It is no secret that I am a passionate supporter of Napoli, the club currently sitting second in the Serie A table. Supporters of the Partenopei are used to dramatic highs followed by gut-wrenching lows, but what fans have been going through this season is even more intense. In three of their last four matches, the winning goal has been scored in injury time, which, trust me, is not good for anyone's heart. Edinson Cavani has scored five of his ten league goals in the last five minutes. In total, 16 of Napoli's 26 goals have come in the last twenty minutes.
Let's compare that to our beloved Aston Villa, shall we? First of all, we have 19 goals in our 17 matches, so we're a few down from Napoli. But that's not the true concern. The Villa's problem is not so much the lack of goals, although certainly scoring more of them would help, but the fact that rather than picking up points late in the game, this is a squad that drops them. While Villa have only dropped seven points due to goals scored in the last ten minutes (plus injury time) of a match, in this season, seven points are absolutely vital.
Aston Villa dropped all three points to Stoke City in their fourth league match of the season, allowing two goals after the 80th minute mark. The Fulham match was a real knife in the stomach, with Brede Hangeland's 95th minute equalizer causing Villa to lose two more points. And, of course, we all know about the Manchester United game, in which the brilliant play of "the kids" just couldn't stop goals in the 81st and 85th minute. Two more points gone.
Although it's rather sketchy to say that we would be at a different place in the table had those last minute goals not occurred, due to some theory based on butterflies flapping their wings in Brazil and setting off rainstorms in Kenya, let's do it anyway. Remember that this analyzation is happening in a vacuum, and of course we cannot really say what the table would look like had Villa held on to those seven points.
But. Seven extra points gives Aston Villa a total of 27 on the season. Removing two from Fulham gives them 14 and puts them in the relegation zone. Removing two from Manchester United puts them equal with Manchester City and Arsenal, although they've played a game less. And taking three from Stoke City gives them 18 on the year, the equal of Everton and Birmingham City. 27 points for Villa, meanwhile, puts us even with Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland, competing for a European spot.
That's not even mentioning the fact that an 81st minute goal knocked us out of the Europa League and an 84th minute goal lost us our chance to challenge for the Carling Cup. Eliminating all goals scored against after the 80th minute would also take away our -9 goal difference, leaving us with zero. In short, conceding goals in the last minute--rather than scoring them, as Napoli does--has cost Aston Villa more than most people even want to ponder this season.
What we need is a hero. Someone like Edinson Cavani, storming in to save the Villa in the last ten minutes of a match. Someone like...Emile Heskey.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not likening the Uruguayan wonder to our solid English forward. Aston Villa play a very different system than the fluid 4-3-3 that unleashes the threat of a Napoli goal on their hapless opponents. But when everyone else on the pitch seems to fall apart, missing total sitters in the last few minutes of the match, Ivanhoe has stepped up to rescue the Villa.
We saw it last week against West Bromwich Albion. Had Heskey not scored a wonderous header in the 80th minute, the Baggies' goal in the 89th would've caused Villa to lose another two points. He scored the winner in the 88th minute against Wolves. And, even more crucially, he scored the 77th minute goal to put Villa ahead in the second leg of the Rapid Vienna tie (again, Villa lost via last minute goals) and scored the opening goal in the Carling Cup tie against Burnley (in which Burnley forced added extra time with an 89th minute goal)
Emile Heskey is one of three people on Aston Villa who have scored in the last ten minutes, the others being Stewart Downing and James Collins (also rescuing a match in which the Villa nearly dropped points in the last ten minutes). He has only played in seven league matches this season, yet has scored in two of them--both in the last ten minutes. He was introduced late in the Carling Cup matches against Blackburn and Burnley, and scored in both. He scored against Rapid. In total, he's had eleven appearances for Aston Villa this season, scoring five times, all of them late in the game.
As much as I hate it when sports announcers talk about the fact that a team is 'brimming with confidence' or 'has the power of belief,' maybe there's a little something to it. Emile Ivanhoe Heskey does not appear to be rattled by the clock ticking down. Granted, this is a small sample size, but perhaps the big man knows something the rest of the team doesn't: the game does not stop at eighty minutes. There's still time to score, and there's still time to be scored upon. This is a lesson Napoli have figured out. If Aston Villa don't want to learn it from a Serie A side, they should look to learn it from their often-maligned forward.