Learning the lessons

Dave Woodhall comments on recent events and their implications.

Ah well, in the end we didn’t get there. Olympiacos might have had the run of the ball and the benefit of a few debatable decisions but over two legs they deserved to go through. To be honest, we didn’t really blaze a trail across Europe from the off – the only times when you could say we played as well as we’re capable were away at Hibs and Alkmaar and at home to Ajax.

It’s another season without a trophy but although we didn’t win anything tangible, there were plenty of positives. For a start our supporters won friends wherever we went, while with one exception Villa Park put on a show for our visitors. It isn’t totally over yet, though. There’s bound to be a few “Fuck it, let’s go anyway” holidays in Athens after already buying the flights and hotels.

More importantly, the team learned a big lesson in how to cope with the exertions of two games a week and the additional mental pressure of being expected to win most of them. It’s a long time since that happened. In the end we couldn’t cope, but that was down to events out of our control rather than because of any deficiencies in the squad. We’ve been struggling with injuries from the start of the season and at a time when they should be easing up, they seem to be getting worse.

And now, as the season threatens to fizzle out there’s one more thing we have to do. Two games to go and while we might have enough points already, a few more would come in handy. In normal circumstances this wouldn’t be a problem but our circumstances stopped being normal a long time ago. The team aren’t even running on fumes anymore; the fumes have long since evaporated and we’re now coasting downhill with the engine off, hoping to get to the garage before the wheels stop turning.

The teams we’ve got left are both in form, but neither have got much to play for, which is a bit of a bonus. Really, though, it’s down to us. One more performance, one night of floodlit magic when legion upon legion fill the field with claret and blue once more. That’s all we need to make history and although recent events have inspired one or two comments about not being ready for the Champions League, it might be some time before the opportunity arises again. In any case, there are many reasons why getting into such exalted company is vital; for Newcastle, who finished bottom of their group this season, there were thirty million of them from Uefa alone, and that’s without gate receipts and extra sponsorship deals.

If the worst happens and we don’t finish in the top four, then if we only get one point from our last four games and Spurs win their last three, they’ll have deserved it, the spawny media luvvy bastards. We’ll look back on a season that exceeded our wildest expectations and learn.