I have become, I think, 7500 to Holte's biggest optimist. A few weeks ago when we asked where this team would end the season, I thought Europe was still a possibility. I did a post earlier in the year, in the midst of our extended run of bad form, about how we should be near the top of the table. "If only we hadn't dropped points," I thought.
But the problem is Aston Villa have dropped those points, and they haven't done a very good job of picking them up elsewhere. Two weekends ago, they had the opportunity to snag three points from a Fulham side that are better on paper than they are in actuality. The result? A draw that came after not one, but two leads. I know a magician isn't supposed to reveal their tricks, but someday I'd like Villa to tell me how they defy the laws of physics and constantly make 1 out of 3.
And this week saw more of the same. Gabby scored a neat little breakaway goal, and then before we knew it, Blackpool had pulled even. Voila! Presto chango! The point total has been sawed into thirds, but sorry folks, we haven't got the skill to put it back together again.
Yet this makes the situation sound dire. I am still totally convinced that Villa won't drop this year. They haven't been that bad lately. Instead, this seems like a team destined for ~14th place on the table. From where we were a few weeks ago, that's an improvement. From the fan's perspective? That might be even worse. Being in a relegation battle would at least give us something obvious to cheer for. Every win would be more meaningful, every goal would feel as if we had won a cup. But now? Mid-table? This is going to be a boring stretch of soccer made no better by a team whose only consistency has been their inconsistency. So what have we got left to cheer for? How can we make the trek until mid-May enjoyable? I've got a few ideas below, and I'd be delighted to hear yours in the comments.
Continued development: This one seems most obvious to me. We've seen glimpses of brilliance from the Aston Villa youth movement this year, and it stands to reason that those glimpses will continue for the rest of the season. I know most of us despair of ever seeing Barry Bannan again, but with Jean Makoun due to be suspended for his straight red and Michael Bradley not looking quite ready, there's a shot that our wee Scot could get back on the pitch. While this season is pretty much a wash, we should all be pretty hopeful for next year, and the youth are the reason why.
- Random spots of brilliance: Soccer isn't like baseball. In every baseball game, there will be at least one impressive play. One play that just makes you say "wow." But you don't always get those in soccer. On the flipside, however, when they do happen in soccer, they tend to be even more impressive. Have you all seen Wayne Rooney's goal from over the weekend? Put aside anything you think about the guy, and just watch it. It's absurd. Well, Villa have had a few moment of jaw-dropping brilliance this year, and no matter how the team is doing, they're fun to watch. It's those moments that remind why we watch soccer. So here's hoping we get a few more.
- The emergence of a Houllier style: I know everyone doesn't agree, but I like Gérard Houllier, and I'm eager to see what he can do with our club. Can the constantly shifting attack work? Will Ashley Young settle in at the wings, or in the middle somewhere? Will Stewart Downing prove me wrong and actually continue to play well on the right side? These seem to be the questions remaining about Houllier's style, and I'm pretty excited to learn the answers.
Strong defensive performances: This may seem to go against the second bullet point, but it would be great to see Villa string together a few matches with an impregnable defense. There are myriad questions surrounding our back line, and we have to expect that we'll have one or two new players back there next season. But for those who remain, it would be great to set the standard as a stout defensive side with the end of this season.
- Wins: Sure, they may not mean too much, but there is still nothing more satisfying than a Villa win.