Once upon a time the position was simple. Albion’s neighbours from down Island Road were a bigger wealthier club than us and usually won on the infrequent occasions we got to play them. Then came the Wonder of Mulumbu, the Miracle of Scharner, a home draw we dominated and we could all feel the crowing claret and blue monkey being lifted off our backs. We are ending 2012 as West Midlands top dogs. Four weeks tomorrow they come to The Hawthorns and we should be favourites to win but…………
They have made poor managerial appointments in Houllier and McLeish, sold their best players, narrowly avoided relegation, struggled near the foot if the table this season as Albion headed for temporary Big Four status. How we laughed. But now they are a two leg tie against Bradford City away from a major final at Wembley. Whilst a one-off tie at valley Parade might have been considered a banana skin, over two legs it would be a big surprise if they didn’t win. They’ve started picking up points in the league too and I’m starting to lose sleep about the 19th January.
It is the Cup that bugs me most. Albion, after all, have not reached a major Wembley Final since 1970 (when we won at Villa Park en route) Even in the golden age of the late 1970s and early 80s we were the “nearly men”. We won nothing and saw Villa win the League and European Cup with a team that was no better than ours. Even the Wolves won the League Cup in 1980. All those things hurt. Still do.
There is a sense in which Villa deserve to go to Wembley which is that they have taken the competition seriously. Sadly Albion in recent years, and under successive managers, have regarded the Cups as a distraction. We have had chances. In December 2010 we went to Ipswich in the League Cup Quarter Final with a realistic chance of getting to Wembley. Roberto di Matteo made wholesale changes and a makeshift Albion team lost 1-0 to a side the full strength team would surely have beaten comfortably. The league form slumped after this and di Matteo was out of a job just two months later.
It is, of course, important to stay up but supporters live for the days out, the glory. And we are long overdue a Cup final. There remains the FA Cup and I hope Steve Clarke will show us that the FA Cup is important to him. Our Third Round tie at Queen’s Park Rangers is important. If we lose that, lose on the 19th January and then see the men from Witton get to Wembley a few days later January will be a horrible horrible month, and Aston Villa will once again blight my life.
So come on Steve let’s go for it. Let’s make it our aim to get to Wembley in the Cup that matters!