After seeing a sad old giant defeated by a happy-go-lucky team, for about half an hour I detested everything about football, the Villa, Lambert, the team, Lerner, the snow, the fans and myself for caring so much for a declining club like Aston Villa. Then I met some Bradford fans who turned up in my local pub and they cheered me up, they deserved to be going to Wembley and me and my team do not. And my wallet is mightily relieved about this.
It had started so well with Villa Park pulsating with hopes, dreams, expectations and free flags. The old box style stadium is made for nights like last night. There’s has not been that much emotion inside Villa park since the last league semi-final against Blackburn or when the whole place convulsed with hatred for McLeish after Bolton. A trip to Wembley is what football is all about, not being stuck in the yawnfest balance sheet boredom of the Premiership, and we were close. So close to Brummies invading London and seeing so many friends being allowed off leash from their missus on the megabooze.
The first half we played like men possessed, ok, maybe possessed by men who can’t score many goals, but possessed nonetheless. With The Zog, Gabby and Benteke all looking up for the game it felt like we would grind Bradford down with our passing game and score a few. Delph was busy in midfield, Ireland and Bannan were misfiring but still getting a lot of the ball. Then the goal came, and the place went barmy. A proper barmy goal celebration at home doesn’t happen very often and it all seemed like a formality, like it did when we drew Bradford. Surely the floodgates would open? Every fan I spoke to at half time thought we would win, talk was of the greatest match in living memory against Tranmere, arrangements were already being made for the final.
There is an argument that we were being arrogant, but I don’t think so, we were just been football fans hopeful of a bit of light in three seasons of sh*te, decline and humiliation. As I went up for the second half I said as a joke: “We’ll be fine unless he don’t make no crazy substitutions.” Within 15 minutes Bradford had scored from a corner, which we all knew would happen but instead of keeping calm everyone in the ground, on the pitch and more worryingly in the dugout panicked. There was 25 minutes left, we’d ran midfield, though players like Bannan, Lowton and Bennett were not having the best of games they were still creating chances. But Mr Lambert panicked. He went for Plan B, which must stand for bonkers. Which could not have been conceived on any other time than in the heat of the moment.
Bannan came off and our £24m man came on. And we began hoofing the ball up to the big men up front. Leaving Delph scratching around in the middle of the park watching the ball go over his head in both directions. Our strikers were getting in each other’s way. And then Lambert brought on another striker to turn the game into a giant game of attackers and defenders with millions of pounds worth of talent bumping into each other like married blokes trying to get out a brothel when the fire alarm goes. It was shocking. But I still thought we’d get to extra time, I still believed. But Bradford hung on and well done to them.
Now is not the time to scream Lerner Out (cant see any Qatari's queuing up at the door) or Lambert Out (the revolving door of managers has been one of our major problems anyway), or start bawling about going down to a league which frankly will be more exciting and more fun. Now is the time to laugh at everyone who bought a half season ticket for the Villa at Christmas because they were “guaranteed a Wembley” ticket. Then again, that must mean we are getting to the FA Cup final! Up the Villa…