Another bright start—a bright start that, in this case, lasted about an hour—followed by another home loss. (According to Soccernomics, playing at home is statistically good for a one-goal advantage, so apparently we avoided an 0-3 humiliation.) Another game in which we had chances we failed to finish—although I can only shake my head at Tim Howard’s save of Benteke’s penalty. Benteke could arguably have hit it harder but it certainly was well placed. And against ANY OTHER TEAM I would have been pumping my fists just like the U.S.A.’s number-one keeper after he made the save.
So we lost a game in which we played well, which feels like some measure of progress compared to seasons past in which we were so uninspired, so abject, that it was hard to think of Villa as “my team.” (And yes, I’m looking at you, McLeish.) But there are no points for if-only.
There’s a scene in Spinal Tap that offers one of my favorite throw-away lines of all time. Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins, and Derek Smalls are visiting Elvis’ grave:
St. Hubbins: Well, this is thoroughly depressing.
Tufnel: Well, it really puts perspective on things though, doesn’t it?
St. Hubbins: Well, it’s too much. There’s too much fucking perspective, now.
For the rest of Saturday, I felt depressed by the perspective the game had put on things. Losing to Everton, a team with a history of drawing or losing at Villa Park, painfully illustrates the difference between the two sides’ start to the season. You could argue that we should be an Everton, a well-managed, mid-budget team perpetually lurking around the middle of the top half of the table. You could argue that we will be—but don’t try that this week.
Sunday I felt a bit better. I tried to broaden my perspective to include the whole Premier League, not just two teams. Now, call me crazy, but I’ve been basically optimistic all season. I saw bright spots even in our 0-4 loss to Tottenham in the League Cup. Yes, we lost soundly, but I still held on to the sense that we were better than the scoreline showed. I kept my head up when they beat us again 0-2. Hey, they’re a side with Champions League ambitions and money to burn after selling Gareth Bale to Los Blancos (and, while he’s shooting blanks, it’s Andre Villas-Boas who’s laughing all the way to the bank).
Perspective. Let’s take a big step back. Then another. Aaaaaand another—careful, you just spilled that guy’s drink.
We’re nine games in. In league play, we’ve faced: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Newcastle, Norwich, Manchester City, Hull, Tottenham, and Everton. Our first three opponents currently occupy the first three spots in the table (interestingly, in that very order). And SEVEN of those nine are currently in the top half.
You could argue that they’re in the top half with our help, but still: no one would argue that Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City, Tottenham, and Everton won’t finish in the top half at the season’s end. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t we have just 6 points after 9 games last year—and without having played the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, or Man City?
So we’ve got 10 points. November’s schedule includes West Ham (currently 15th), Cardiff (currently 16th), West Brom (12th), and Sunderland (19th with a bullet!). Nothing is certain. But if the team stays mentally strong, results are bound to improve. Some of those chances are bound to fall. Benteke, getting fitter, will find his game. And Luna might even find his way back to his position when it counts.
That said, if we don’t pick up at least seven points from the next four games, then I’ll be starting to worry, too.