I am never late for anything. Tardiness has never been in my book from the day I began a paper round.
Seemingly countless years of working to deadlines and a spell in the police continues to ensure that commitment level and old habits die hard. However, unforeseen circumstances (the small of my back simply and inexplicably turning to jelly as I was traversing Anglia Square) led to my missing a habitual meet-up at the Wig and Pen and arriving at the ground too close to kick-off for comfort.
I spoke with a steward mate as I always do. After he had stopped laughing at my all-too-transparent misfortune and making the obligatory “I thought you were nearly 60, not 80” remarks he advised me to hobble to the Upper Barclay via the service lift. A slow process, but I was grateful.
Ten or so flights of steep stairs were not an option on Tuesday night. The omens, I felt, were not good. Having made a monumental effort to eventually take my seat I hoped the team would do the same on the pitch.
Many of us feared the worst. There was no toxicity, apart from a few boos from The Pit when it was announced that Seb Bassong was once more being deployed instead of Timm Klose but the atmosphere in the Barclay was as flat as the proverbial pancake, certainly through a largely uneventful first half.
But we were at least playing like a team. There seemed to be a game-plan, albeit one that reeked of containment of the opposition on our own turf.
The game itself has been reported elsewhere. I will only add that Youssouf Mulumbu was a real influence and seemed to allow Graham Dorrans a little more freedom. Both had their best games in yellow that I have seen. And special praise for our Portuguese duo. Superb stuff from both Nelson and his compatriot Ivo Pinto.
So, where does this leave us?
Three points better off, obviously. The ultra-pessimists who see League One on the horizon can certainly button it as that will not come to pass. But what of onwards and upwards? A win over Huddersfield and things will truly be going in the right direction.
Many of us thought last night’s team selection appeared too defensive on paper. I don’t care – it worked. Winning ugly? To an extent, but I would settle for this level of performance in every game right now. We need those points and it really doesn’t matter how we get them.
I have seen on other message boards that some people believe our results pattern constitutes a nightmare scenario in that Alex Neil is achieving just enough to stay in situ but nowhere near what is required to get us promoted.
Some compare it to the protracted last days of the tenure of Chris Hughton. But there is a difference. While the players on the pitch care enough to grind out results, Neil has a chance. It is up to him to build on this – Villa were by no means as poor as Brentford, whatever Steve Bruce might have said about his own outfit afterwards.
I firmly believe the January window is more important in terms of who we can offload, rather than recruit. Rumours abound about who wants out.
I only know of one player who is going to attempt to force a move if possible. Under the auspices of his agent, of course. A shame to lose him, but it could prove to be for the greater good. There may well be others – I have no idea.
As for the oft-mentioned cull of the dead wood, that is easier said than done. They have to want (or at least agree) to go, and clubs who want them have to be able to afford their wages. Once more, easier said than done. Especially in these agent-dominated times.
Interestingly the sale of the player I refer to would pay for the purchase and wages of two decent current Championship centre-backs. Yes, I feel we will need two – younger guys with the ability to do the job now and also with the capability to further improve. They are out there.
James Maddison can be recalled from Aberdeen. Louis Thompson has signed a new contract (my back incident meant I missed the live announcement but I was delighted to be told of it) and we have a few waiting in the wings – Canos, Godfrey, McGrandles, etc.
While I do not have too much faith in Neil and would prefer an experienced manager I believe he has earned himself a further opportunity with Tuesday night’s performance. We are not in a particularly good place, but are in a reasonable one.
Hopefully my back and I will make it for Huddersfield. If I can turn up, the team can too. And on the basis of the Villa performance I am beginning to believe that they will.
It’s over to you Alex. You’ve done it before, so show us you can do it again. If I can make it up the steps, so can you.