‘A credit to the club…’
No, not Chris Hughton’s players – although their performance was a decent one – but the travelling Yellow Army.
Magnificent because, on a day the nation expected them to give Paul Lambert a collective piece of their mind, they showed a commendable restraint – borne of respect of the legacy he left behind.
Spine tingling in the way they roared their heroes forward in search of that wholly-deserved equaliser.
A credit because of the class shown when joining in with Aston Villa’s 19th minute show of support for club captain, Stiliyan Petrov – now thankfully in remission from leukaemia.
And to cap it all, this was the day they finally accepted the new manager as one of their own.
Hughton, for his part, also played a blinder and his first outward show of gratitude to the Yellow hordes at the final whistle confirmed the feeling was reciprocated. He got most things right during the 94 minutes too and, but for some profligacy in front of goal, would have returned down the A14 with his first away win as City manager.
As it was, he had to settle for a point against a Villa side that, surprisingly, looked to have improved very little since that desperate visit to Carrow Road on the final day of last season. I wrote back then – following their dire performance and subsequent successful pursuit of our manager – that Villa looked more in need of a Paul Daniels than a Paul Lambert. I witnessed nothing yesterday to change my mind.
Alan Hansen’s condemnation of them on Match of the Day was brutal, but summed up the thoughts of most observers. I can only guess how our friends from the second city received such a critique – I know how I would have felt if City had been on the receiving end.
Sadly, all of this makes it all the more disappointing that we were unable to bring home the three points. If ever a side were ‘there for the taking…’, it was Villa yesterday. Lambert’s post-match assertion that the game was ‘50/50’ was accompanied by that wry smile of which we all became accustomed. Villa got out of jail – and he knew it.
It wasn’t as if the chances we spurned were of the ‘sometimes they go in’ variety. They were good ones, and I’ve no doubt Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan would have both dwelt on those misses on Saturday evening amidst the joys of Brucie and Louis Walsh.
Even very late on – when chasing a winner – the opportunities afforded to Ryan Bennett and Robert Snodgrass to seal the deal were more than presentable. It just wasn’t our day in front of goal, and I remain optimistic enough to think there will be others ahead where we’ll have one chance, take it, and it’ll be enough to win the game.
There is no questioning the all-round quality of City’s play and, save for a rocky 15 minute spell after the Villa goal, they dominated possession. Hoolahan – playing at his imperious best – prompted and probed and, with Alexander Tettey looking more assured by the game, the ball was popped around almost at will. The sending off of the youngest of the Bennett triumvirate served only to exacerbate this trend, but even ’11 v 11’ Norwich were still well in control of the game.
Other than the wastefulness in front of goal, there was just one more thing that left an old worrier like me shuffling slightly uneasily in his chair – and that was the aerial success enjoyed by Benteke over our central defenders.
With Tony Pullis and his gargantuan army gathering on the horizon in preparation for an assault on the Fine City next Saturday, Sebastian Bassong and Michael Turner are going to need to deal rather better with likes of Sir Peter of Crouch. They will find themselves tested in a way that will make yesterday look like a gentle warm down, so let’s hope some lessons have been learned and that Hughton’s battle plan will be finely tuned by the time the onslaught begins.
One thing is for sure – it will be football, but not as we know it.
So, after a week of extreme hype, it was honours even at Villa Park with Hughton and Lambert both typically claiming the moral victory.
Lambert because his side overcame a numerical disadvantage to gain a point – which was true – and Hughton because his side played well – also true.
Except there was a telling difference – one was greeted with boos at the final whistle and the other with cheers.
It may have taken a while… but ‘Chris Hughton’s Green & Yellow Army’ is finally on the march.
It takes a hard man not to be touched by events unfolding at the other end of the A140. A team adrift at the bottom of the Championship; a squad bereft of genuine quality and reliant on a string of expensive journeymen loanees; no manager; an anonymous owner; a Chief Executive of questionable credentials; and senior players who enjoy a night out a bit too much.
I’m not one to mock the afflicted, but it’s hard not to be reminded of those high-spirited Tractor Boys who joyously waved their wads of fivers at us back in 2008, while reminding us how ‘loaded’ they were.
Whilst it would be pleasant discuss their club’s ‘progress’ since that celebration with those same excitable souls, it would probably be nigh-on impossible.
With their attendances now down to the 16,000-mark, I’m prepared to bet they’re part of the ‘missing’ 10,000…