Nice try, loser. - Laurence Griffiths
I apologize in advance for the disjointed nature of this post. This is a reaction piece. Please tread lightly.
Aston Villa are not going to Wembley for the English League Cup final. They managed to beat Bradford City 2-1 at home but they needed more and they couldn't do it. Isn't it a disgustingly perfect microcosm of the last three years of pure exasperation that it was a corner to Bradford City that turned into another corner that floated perfectly over the head of seventeen foot tall Belgian conqueror Christian Benteke onto the head of James Hanson, all three feet and two inches of him and right into the back of the net?
If Aston Villa could string more than 45 minutes of good football together they'd be the ones celebrating right now. The fans would be giving the Bradford City away support (which was excellent) consolation beers and pats on the back for a hell of a fight. Instead it's a feeling of absolute emptiness. A nadir of sorts for a club who continues to set the bar lower and lower with each passing season.
Coming into the match I was unsure as to why Shay Given got the start. Turns out he wasn't an issue for the most part tonight. The depth at midfield continues to be an absolute plague on the club and once it became clear that Paul Lambert had to make a change and get the ineffective Barry Bannan off the pitch the plot was completely lost. As Lambert continued to throw forwards into the mix and take off midfielders and defenders Villa became more and more of a jumbled mess. No plan. No organization. No idea where the ball was supposed to go or who was going to take charge. At one point in the final 10 minutes or so, Andi Weimann brought the ball up the center of the pitch and Bradford settled in behind the ball as they should. He had acres of space. Charles N'Zogbia meandered over to him and they ran a few seconds off the clock trying to figure out exactly who should take the ball and what that person should do with it next. There was not a single clue in claret and blue. Hey, that's a fancy little rhyme.
For three seasons, Aston Villa have not been able to sustain a good performance for more than 45 minutes. They also have not been able to defend a set piece. MacDonald couldn't do it. Houllier couldn't do it. McLeish couldn't do it. Lambert isn't doing it so far. There are no transfers on the horizon.
We tune in every week expecting all of these facts - these truths we know about our beloved football club - to simply stop existing and that Aston Villa will play well. The fact is these things aren't changing until the roster is turned over enough to make a difference. This probably won't happen until at least the summer window. At this point for all we know Paul Lambert could be having his last meeting at Villa Park. He could be getting reassured that he's safe for the entire year and the job is his should he wish to continue the arduous task of saving dreadful Villa from the drop. He might be tendering his resignation. Time will tell.
But the fact is Aston Villa will need a series of small miracles if they expect to stay in the top flight next season at this pace. If Randy Lerner really isn't willing to spend, as all of Villa's relegation rivals are, maybe they deserve to go down. And we'll all be there to support them through good times and bad. But it's time to face reality. We're going to need a lot of luck.
One last thing: congrats to Bradford City and their fans. This is an amazing moment for them and they deserve everything they've got. I was eating dinner with my wife in the neighborhood and caught their last few minutes against Arsenal, who they beat to get to the semis. I was cheering like an idiot because, hey, everyone loves an upset. Almost everyone.