Watching Aston Villa’s desperate players fail to find the combinations required to realise their technical superiority over their opponents, one could only wonder whether Paul Lambert has made his job harder than he ever needed to.
Villa are no football team, they are a messy assembly, the result of attempts to recraft the players too quickly last year, leaving a side even worse than the one they were trying to replace.
Of course, no one could criticise Lambert or the club's owner, Randy Lerner, for what they tried this summer. Villa Park last season was not a successful place. The striking thing, after years of expensive drift and casual accumulation, was the unhealthy fat comfort of it all, the lack of hunger among players who had all been well rewarded and did not show much of a wish to do more than the minimum. In Alex McLeish they did not have a manager who could obviously inspire them to push themselves.
So Lambert could have been forgiven for trying to introduce some competition, and induce some spirit, in a club where both had been allowed to slip away. James Collins, then, went to West Ham United. Steven Warnock and Alan Hutton have both been loaned to the Championship. Shay Given, Charles N'Zogbia and Stephen Ireland had all been on the fringes, but started tonight, while Darren Bent came off the bench in the desperate second half.
Tonight's team featured many of the players Lambert had brought in to replace them, such as the two Football League full-backs, Joe Bennett and Matthew Lowton, from Middlesbrough and Sheffield United respectively. Two of the summer European imports, Ron Vlaar and Christian Benteke, from Feyenoord and Genk, started as well.
The fear, though, is that Lambert has made this job more difficult for himself than he needed to. He ripped this Villa team to pieces, hoping that he could rebuild something in its place sufficiently quickly to be competitive.
But football teams need to be moulded, repaired and rebuilt over time. Changing too much too quickly just leads to Queen's Park Rangers.
Tonight, Lambert's collection of individuals were led, more than anyone else, by two he inherited. N'Zogbia and Ireland, playing through midfield, were the most dangerous players. N'Zogbia shuffled in from the right, crossing well and forcing an excellent save from the Bradford goalkeeper, Matt Duke, with a 30-yard drive. Ireland tried to string passes through to the forwards and had a goal, which would have made the tie 3-3 on aggregate at that stage, disallowed for offside.
But it did not work. Villa could get ahead but did not have the togetherness to double their lead after Benteke's opener. They fell apart and spent most of the second-half, until Andreas Weiman's consolation goal, in the destructive, mad panic of a squad who still do not fully know each other.
This was the story of Villa's season – but condensed into one particularly frustrating and upsetting evening. This is a side which Lambert has tried to change too far too soon. Tonight it cost them a day at Wembley. It may yet cost them more than that.Reuse content