It was not the time to launch a forensic examination of the flaws in the argument that Aston Villa are a big club. It was not the place to bemoan the greyness of their football, the paucity of their ambition. A match played in the dark shadows cast by Gary Speed’s death lost its meaning, its purpose.
Aston Villa and Swansea were glad to get the goalless draw at the Liberty Stadium out of the way. Only now, some 48 hours later, does it feel appropriate to consider the implications of the undercurrent of unease at Villa Park.
Supporters need little inclination to take up the cudgels against a manager they believe is guilty of underestimating their club’s traditions. The appointment of Alex McLeish as Villa manager struck me as strange from the outset, because his background represents unnecessary incitement.
This time last year McLeish was across the second city, fashioning a functional Birmingham team that won the Carling Cup, but lost their place in the Premier League. He is a warm, likeable football man, whose record in Scottish football demands respect, but no one has ever accused him of being an advocate of the beautiful game.
His teams play beans on toast football. Stodgy, unspectacular, but it fills a hole. That’s all very well at a club like Birmingham, where horizons are limited. It goes down badly at a club like Villa, where fans like to think they have a more sophisticated palate. Villa, remember, are one of only four English clubs to win the European Cup.
American owner Randy Lerner understands those traditions, but will not throw good money after bad. Sensible Villa fans understand their club cannot compete, financially, but the search for compensations is becoming fractious.
The sight of limited players like Alan Hutton, employed in a defensive formation, has become a symbol of a side in stasis. Charles N’Zogbia has been an unimpressive investment. Darren Bent is a natural goalscorer, played in less than splendid isolation.
Saturday’s home game against Manchester United is the start of a sequence that may well define McLeish’s tenure. By the end of the month, Villa will also have faced Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. A losing run will mean the season of goodwill to all men is postponed, at Villa Park, at least.