[quote_center]’It was a celebration of victory in a local derby and progression to Wembley, an outpouring of relief and of joy, recognition of a highpoint in a dire last few years for Villa and the fans. Not an iota more.'[/quote_center]
Having said that, it is easy to forget that the first half of the quarter-final was actually pretty desperate stuff from Villa for large spells, characterised by a complete absence of movement or attacking invention. It was clear even from the stands that a huge part of this was nerves and the awe of the occasion, but the barnstorming finish to Tuesday night’s game simply wasn’t carried over to Saturday until Delph’s strike seemed to throw off the shackles.
A word on the referee at this point, if I may. Whistle-happy right from the off – albeit understandably, given the game’s clear potential to boil over at any point – he actually controlled the game well for the most part, once the claret and blue glasses are removed. However, the two second yellow cards he gave to Claudio Yacob and Grealish were questionable at best and plain wrong at worst. If either of those incidents were bookings, football matches would be finishing six per side all over the country on a weekly basis.
Although Sherwood clearly rates Grealish and places far more faith in him than Lambert did, he doesn’t see to particularly fancy Carles Gil. True, he started the Spaniard against Stoke, Sherwood’s first official game in charge of the club, but after an admittedly low-key display from the former Valencia man he was taken off after less than an hour.
In the three matches since that game, Gil has played a total of one minute plus stoppage time. This is worrying, considering that he’s clearly one of the technically best players at the club, and the source of most good things about Villa’s attacks in the weeks before Sherwood’s arrival. Although N’Zogbia had an impressive second half on Saturday, the selection of him ahead of either Gil or Grealish is generally baffling.
Now then. Let’s begin at the beginning – the negligence of the FA and the BBC. Why on earth was the game picked as the Saturday evening game? A second local derby between the teams in a few days, this time with a place at Wembley at stake, and fans of both clubs were given all day to drink in the pubs of Birmingham. The mind boggles. Although you could argue it’s a shame that this has to be considered as a factor, it undoubtedly contributed heavily to what happened next, and was another shining example of why TV just should not be allowed to dictate the game.
Having said that, fans running on the pitch before the full-time whistle shouldn’t have happened, although when you look at why the fans did so, it’s evident with tensions high, they mistook the final whistle and thought it was all over. It was an embarrassing mistake, which snowballed a bit, but nothing malicious.
There was nothing even remotely threatening or bad-tempered in 99% of what was going on in the ground during the celebrations on the pitch after full-time, and any calls to the contrary from the national media are nonsense. The reaction to the pitch invasion has been absurdly over-hyped. Descriptions of it as ‘an atmosphere heavy with threat’ (the BBC, ladies and gentlemen) were utterly outrageous and complete conjecture; it was a celebration of victory in a local derby and progression to Wembley, an outpouring of relief and of joy, recognition of a highpoint in a dire last few years for Villa and the fans. Not an iota more.
What makes the widespread condemnation even more scandalous is the way in which pitch invasions had previously been deemed acceptable by the media. Not even just that, but actively encouraged. When lower league sides celebrate a Cup win in this way, it’s considered cute and heart-warming, hailed as a display of ‘the magic of the Cup’. Why the fuss now, at the end of a derby match won by a team who have had such little reason for optimism and exuberance in recent years? As usual, double standards wherever you turn.
— Andrew Stone (@andrewstone85) March 8, 2015
There were certainly bigger issues to focus on than the post-match celebration. Albion fans smashing up concourses and ripping up seats and throwing them, along with coins and, from the sounds of it, generally whatever they could get their hands on at Villa fans below them and onto the pitch is absolutely disgraceful. Outright violent and thuggish behaviour, and yet a good-natured pitch invasion is deemed as a throwback to 1980s hooliganism? An absolute joke, I’m afraid.
The club should get fined for fans being able to get on the pitch while the game was still going on, and for not organising a large enough steward or police presence to handle the issue better, while Albion should also suffer consequences for their fans and player’s behaviour. Any larger punishment levied on Villa would be unfair, and should be challenged vociferously.
For now, let’s (if the media allow us to) try to draw a line under this and move on. Back to the football please. Two hugely important and lifting wins in a week and a trip to Wembley to look forward to should not detract from the necessity of Villa getting a positive result at the Stadium of Light next weekend. If Villa can go there and take all three points from a Sunderland club in disarray on and off the field, things will truly be looking up for the first time since early September.
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