It's sometimes hard to remember as a fan that even the worst team in the Premier League consists of 11 supremely talented individuals, who were they playing a match with us would have to be blindfolded and forced to only move by hopping while singing show tunes, and would probably still score a dozen goals.
Eight minutes into the match with Sunderland, Yann M'Vila provided a particularly unwelcome reminder of that fact by casually smacking a spinning free-kick around the one yard of space that the wall failed to cover and into the top corner, at an amazing pace from a ridiculous distance, having taken all of two steps as a run-up. Game on.
And yet Sunderland are still a cack team by Premier League standards and promptly proved it when Lee Cattermole decided to play surprise piggyback with Scott Sinclair. Aston Villa's New Striker (no, he's not a striker, please stop it now) slotted the penalty neatly while the giant form of Costel Pantilimon lay in the foetal position, dreading the season to come.
The rest of the half was rather fun for Villa in a haphazard fashion. Jordan Amavi scampered up and down the left wing like a greyhound, and inspired Alan Hutton, not a man to let a Frenchman outdo him, to do a little racing up and down of his own. Leandro Bacuna, tired of the limitations of being a mediocre right-back, began exploring life as a mediocre winger/playmaker/second striker. Above all Idrissa Gana banished any lingering thoughts of Fabian Delph to the Manchester City closet where he now resides, as he stormed through tackles to fire shots a little bit more than narrowly wide.
It was Gana and Amavi who connected from the centre to the left, where the full-back put in a lovely cross (and what a strange sensation to write that about an Aston Villa full-back) where the New Striker (no seriously, we need an actual striker) was on hand to prod it home.
At half-time Dick Advocaat made two substitutions, presumably after being persuaded that summary execution pour encourager les autres was not permissible. Meanwhile Tim Sherwood contained his laughter at the mere thought of a half-time substitution to protect the lead. Less than ten minutes later, Sunderland were level.
Carlos Sánchez lost a challenge in the middle of the field, Amavi had over-enthusiastically scampered upfield and left Ciaran Clark exposed. Presumably the sense of abandonment and need for physical contact led to the Irishman's clumsy lunge at Jeremain Lens, who was in no mood to provide emotional support, deftly avoiding him to get Sunderland the equalizer. Sherwood looked on, stony-faced, puzzled as to how this could possibly have happened.
A few minutes later Micah Richards redefined our understanding of physics and probability in a stunning practical demonstration of a ball failing to cross a line. Fans could be forgiven for not instantly understanding the scientific implications of the event, but at least humanity may benefit from their misfortune.
The rest of the match was a frustrating mixture of Villa being clearly better while in no way sufficiently better to get a goal. Carles Gil's introduction for Bacuna added neatness but his brain was working quicker than his colleague's feet - and while he may have been "entitled to go down" in Sherwood's phrase, he probably shouldn't have done so while throwing his hands up and splaying his legs in a ´Han Solo frozen in carbonite' impression.
The continued absence of substitutions saw the game fade into a series of speculative balls launched at Gestede's afro, both beckoning and mocking like Gatsby's green light, until the referee's whistle brought the dream crashing down.
Random thoughts -
- 4 games and 3 yellow cards, Ciaran Clark is endearingly consistent. This may not be so endearing if he receives a ban.
- On that note I'm glad that Sherwood backs his players in his press conferences, but a certain amount of Fergie "I didn't see the incident" evasion may come in useful at some point - especially if one of Clark's ‘enthusiastic' challenges goes a bit too far.
- As frustrating as this was from a Villa perspective, we can be heartened that Sunderland looked pretty dreadful. If Cattermole and Van Aanholt continue in the side they'll be down for sure, but Advocaat may well have them in unmarked graves before the winter break.