Football: Hodgson's sharp reminder of home truths
Aston Villa 2 Darlington 1
Monday 13 December 1999
The Darlington manager, whose side were allowed back into the FA Cup as a wild-card entry because of Manchester United's withdrawal, reacted tetchily when told his Premiership counterpart believed Villa should have won 5-1.
"Good luck to Mr Gregory, I'm delighted for him," Hodgson said, his sarcasm barely disguising a contempt reputedly stemming from their playing days. "Perhaps that's why Villa are where they are in the table. Maybe he should ask their fans what they think. There were only 18,000 of them here. That should tell him something."
Whatever his agenda, Hodgson had a point about the crowd of just 22,000, to which Darlington contributed around 5,000 followers as well as some desperately needed atmosphere. Although Villa had slashed admission prices to pounds 10 and pounds 5, large numbers of their supporters again stayed away.
Villa Park attendances may not simply be a protest against poor results but part of a broader trend. Having priced out the working-class spectators who populated the old, traditional terraces - like the Holte End, which had swathes of empty blue seats on Saturday - clubs who fail to deliver on the pitch appear unable to count on the loyalty of the mobile-phone brigade who literally took their places.
Plummeting receipts, for whatever reason, are another factor for Doug Ellis to consider in evaluating Gregory's position. Sacking him would be costly, because a new incumbent invariably wants to buy players. Against that, the chairman must decide how far the season can be allowed to drift before he acts.
The next six days, in which Villa face a likely West Ham backlash in the Worthington Cup before receiving Sheffield Wednesday, will be critical for Gregory. Under the terms of his 28-day touchline ban, he will watch both matches from the stand. As well as denying him the opportunity for conflict with the fourth official, the change will enable him to gauge his employer's mood at uncomfortably close quarters.
The sight of high earners like Benito Carbone and Paul Merson engineering a win rather than warming the bench doubtless heartened Ellis. The Italian scored his first Villa goal with a stunning volley late in the first half, and the faithful booed when he was replaced by Julian Joachim, just as they did when the roles were reversed at Everton.
Dion Dublin headed the second, climaxing a spell in which Merson provided invention where there is too often only industry. Villa seemed to be cruising, but Darlington, who went close either side of Carbone's opener, gave the tie a belated twist of tension. After David James parried Peter Duffield's penalty, Paul Heckingbottom ran in the rebound.
As the "Darlo" contingent roared "Are you watching, Hartlepool?", their eccentric chairman, George Andrews, swayed with scarf aloft in the posh seats. Gregory, a whistling, waving, shouting dug-out fidget at the best of times, may find similar breaches of protocol hard to resist.
Goals: Carbone (43) 1-0; Dublin (63) 2-0; Heckingbottom (71) 2-1.
Aston Villa (3-5-2): James; Ehiogu, Southgate, Barry; Delaney, Merson, Taylor, Thompson (Stone, 80), Wright; Dublin, Carbone (Joachim, 82). Substitutes not used: Vassell, Calderwood, Cutler (gk).
Darlington (3-5-2): Samways; Liddle, Aspin, Tutill; Oliver, Atkinson (Brumwell, 65), Heaney, Heckingbottom, Gray (Reed, 90); Duffield, Nogan (Hjorth, 69). Substitutes not used: Leah, Finch (gk).
Referee: P Richards (Preston).
Bookings: Aston Villa: Taylor. Darlington: Gray, Atkinson.
Man of the match: Merson.
Latest in Sport
Ashley Cole and Luke Shaw rise to the bait to deny they are the rumoured 'gay England footballer'
West Brom 0 Manchester United 3 match report: Manchester United stick to the script as Robin Van Persie loses the plot
Chelsea 4 Tottenham Hotspur 0: Manager Tim Sherwood calls on Spurs to show guts following heavy defeat
Arsenal 4 Everton 1 match report: Revitalised Mesut Özil breathes life into Arsenal
West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United: Is Wayne Rooney really in Robin van Persie’s way at United?
- 1 To those who can’t see the point of International Women’s Day: you are the very reason it exists
- 2 International Women's Day 2014: The shocking statistics that show why it is still so important
- 3 Orgasm machine to deliver climax at the push of a button
- 4 Singapore sting: Sky-high prices are pushing locals to the edge of affordability
- 5 Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role because late wife Natasha Richardson said she wouldn't marry him if he took it
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Ukraine crisis: Russia dismisses '3am ultimatum' as 'total nonsense'
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
White people become less racist just by moving to more diverse areas, study finds
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: A small but growing chain of boutique hot...
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: The company works with Tier 1 FTSE 100 Ba...
£45 - 60k Per Annum: Charter Selection: Highly profitable leisure brand, marke...
£30000 - £50000 per annum + Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: Residenti...