that Marseille really strolled to victory.

The substitutions Paris made tell their own story: Traore, the centre back, was withdrawn before the 70 minute mark, captain Makalele followed soon after and striker Hoarau was deservedly replaced by the ever hapless Kezman. Essentially the PSG coach showed the whole stadium what he thought about the spine of his team, and the performance they had given. The responsibility, though, surely lies with both parties.

All this capped off an awful football weekend for me; Villa lost the cup final, Hibs drew, Cheltenham and Hertha lost. Still each of those results was probably the most likely, and I don't think Villa can have too many complaints about losing to Man Utd. PSG certainly can't after this performance, in which Steve Mandanda, the Marseille goalkeeper, was only really called into action in the last ten minutes.

With the score 0-3 by this time it was much too little, far too late. In the French 'clasico' this was never going to be acceptable and the PSG supporters let their dissatisfaction be known. The ironic cheers which met Kezman's lunge on Gabriel Heinze, for which he was booked, expressed the feeling that PSG simply did not 'wet the shirt' enough in their biggest home game of the season.

So my first experience of live French football was a bad one, but at least I saw an extreme match, not a boring 0-0. It was also in some ways an appropriate introduction to the culture of PSG. Essentially there are two sets of supporters - the Auteuil and the Boulogne. The latter are French nationalists and racists who sing La Marseillaise, the former a more racially diverse representation of France's capital city.

A protest by the Marseille fans meant that none were present at the game, but this only meant that the 1500 extra police would be caught in the middle of the more explosive battles between both sets of PSG fans. The Auteuil are actually on strike at the moment - they turn up to games but don't sing in protest against the universally hated owner Colony - yet broke this silence to exchange insults with the Boulogne, and protest against Colony.

The match was described by my long-term Paris supporting friend as the worst he'd ever seen. In fact the only saving grace was Heinze's first-half header hit the post then crept along the line without crossing it. If la sallope had scored there really would have been trouble.

Leeds 1-3 Spurs

A passionate cup tie played in a good spirit in front of a packed Elland Road ultimately ended in disappointment for most of those fans. Chants like 'Fa Cup, who gives a fuck' from the West Yorkshire contingent might purport otherwise, but don't be fooled - this was one of those big nights that Leeds has craved for so long, and provided the stage that many feel they should more regularly occupy.

Fitting then, perhaps, that this stage should end up providing the platform for other forgotten stars. Gareth Bale and David Bentley excelled, especially in a second half in which the Leeds midfield were bypassed and defence continuously opened up by Spurs' slick passing game. Defoe will no doubt get all the plaudits he deserves for a predatory strikers performance, but it was Bentley and Bale who consistently got the best of their markers and delivered testing balls into good areas.

I missed the first ten minutes of the match - Elland Road is hard to get to from the city - but the first half was a captivating affair. Snodgrass caught the eye for Leeds and seemed to have the beating of Bale whilst Beckford, perhaps more on reputation than performance, was causing problems for the Spurs defenders. At the other end Defoe was a constant menace and had already been clear of the Leeds defence twice before he opened the scoring with a mishit effort. The Leeds response was immediate, forcing a series of corners and freekicks, and Gomez into one great save, before the equaliser came.

If the home support thought that would prelude another famous cup scalp they were wrong, as Spurs came out in the second half with much greater intent and control. Still this might be the best result for both teams as Leeds stall in the league. And in any case its the FA Cup, who gives a &$*&?

Back on the Holte

On the train home from Liverpool I remember discussing the upcoming end to the season with my Everton supporting friend. The following Saturday we played Wigan at home whilst Everton faced a tough trip to the Emirates on Sunday. He told me that you never knew what could happen against a side like Wigan at home, and I laughed him off, certain that we would make a fight for fifth place.

That was the back end of the 07/08 season. In the end we lost at home to Wigan (again), and drew away at West Ham - a game best remembered for Olof Mellberg's incredible free-shirt gesture. Joel was right, and Everton beat us to fifth. I was so depressed I didn't bother blogging that match, and then left the country for a while (this was planned, not due to the depression). Now I'm back, and a week short of twenty months later I was back on the Holte End for the second leg of the cup semi against Blackburn - not a bad return!

Belatedly I've decided to reopen this blog for any game, Villa or otherwise, or football issue. I was never sure how many people bothered reading it in the first place, but welcome back if you are.