I suspect few other teams could labour quite so much en route to a 4-0 win as our lot did in what will go down in history as The First Half of A Thousand Corners, but by the end it was a certified cakewalk, and for eventually carpeing the diem with such aplomb our heroes deserve all sorts of credit and an extra yuletide tipple.
Men Against Boys
Last time I checked Villa had plenty chaps old enough to know how to handle a razor – the likes of Dunne and Melberg (admittedly the latter was not one with too great a penchant for the razor – and jolly impressive he looked for it too) but it seems the current Villa policy is to raid the nearest primary school nativity play cast-list and hope for the best. Consequently some sort of world record was set, as for the first 43 minutes the ball did not cross halfway, only three Villa players actually touched the ball and at one point Lloris leaned up against a goal post and fell asleep. A tough lesson for the assorted eight year-olds in claret and blue, yet they survived to half-time unscathed. Indeed, the first half was one we have viewed aghast a thousand times at the Lane, as unscrupulous visitors arrange an eight-man defence and open their Alamo Do-It-Yourself handbook.
Handily enough, the much-needed Christmas miracle turned out to be Villa hoisting themselves by their own petard, their gamble of actually trying to come out and attack in the second half neatly backfiring as they consequently sacrificed the eight-man defence that had done such a sterling job in the opening 45.
No doubt about it, life become a jolly sight easier once Villa left gaps at the back and our heroes duly cut them to ribbons, with Bale rather conspicuously abandoning his flank and bludgeoning his way straight down the centre.
Subtlety in the Centre (or Lack Thereof)
Back to that first half though, if I may, and the lack of lock-picking ingenuity down the centre. I certainly would not utter a word of dissent to the faces of either Sandro or Dembele, for the pair of them are like genetically-engineered man-beasts, ripped into shape thorugh the regimented approach undertaken by Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV. Which is all well and good for snapping back the neck of an Italian stallion with a single punch under the imposing gaze of Brigitte Nielsen, but perhaps lacking the requisite subtlety for the dissection of an eight-man defence. Instead, naturally enough, the first half drill was to set Bale off on a left-wing gallop. ‘Tis a problem that has bedevilled us for several years now, and I’ll be darned if I see a solution in the offing.
Pardon the digression. The second half, by contrast, was oodles of fun, as the schoolboys abandoned the very notion of ‘formation’ and instead ran around in little circles and bumped into each other, while our heroes fizzed neat little one-twos forward and backward until we were four up and away over the hills. Particular credit is due to young Master Naughton for an absolute dream of a first-time weighted pass into Defoe for the opener (who knew the boy had that in him?). Elsewhere on the pitch Monsieur Lloris enjoyed one of the more straightforward clean sheets of his career, Vertonghen gave a glimpse of what a beautiful future might look like when he steps forward to intercept from centre-back, and somebody somewhere deserves a rasping thump on the back in recognition of the masterstroke that was kitting out our heroes in navy blue shorts.
Fours points represents an adequate haul so far for the yuletide foursome, and fourth place satisfactory at the halfway stage of the season. Downhill all the way now.