Oh, the wonders of techmology: just a few minutes to boot my aging laptop, a mad scramble to locate the password for my in-laws’ guest wifi login, a couple of attempts to remember my RCN password, then a helpless wait as the NBC Live Extra page loads and stalls and loads and stalls again. Watch a short commercial and voila—instant video!
It’s a strange experience, watching a game on a dashboard like a videogame console. The data at my fingertips is both fascinating and troubling. Why remember things when your device does it for you? I much prefer to have my remembering done by the lifelong Villa supporters at the Globe like Simon, Brian, and Rick.
The first half was a joy to behold as Villa attacked, attacked, and attacked again. Despite one supporter’s pregame insistence that Joe Cole starting was the last straw, I think most of us asked ourselves the same question: why hasn’t Joe Cole been starting all season? Villa looked lively and creative, and by the time Cole deservedly scored the first goal in the 38th minute, the only surprise was that we hadn’t gotten two or three of the things.
The data on my dashboard seemed questionable, reporting that, by the end of the first half, Villa had an unheard-of 13 shots with 12 of them on target, but whether accurate or not, they certainly captured the gist of things. Burnley may have lost concentration in the scuffle just prior to the goal, but it was well earned on balance. Even better, the game was actually entertaining to watch.
Villa started the second half on the wrong foot, looking very vulnerable, but slowly imposed themselves on the game. Without creating as many chances or showing as much creativity as the first, still looked capable of seeing the game out, holding on to a lead created in the first half, something they’ve struggled to do all season. And Lambert’s substitutions seemed unlikely to create any controversy as they did last week: Cole was obviously tiring, and Grealish is a player fans are demanding to see. The latter had less of an influence than the former, but played well and had an influence. And in taking a largely anonymous Weimann off for Richardson, Lambert appeared to have made the right moves to see the game out.
Villa’s inability to hold a lead is woeful.
And then Okore, who had been having a very good game, got caught out of position and bundled Jutkiewicz over to prevent a goal. Danny Ings comfortably slotted the penalty home in the 87th minute to score the equalizer and break our hearts again. Due to a bend in the time-space continuum (or maybe just a delay in my video screen) I saw the yellow card and the goal noted on my videogame console minutes before I saw it happen. I felt like I’d been stabbed twice.
How many players have we seen make game-changing gaffes and blunders this year?
Villa seemed as shell-shocked as Burnley was energized, and the home team was thumping on the door in added time. They hit the post and shot just wide, barely missing their chance to take all three points.
For some teams, earning a lead is difficult but holding on to it is more routine, and it’s tempting to be clever and say that Villa has that problem in reverse. Also wildly inaccurate: for us, earning a lead has been extraordinarily difficult and protecting it nigh well impossible.
The Good News
There’s good news, right? After six straight defeats, three straight draws must be seen as an improvement. And getting a goal from someone other than Gabby or Andi is a big positive. Just last week I saw a post somewhere about Villa’s reliance on true strikers to get goals, set against a trend of other clubs seeing more offensive production from midfield players. Clearly, we need more than two or three players to get on the score sheet this season. And, with Benteke coming back, the odds of that happening are increasing.
The Bad News
A perfectly winnable game becomes, in the end, a hard-won point on the road against the league’s second-worst team. (Granted, we’re the league’s fifth-worst team, so maybe this should go back up under “good news.”) Villa’s inability to hold a lead is woeful. Their record stands at 3 wins, 4 draws, and 6 losses. But three of the last four have been winnable games: against Burnley and Southampton, we conceded late goals to turn wins into draws. And, against Tottenham, we conceded TWO late goals and contrived to lose the game completely. That’s two points out of a possible nine. Add those extra seven to our current tally and we’ve stolen Tottenham’s position this morning of seventh place.
As we say in the U.S.: coulda, woulda, shoulda.
I still believe this team can and will play better, and I’m not worried about relegation—yet. The players seem to slowly be regaining some belief, although I worry about the manager’s: Lambert’s body language looks awful, and he’s aging before our eyes. And he doesn’t even have Mr. Keane to keep him company on the bench anymore, either.
Nine games without a win and counting.
P.S. A note on the stats: NBC Live Extra has villa with 18 shots, 16 on target. The BBC had it as 18 and 7. The Guardian has it as 18 and 7. I didn’t keep count, but I guess Mark Twain’s words hold true: there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.