There’s that moment, before the start of the first game of the season, when, despite your accumulated knowledge of the way the league works; despite the disparity in spending between the clubs at the top, middle, and bottom of the table; despite the cynicism that comes from a near-miss with relegation the previous season, you entertain the wild fantasy that THIS WILL BE THE YEAR. This will be the year when promising young talent, crafty veterans, and the players you’ve never heard of until your wily manager bought them from some Bulgarian team will make an unprecedented push for a place in Europe—and no, not that second league they might do away with someday, but the Champions League. Glory!
And then there is the sixth minute of the game, when horrific defending gives the home team an early goal.
That is the moment when you have a premonition that this year will really not be that much different from last year. That the young defenders have learned nothing. That your investment in your team will be eclipsed by your investment in alcohol and antacid.
Fortunately, Gabby Gabby Gabby Gabby Gabby Agbonlahor is really as fast as they say (which is to say: fuck), and Christian Benteke has the presence of mind to nod home the rebound of his blocked penalty shot, and then it’s GAME ON. All that optimism of seven minutes ago comes roaring back.
We did benefit from some generally haphazard officiating. The penalty against Szczesny was correct (why was he not sent off?), though the yellows against Koscielny seemed harsh. But controversial calls can’t be blamed for losing by two goals, and in the end it was the Villans who showed more composure than the big North London club.
Although I won’t say that I was composed: with a 2-1 lead and the other side reduced to 10 men, I turned to my friend Andrew and said, “Why do I feel like it’s squeaky-bum time?” He nodded in agreement: we were both too well aware of how many points Villa gave away from winning positions over the last couple of seasons.
But this year, apparently, will be different. This year found new signing Antonio Luna streaking forward to slot home the insurance goal. We have a left back who is willing to put himself front and center? Amazing.
For a moment, anyway, Aston Villa had both the leading scorer in the Barclays Premier League (Benteke) and, by virtue of goal difference, was top of the table. (As opposed to earlier in the day when we were top of the table by virtue of alphabetization.)
The Globe Pub, where I was happily surrounded by a visiting contingent of North American Villa supporters, erupted in song. A small table of Manchester United fans, no doubt surprised to find themselves in the minority, had a hard time enjoying their win over Swansea, due to repeated refrains of “We’re Top of the Table” and “Who the Fuck Are Man United?”
Well, they’re top of the table now, but we enjoyed our moment there. (And, until Man City hammers Newcastle 4-0, we’re still second.) It’s going to be a good season.
Reasons for Optimism:
Villa came from behind, got a lead, and not only held it, built upon it. Away to Arsenal, no less.
We look fast and dangerous on the counterattack. Benteke, Gabby, and Weiman are going to cause other teams a lot of problems.
Delph didn’t get a yellow card. Not only that, when he gave the ball away, he didn’t instantly hack the player who’d taken it from him. Signs of new maturity?
Reasons for Pessimism:
Porous defending that allowed Giroud’s early goal; a defensive miscue that nearly resulted in a goal-line giveaway shortly thereafter.
Well, at least Nathan Baker didn’t suffer a head injury. But the back line’s most battered player spent more time down on the turf and had to be substituted early.
Last season. As I said, it’s a new year, but I don’t want to get carried away. We will suffer some more hard defeats and make more mistakes. And, with a mid-week game away to Chelsea, it will be a challenging start to the season. That said, before kickoff on Saturday morning I would have been thrilled if you’d told me we could take four points from the first three games. We’ve got three already, and the fantasist in me is dreaming of nine.
Well, seven anyway.