Unexpected Villa Joy, Fixture Postponement Moaners and Failure to Learn – GBU

Good, Bad and Ugly of the Villa Week

With Aston Villa’s fortunes more good and less ugly nowadays, MOMS podcast contributor Phil Shaw resurrects ‘The Good, Bad & Ugly’, an old favourite MOMS column that started over eight years ago on the site…

By Phil Shaw

With things looking pretty bleak all around after a Covid-19 outbreak at Bodymoor Heath, the FA Cup Third Round came as an unexpected pleasant surprise.

The Good

I’ll admit the thought of the FA Cup this year left me a little cold. It’s a competition that owes Aston Villa and one I’d like to see them win, yet this season, with the pandemic affecting so many lives and the club on an upwards trajectory, there’s a valid argument that alongside the League Cup, it should have been shelved this season, to give the League season the best chance of finishing.

Things became bleaker when Aston Villa had their COVID-19 outbreak, and were forced to play a team of full debutants against a Liverpool squad that, with similar changes, had put seven past Crystal Palace. The fact that Villa had only previously fielded a complete team of debutants once before…in their first ever game in 1874, shows you how much the integrity cup has this year and how Villa were content enough to get it off the fixture list.

My only thoughts were, damage limitation, and if there was enough alcohol in the house to soften the impact.

Of course, while there was zero expectation of a home win, the team Aston Villa put out proved everyone wrong and every player performed massively above what they were expected to do. When Louie Barry broke clear and finished after a period of confidently playing it out from the back, Villa had already won the night. 

To go in 1-1 at half-time, considering the strength of Klopp’s line-up was bordering on insanity.

The rest of the game turned into a celebration for the players and fans alike who had been worrying about a record heavy defeat in the FA Cup (the previous being 8-1 to Blackburn Rovers over a century ago).

While many of the players such as Revan, Bridge, Sylla and Kesler put in mature professional performances, special mention goes to others who brightened up the night with skill such as Brad Young with a Zidane turn in his box and the diminutive Teddy Rowe.

Villan of the Week – Teddy Rowe

Embed from Getty Images

Louie Barry has won enough plaudits elsewhere and I never thought I’d see a Villa player smaller than Barry Bannan or Alan Wright.

While it was easy to look at Rowe’s stature, a serious point about how good a player he must be to make it at academy level, when not as tall as some other defenders was quickly realised when he tore it up down the right flank not putting a foot wrong in an eye-catching cameo making him the first to be named ‘Villan of the Week’ in the Good column. 

The Bad

While all of us are making sacrifices in our daily and working lives, the grumbles about clubs having to move fixtures around because of the pandemic is not one we need aired by the media.

Fulham made it known, they were less than thrilled in having to take our spot against Spurs, conveniently forgetting they had to call off the original tie two hours before kick-off against a stroppy Mourinho after a breach by some of their players. 

I’ve got news for you, moving a fixture and having ‘only’ two days to prepare for it, is the definition of First World Problems.

The sooner everyone realises this Premier League season, is going to resemble the later weeks of amateur league level, the better. Fixtures will change, games will be congested, and things will be pencilled in. 

Club’s and manager’s grumbles aren’t worthy of print and as long as a team can field a full-strength side within the protocols the integrity of the competition is preserved. 

When, not if, there are outbreaks at all clubs, the precedent was set when Villa had no objections to Newcastle postponing the game. There’s no room for anyone to be complaining via their pals in the media.

New Lines Added to Villa Store Sale Below…

The Ugly

Fool me once.

Remember all those social media posts a few weeks ago? Surely, next year can’t be as bad etc… 

2021 is less than two weeks old and already it is reaching new depths of ugliness. 

COVID-19 is stronger than ever with lockdown in full force, there’s been an attempt at a self-coup in America, that left five people dead, and Brexit means lorry drivers can’t have a packed lunch. 

2021 was never going to be a magic bullet to cure all these ills, yet it seems nobody is learning the lessons of the previous year and are expecting things to go a certain way, without any belief they could go another. 

Doing the same thing and expecting different results sounds a bit insane, doesn’t it?

Fool me twice.

Simply put, failing to account for the unexpected is the lesson everyone should take from 2020 and football is no different.

It’s the main reason I’m such an enemy of the XG stats. They’re all well and good if football was a game played by robots that lent itself to an algorithm, but it’s not. 

All the expected stats go out the window when there’s a spark of genius or someone excels themselves. 

People who place any stock in XG, should, by definition, hate players like Jack Grealish. Players who fight against the expected nature of football and try to achieve the only statistic that matters. 

If you study XG then perhaps Steve Bruce or Tony Pulis should be your man, they play the percentages and probably love a good spreadsheet.

Dean Smith went into his first Premier League season, with a sound belief in XG and attacking football, and it nearly cost him his job.

Just because you are consistently posting higher expected stats than other teams, doesn’t mean they translate into success. In Project Restart, Smith focussed on what matters and tightened up the defence to get us through. You can see the rewards of planning for the unexpected, and not the expected goals, in our fine performances this season.

There’s also the FA Cup tie between Marine and Spurs. The failure to expect crowds gathering outside the ground beforehand just because it’s against current guidelines was shocking. 

It’s unfair that Marine’s big day was in the middle of this pandemic, but the BBC and other media outlets showing pictures from outside to reinforce the ‘Magic of the FA Cup’ narrative is irresponsible. It wasn’t so long ago that Villa fans were on the wrong end of BBC comments for a pitch invasion.

Thinking that something will never happen in a certain way, or that it won’t happen to you, is what is leading to the COVID-19 breaches in clubs and games being rearranged. Players breaching the bubble then being surprised when something goes wrong, has been a common theme and if the season is to continue, everyone at clubs needs to double down on their precautions. 

If the ugly first few weeks of the year have shown us anything, it’s that things can get worse if you don’t learn from your mistakes. 


Follow Phil on Twitter here -> @PRSGAME

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  1. The authorities have done a tremendous job getting all matches in including cups and internationals. You are right clubs should be prepared to jump at short notice as long as they have the player’s. Things could get really messy if they don’t plough on, no chance of over running because of Euros. If season does not complete, all played games become a waste of time.

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