Stoke City 2 – Aston Villa 1

Christmas travel didn’t go as well as it could have. On Friday evening, my wife, sons, and I found ourselves at a ticket counter in Chicago’s Midway airport, being assured by a trainee agent that we were certain to miss our connection in Denver. We could always go home and try again Sunday, she suggested cheerfully. As that would have meant missing my brother and sister-in-law’s cocktail party Saturday night at their home in Salt Lake City, my wife and I decided to be bold and board the plane. Given that air travel is seemingly governed by random chance, we decided to take the long odds that our second flight would be delayed as well.

Well, it departed ten minutes before we landed, leaving us and all the other Salt Lake City–bound passengers stranded for the night. Again we were offered a Sunday alternative, Salt Lake by way of Los Angeles, but again we declined. We got our tickets refunded, our baggage sent up to the carousel, and rented a car. Given our short ride on the Denver airport’s underground tram, we were now officially entering the land of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Or, you could argue, we were one one rental van and one polka band away from going Home Alone. (Either way, we were in John Candy territory . . . Candyland?)

We left Denver the next morning in dense fog, and I would spend much of the day white-knuckling it through unpredictable combinations of snow, black ice, blinding sun, blowing snow, and extreme elevation changes. We must have seen a half-dozen wrecks. And so, though my mind strayed occasionally to the game being played at the Britannia, it was most often on more important things, like delivering my family to the place where Brigham Young said, “This is the place”—alive.

Villans at the Britannia
Villans at the Britannia

Outside Buford, Wyoming (elevation 8,000 feet, population 1) my wife checked the score for me. When she told me the result—Stoke 2, Villa 1—I allowed myself a few modest expletives, bowdlerized for the young ears in the back seat, and then returned my attention to the road. I’d hoped we would give them a game and earn a point on the road. Stoke, after all, is the stereotypically difficult away game. And though the loss was disappointing, I reasoned that our streak of three losses in a row was merely a correction after our five-game unbeaten streak. And, surely, we would get back on track against the relegation-bound London team coming to visit on Boxing Day.

Aston Villa 0 – Crystal Palace 1

Nathan Baker and Howard Webb
Nathan Baker and Howard Webb

My brother doesn’t have cable, and due to my own unplanned change of cable providers back in Chicago, I found myself lacking the account number and password I needed to watch the NBC feed on my phone—so I turned to Twitter. If there’s a less enjoyable way to follow a game than by spending ninety minutes hunched over your phone, constantly refreshing your feed so you can learn about the botched chances and missed opportunities of a nil-nil draw via the sarcastic remarks of a seemingly random group of people who actually are watching it, let me know. Maybe if a nearsighted mumbler were reading the tweets for me?

As incensed as I was to be settling for A LOUSY POINT taken AT HOME against a team WHO SHOULD BE RELEGATED, still, it was a point—never hurts to get going in the right direction, right? But then, in the 92nd minute, this:

@AVFCOfficial: #AVFC 0-1 #CPFC - Goal to Palace. Dwight Gayle curls it past @BGuzan. #AVFCLIVE

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuckity fuck.

At least my kids weren’t listening.

But, hey, two days from now, still time to salvage something against Swansea City, a team coming off two losses and two draws. Although I couldn’t help but think it would be safer to play them away . . . .

Aston Villa 1 – Swansea City 1

Home at last! After a late-night arrival, and some belated Christmas-present opening in the morning, I settled in to watch the game on my own couch with a strong cup of coffee. Nothing like a seventh-minute goal from Gabby to settle the nerves, right? Villa so often start strong, and so often have nothing to show for it—this was, after all, Villa’s first first-half goal at home this season—that I felt an unfamiliar feeling in my chest. It it wasn’t gas, and it wasn’t the first signs of cardiac failure . . . could it be hope? That, having at long last scored a goal, we might get, dare I say it? A second goal?

Brad Guzan wonders where it all went wrong
Brad Guzan wonders where it all went wrong

No, must have been gas. Or maybe I’m dead now and haven’t yet realized it. After their bright start, Villa again retreated, started giving the ball away, hoofing it desperately toward the only landmark visible on the visitors’ half of the field, Mount Kozak, only to see Swansea come roaring right back at them. In the end, we were lucky to get even a point, as the Swans were certainly better value for their money. Lamah’s goal in the 36th minute certainly didn’t seem as though it would be the last.

And there you have it: one point out of nine, with two of those games played at home. Against teams that currently sit 12th, 11th, and 17th. But then, what do you expect from a 13th-place team like Villa? Given a tweet I recently saw about Lerner’s spending being 15th in the Premier League, maybe we’re overperforming?

Reasons for Pessimism

Let’s just say passing, possession, shooting, creativity, leadership, management, and ownership and leave it at that for now.

Reasons for Optimism

I’m still working on this. Let me get back to you after New Year’s.

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