My original plan was to drop out of society at 11:30 or so this morning and watch the replay when I got home from work, but the gnawing pain in my stomach when I woke up this morning made it clear that there was no way that was happening. I revised my plan to follow along via live text, watch the last half hour or so on my lunch break and watch a replay when I got home. I neglected to account for the fact that drinking at work tends to be frowned upon.
This isn't going to be a recap in the traditional sense. You all saw the match and if you didn't I'd imagine you're not especially interested in the details. The story was a familiar one; Villa thoroughly dominated the run of play, but they couldn't finish their chances, the defense was prone to mental lapses and the final result was a loss. It's a familiar story, but it's made all the more painful by the fact that this loss meant an exit from the League Cup and came at the hands of their most bitter rivals. I think that I've done a fairly decent job of remaining optimistic this year (or at least have been able to emphasize the good over the bad) but we all have our breaking points and I think mine was found today. I'm thrilled that Barry Bannan continues to look like a star in the making and that Villa's quality in most facets of the game continues to shine through. All of that stuff is just great. But none of it matters at the end when you've been knocked out of the cup by your greatest nemesis.
I've said it before, but this wouldn't be as frustrating if the problems were being caused by the kids, but they're not. Luke Young was (once again) the worst player on the team today. Ashley Young missed an absolute sitter that would have put Villa ahead late in the going. Richard Dunne gave away a penalty. The kids were fine, but they can't do everything. There is no way that Aston Villa should have left St. Andrews the losers after their performance and given the gap in quality between they and Birmingham City, but they did. A lot of people will call that luck. And while I'm one of the last people you will ever meet to discount the role that chance plays in sports, but at a certain point it stops being the most plausible explanation. I feel like we're getting close to that point.
You can't blame Gerard Houllier; all he can do is set the teams and the tactics, and it's been very seldom that Villa haven't looked impressive especially you consider the circumstances under which he took over the club. You can't blame Randy Lerner; he's been willing to spend a lot of money on the club in terms of transfers and upgrades to the facilities and player development program. You can't blame the kids; they've been the only thing that's made this season worth watching. That doesn't leave a lot of places to find culpability and I trust that you can discern where it is that I think it should fall. It's getting beyond tiresome to see fantastic efforts wasted by an inability of the players being paid the most to perform in the manner which is expected of them.
All in all, this was as frustrating as it gets. I understand why the bigger clubs don't take the League Cup very seriously, but for the moment it's a competition that a club in Villa's position should place a lot of importance on. It's the chance to win silverware and perhaps more importantly it's about the only chance they have to make an appearance in Europe next season. To see it end in the manner that it did to the team that it did was pretty devastating. And then of course there was the unpleasantness that transpired after the final whistle was blown. From all accounts both sides shared in the blame, and while the vast majority of supporters were in no way at fault (as is usually the case) the actions of the few got most of the attention. Hey, idiots: sports are supposed to be fun. Stop using them as an excuse to channel the pent-up aggression your empty, meaningless lives have instilled in you.
Sports can be fantastic. As entertainment, as emotional release, as a rallying cry for communities or entire nations. But they can also be dumb. Pretty much everything about this game was really, really dumb.