Our game at Villa Park tomorrow would under any other circumstances have the central theme of reunions at the heart of it with Dean Smith returning to the club he supports and indeed managed until very recently and our travelling support gets to see Emi Buendia up close and personal once more. That’s if Emi leaves the Villa bench of course, which is by no means a certainty.
However, should we fail to turn up and lose and Burnley triumph at Watford it will be the game that finally puts us all out of our agony and sends us down in April, so one theme overrides the other in this case.
After the Newcastle debacle Dean Smith said: “All I can concentrate on now is Villa next week, digest this game, reflect on it and see what we can learn from it. That’s all we can do and we need to come back better next week to not give goals away like we are giving away at the moment. Hopefully, we can then put in a performance at Villa Park.”
Well, we’ll soon find out what we learned after that abysmal defeat to the Magpies and if we have suddenly found the ability to cut out the individual errors that have plagued us all season.
I discovered that MFW regular Don Harold was visiting the Second City to attend the game [lucky old Don, hey] so I thought I’d ask him for his pre-match musings. It’s over to him:
DH: Martin asked me to help out with the Villa preview as I live and work in the area and I am going to the game. While these credentials might make Garth Crooks feel he could give an analysis of the game, I realise I am under-qualified. I, therefore, asked my mate and Villa season ticket holder, John Riley, to help.
I began by asking John how he thought Villa’s season had gone so far.
JR: The season’s positives would be adapting to selling our main asset in Jack Grealish and rebuilding the team – steadying the ship I guess. Negatives would be our poor form and the fact that we’re too inconsistent. Win a couple, lose a couple, draw, lose, no form at all. And we have spent big money on Leon Bailey and Lucas Digne, neither of which can seem to keep match fit.
DH: I think the appointment of Steven Gerrard was a risky one, and from talking to Villa fans generally it seems the jury is still out. John, do you concur with this feeling?
JR: Gerrard will be judged over the next two transfer windows and on a full season. No doubt he can attract marquee names [John is also an avid NFL fan – Don] such as Philippe Coutinho and Digne. Proof will be when he moves players on and implements his own formation and tactics. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt – for now.
DH: Since the end of last season Norwich and Villa have had a couple of high-profile exchanges of personnel, so I asked for John’s thoughts.
JR: Buendia was always going to carry the burden of replacing Grealish. Not the same player, but took his shirt number and had a big price tag. I actually feel he’s a quality playmaker and prior to Coutinho signing he was in his best run of form. We have to find a formation and a way of getting him into the side. Ollie Watkins looks twice the player with Buendia in the side [I’m sure Teemu Pukki knows that feeling – Martin].
I felt for Dean Smith as the remit for any manager is to leave the club in a better state than he found it and Smith more than ticked that box. However, there’s no room for sentiment in football and I understand the board’s decision after five defeats in a row. I just felt he had earned the right to one more game at Villa Park to try to turn things around. He will always be welcome back at the Villa and Norwich will be in good hands for the foreseeable.
DH: Although Villa Park is one of my favourite away grounds, I’m not particularly looking forward to the match, I think Villa will have a comfortable win [most teams’ wins are comfortable against us] and predict it will be 3-0.
JR: I don’t know about a comfortable win. The carrot is there for us to win and pretty much guarantee our survival. Everton are in big trouble and Leeds may yet get drawn into the relegation mix. As you’re pressing me, I’ll go for a 2-0 win for the Villa.
DH: So it’s thanks to John for his thoughts. Mine are that it’s a horrible irony that just under three years after wrapping up the Championship title at Villa Park, we go there with the very real possibility that our relegation will be confirmed.
Football eh? Bl00dy hell.
An almighty big thanks from myself to Messrs Harold & Riley [sounds like a good name for gentlemen’s outfitters to me ] and as they’ve proffered score guesses themselves I’m going to agree with John R and go with 2-0 to Villa.
If we ignore HRH Prince William the Duke of Cambridge [no sniggering at the back please] I’ll leave you with this gem with lyrics written by Aston Villa’s best-known supporter, the inimitable Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath fame.
I admire him so much that I even named my dog after him.
It’s a shame NCFC haven’t shown this attitude this season as we limp back to the Championship with more than a fair degree of media-perceived ridicule: