Christian Benteke red-cardedRemember when Aston Villa finished the season in sixth place three consecutive times? They didn’t do much of anything in Europe, but that was awesome.

Remember John Carew? He was awesome.

Remember Martin O’Neill? Well, he refused to rotate his players, and drove them like rented mules until they all but died in the traces but—still awesome.

(You know who else was awesome? Chris Farley.)

I have become the guy who supports a team
for whom sixth place may as well be
the fucking moon.

Sometimes you just want to take a warm bath in good memories as a respite from the cold rain of reality. Lifelong Villa supporters can go back to the early ’80s for a league championship and European glory, but Americans who have come on board in the last decade or so have different reference points. Funny to think of sixth place as the high-water mark but there you have it.

And, you know, I think of myself as the kind of guy who could be satisfied with a team that finishes sixth and seems capable of cracking the top four, even if they never quite manage that feat. And yet I have become the guy who supports a team for whom sixth place may as well be the fucking moon. In fact, Villa are probably more likely to reach the moon than sixth place, because, as soon as Virgin Galactic stops crashing their spacecraft, YOU WILL BE ABLE TO BUY A TICKET TO THE MOON. (Cue Electric Light Orchestra, “Ticket to the Moon.”) What the team really needs is a clue and apparently those are unobtainable at any price.

*     *     *

What happened yesterday? Villa finally provided relief for some size-5 blue balls by actually scoring a goal in the sixteenth minute, a typical luck-and-hustle finish by one Mr. Weimann. Even more significantly, Christian Benteke looked like, well, Christian Benteke. He looked dangerous and hungry for a goal, and a little unlucky not to have bagged one in the first half. Villa looked not only the equal of Tottenham, they looked better, with the London team’s expensive and creative players the ones who looked bereft of ideas.

A goal drought of 547 minutes was over, and a second goal seemed imminent. Fans of the game who subscribe to Eduardo Galeano’s notion of the goal as orgasm were looking forward to their first multiple orgasm in a long, long while.

You may as well red-card the whole team.

Then Benteke became upset and touched the face of Tottenham’s Ryan Mason and was shown a red card. Just like that. If there’s such a thing as a soft red card, that was it, but rules are rules and as a highly paid professional he should have known better. He will now miss the next three games, the standard penalty for “violent conduct.” (Apparently, the word “violence” has been redefined to mean “checking the closeness of your opponent’s shaving.”) For a team like Villa, whose ability to score resembles a fourteen-year-old with halitosis, acne, and a current membership to the Society for Creative Anachronism, three-and-a-half games without the services of a resurgent Benteke is . . . well, you may as well red-card the whole team.

But still, Villa looked like they would hold on to the game and win some badly needed points . . . until the 84th minute, when Gabby showed why forwards don’t make good defenders and suddenly the visitors were level. Still, a point seemed a likely consolation prize—until the 90th minute, when Baker, whose head is so often the focal point of highly charged moments, wrong-footed Guzan on an otherwise pedestrian free kick. (Given away by a bad Sanchez tackle, it must be noted.) Tottenham didn’t pack a lot of punch on Sunday, but it only took those two hits to knock out their hosts.

Momentum and confidence are huge difference makers, and I can’t imagine the mood in the dressing room right now. If you lose when you play poorly, and lose when you play well, why bother lacing your boots?

Villa’s six straight defeats marks the first time that’s happened since 1967. And, as the Lord Mayor of Birmingham reminded me last year, the early 1970s saw Villa playing third-division soccer.

I still believe this year’s team is better than last year’s team, but if they are, they’d better start proving it.

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