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FA Carling Premiership, 5/2/00
Aston Villa
That sinking feeling
By Asher Peters

It was to be, probably, my last game attended straight from Leicester (thanks very much to the East Midlands Hornets and particularly the Moores), and initially it felt like a change from the usual. A chip butty instead of a pie, home fans that actually sing, the possibility of a result given we'd played alternately poorly and then well since the FA Cup game, and a television screen actually showing the match. But the butty was covered in flour that went everywhere. And the home fans soon gave up singing. And the sequence of form was broken by a Birmingham side as it had been started by one. And the telly screen, well, they're just annoying anyway. And then the tannoy played "Baby, One More Time", and interrupted it to announce Gareth Southgate was player of the month, which I was much less interested in hearing.

So I felt like the slippery slope to defeat started at kick off rather than half time. Although we were competing with a somewhat disinterested Villa side, their star players rather subdued, the dire quality of the game seemed to be more a reflection of their lack of motivation rather than our toughness. They settled for forcing endless right-wing corners, doing the same back-post routine with each, just to show us how easy they felt we'd be to beat. Our width was customarily non-existent, neither Easton or Cox looking at all suited to their role. Nothing was actually happening of note, but it still felt like we were slipping behind more and more.

At halftime I met some friends I hadn't realised were going. Steve and James were wondering who we'd bring on; Danny was eating a hotdog. Consumption rather than contemplation offered contentment, so I spent the rest of the break wondering how they could have watered down a sealed carton of Ribena.

After a minute's play we could have gone home. The throw-in looked to have been taken both by the wrong team and from the wrong place, and the linesman seemed to agree with us, but Villa played on and scored nonetheless. We do seem to get a lot of these injustices against us, and maybe the game would have been different had this one been corrected, but it feels pathetic to be bleating about such things when we are in such a clearly inferior position. Either way we did not have to wait long for the next one, Stone blocking a through ball with his hands in front of his chest and giving it to Merson. Then I was happy we had stayed. Merson's chip from the edge of the area, for all that Day might have been a little far out, was sublime. It just floated and floated, so slowly it would have seemed like slow motion even if my brain was not slowing it down anyway, to signify the end of our hopes this seas.. er, game.

Of our returning players, Kennedy looked hopelessly unfit for a half, though Smart looked almost his old self and his skill at holding the ball up may yet be a useful foil for Helguson. Wooter came on later and continued to seem like an unbelievable soap opera character, so locked into his stereotype. He frightens defences, and opposing fans, but we all know he will not deliver the final ball needed. Still, with Gibbs, perpetually above criticism, overlapping him he was forced to lay the ball off and the veteran's crosses seemed our main threat. Helguson was hearteningly annoyed to scoop over a snap-shot, and several headers and edge of the area drives might have tested James more, but the number of Villa's goals was the key detail the game had left to offer. There were two, a stylish volley from Merson and a barely flicked header from a Villa youngster, brought on just to rub it in, probably. This last was particularly depressing, given we had had a period of pressure, but the instant they broke away I'd have put my house on a goal being scored. It all just seems inevitable, no matter who we play and how we do it.

What's left? Either a tag of 'the new Swindon', or a couple of famous victories and maybe even a major, major shock. When hope goes in football, though, even if only in the context of a season, that's when it breaks your heart. So let's keep singing, please.