Sunday, 19 April 2009
Celtic Hammer's Villa Verdict
18 hours in Birmingham, a point well earned, an unused hotel room and a man with a lot of explaining to do. That pretty much sums up yesterday for me!
Hammersfan I am actually in Spain at the moment mate so I flew from Malaga with BMI Baby to Birmingham yesterday. I had a feeling it was going to be a good day, there was sod all traffic on the drive into Malaga and I got parking within minutes, giving me plenty of time to grab my carry on bag (I had packed my laptop and mobile internet connection as I was sure I would be posting this from my hotel room last night after my cousin wussed out and went home after the game) and arrived uncustomarily early at the check in desk. I got a text from my cousin to say he only rated his chances as 50/50 of being allowed to stay the night in Birmingham. I sent him back a quick guilt laden text of how I had only seen him once since he moved to Redditch (he works in Birmingham but commutes from there for some reason) and he was to tell his missus he would be back almost as good as new sometime on Sunday and, that after all, how much damage could we do when my flight was leaving at 6am Sunday morning?
The flight was good. I like BMI they treat you with just enough contempt to let you know that you're and incovenience but not enough to make you actually apologise so you and the crew can settle into a nice little rut of ignoring each other for the flight. I have to be honest, Birmingham isn't the prettiest city in the world when approached from the air; I can only imagine that the first wave of German bombers turned up and thought someone had beaten them to it.
I met my cousin at the hotel, which was the Etap hotel, providing a glimpse into what must have been considered luxury in communist Albania. The trip was short notice and even if my cousin was summoned home after the match, I was going to be checking out at 4am for my flight back. I could tell his resolve was crumbling and reckoned a decent result could tip him over the edge into a night on the tiles in Birmingham.
My cousin had picked up the tickets but has annoyingly never grown out of the cash strapped early 20s belief that any ticket that didn't involve climbing over a wall or shimmying up a telephone pole was good enough, so we were stuck in a filled in corner at the Holt end.
I know we haven't got the best record at Villa but I always enjoy a trip there: the stewards are polite and the Villa fans are really top notch. Chatting to many of them on the way into the game, the mere hint of an Irish accent and they start waxing lyrical about Paul McGrath. They were gutted to hear he is little more than a down and out drunk at this stage (allegedly).
I hadn't heard any team news so I was keen to see if Parker or at least Kovac were fit and I was a little worried when I heard they were both out and we were starting with the same 11 as we had against the spuds. But when the game started it looked like we would rip Villa apart. From our seats we had a perfect view when Stanislas carved through the Villa defense - it looked like everyone else was running in slow motion, good god the kid is quick. We were out of our seats celebrating when the ball left his boot, only for Freidle to get a hand (or an arm) to it. It's almost a shame there are only 5 games left because the more that kid plays, the better he looks. He is bright, always alert, has a fantastic work ethic and is always keen to get on the ball and make things happen. Tomkins look great coming forward from full back but he is still a little suspect positionally. I don't think it will hamper his development though as I see him as being a starting center half next season.
The injury to Ginge actually improved things for us as Lucas went back to right back which gave our back 4 more shape and organisation. Now I know a lot of people think he is over paid and not the greatest full back in the world, but I think the guy is class. I have always had a soft spot for full backs who push the letter of the law to its limit. I was a huge fan of Tomas Repka and I think Lucas is in the same mould, albeit with a lot more upstairs. His method of dealing with Ashley Young was pure class, tug at him, tug at him, kick him, shove him, kick him again and then look shocked when he flares up and gets himself booked! All the while looking at the ref with a face that's a picture of innocence. Brilliant!
I don't know what we paid for Ilunga or what we are paying the guy as a salary, but whatever it is, it is a bargain. The guy is fantastic. He has tidied up his defending since he arrived and looks a real handful going forward. In a full strength team he would be a brilliant attacking outlet.
I know most of you have seen the game, the highlights and the Sunday morning post mortem so I will refrain from giving you a match report. There are a few things I want to say about the game yesterday. Firstly, Tomkins will be a future captain of England, the guy is pure class. Playing alongside Upson he certainly didn't look the junior partner in the centre of defence. Rob Green must sign a new contract, although I felt he could have done more for their goal, he is the best English keeper around. I was thrilled to see Tristan score and yes he meant it. You can see the guy is struggling with the pace of the game and the fact that the legs just won't do what his mind is telling them, but the way he tackled back in the 92 minute made me glad we signed him. He probably won't stay beyond this season but I will always cherish the memory of seeing the great Diego Tristan play and score for West Ham. DiMichele is trying to hard right now, he desperately wants to do well for the club and at times the guy looks a different class. Remember it was his two touches that set Cole up for goal against Wigan. I hope he bags a new deal as I think the young players could learn so much from him technically. Noble tried to take the weight of the world on his shoulders again yesterday and his performance suffered from it. Watching Dyer walk of the pitch, he look very fresh which is a great thing for the club. Every game he plays he looks more like the player he was. We were sitting with mostly Villa fans and they all agreed that we are having a superb season and Zola and Clarke are doing a brilliant job.
One funny note was when Villa brought on DelFouneso who we pormptly christened The Fonze and everytime he got near the ball we went "EEEEEHHHHHHH". A few of the Villa fans even joined.
I did think it was going to be another plucky defeat until Tristan's deft header, at which point I turned to my cousin and told him to ring his missus and tell her he wouldn't be home. He said it would be simpler to text her and then turn his phone off. We could have bagged a late winner and to be fair it was the type of game that any end scoreline could have been easily argued and being deserved.
We hit a few bars near the ground when the match was over and had a good laugh with some Villa fans. Interestingly enough, they all wish the club had made more of an effort in the UEFA cup as they never really felt a top 4 finish was on for them this year but said O'Neill (who we all agreed reminded us of that really cool geography teacher you had in school) was under pressure from Learner to concentrate on the league even though the fans said their squad was no where near good enough. We also all reckon that if you watch a video of John Barnes with the settings wrong on your tv so the picture gets stretched, its like watching John Carew. Naturally we apologised for landing them with Nigel Reo Coker.
We ended up in the Island bar with the great and the good of brumms social scene where the main topic of the night was if an accent can make a girl more or less attractive. Despite hours of debate all we could agree on was that a brummie accent wasn't necessarily so off putting (not like a scouse accent). Unfortunately by the time we had reached this conclusion it was chucking out time and there was nothing to do but head back to the hotel.
By the time we got there it was obvious there was no point in my going to sleep if I wanted to actually wake up for my flight so I grabbed my bag while my cousin stood in the doorway waiting for the bed to pass by again so he could collapse on it. I headed to the airport and grabbed some kip in the departure lounge and some more on the plane, where I was told that I couldn't sit at the emergency exit seat (I need the legroom) if I was going to sleep through the safety briefing. I pointed out that unless anything had changed radically from the flight over yesterday I felt confident I had retained the gist of it.
I had some breakfast in Malaga airport, taking time to ring the hotel in Birmingham and asking them to keep trying the phone in the room until my cousin answered before wishing him luck in keeping his testicles when he got back to the wife, before driving home to crash on the couch and shout encouragement at Newcastle (now there is an accent that improves how attractive a girl is) while filling you in on my trip.
I can spend the next few days soaking up some sun and worrying about the upcoming game with Chelski!
Posted by Hammersfan at 15:41