Pitch invasions: Aston Villa in hot water over throwback to bad old days

Pitch invasions ruin the joy of second win over local rivals West Bromwich

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The Independent Online

The Football Association and its broadcast partners love to play on the nostalgia factor of the FA Cup but Saturday’s pitch invasions at Villa Park provided a rather less welcome throwback.

The scenes during and after Aston Villa’s 2-0 quarter-final victory over West Bromwich Albion have ensured that as well as excitedly awaiting this evening’s semi-final draw, Villa officials will also be anxiously expecting news of their punishment – most likely a substantial fine – for the security failings that led to three separate incursions.

Immediately after the match, West Bromwich manager Tony Pulis was critical. “Villa should look at the stewarding because with a game at this time of night, 5.30, you need to police it properly,” he said. His club’s unhappiness was underlined yesterday in a statement: “The safety of the club’s players and staff during and at the end of the game was clearly compromised.”

Villa Park, as a long-standing FA Cup semi-final venue, was the setting for many such invasions but what made Saturday’s scenes unsavoury was the sight of Albion players being goaded. Goalkeeper Boaz Myhill was confronted by a gloating fan after Villa’s second goal, while winger Callum McManaman appeared to be shoved more than once as fans ran towards him aggressively at the end. McManaman eventually had to be pulled away in the direction of the tunnel by team-mate Craig Dawson.

It was not just the Albion players who felt threatened. Villa captain Fabian Delph offered a bizarre post-match revelation that “people tried to kiss me and were biting me”. While an outpouring of joy was understandable after so much gloom, Villa apologised on Saturday night in their own statement, stressing: “The club does not condone supporters invading the field of play under any circumstances.”

The sight of Albion supporters ripping out seats in the upper tier of the North Stand and throwing them on to the home fans below was equally troubling and West Bromwich promised a “zero tolerance” approach towards those found culpable. “Those supporters should never come into another football ground,” said Pulis. The FA is liaising with the police and both clubs and any fans identified and found guilty of offences could well face lifetime bans.

Of the match itself, it seems hard to overestimate the injection of confidence the past week’s two wins over their neighbours – one to lift them out of the Premier League’s bottom three, the other to earn a first FA Cup semi-final in five years – will have given Tim Sherwood’s Villa team.

Sherwood said: “You need to bottle up the feeling that is down in the dressing room because they have been bottling up feeling sick every time they go home on Saturday nights and that isn’t a good feeling.”

A different story might have unfolded had Brown Ideye not shot over from eight yards during a first half controlled by West Bromwich. But while Albion were unfortunate to lose Claudio Yacob to a second yellow card – a “very, very poor decision” by referee Anthony Taylor, according to Pulis – by that stage the tide had already turned the way of a Villa side who found inspiration in the second-half displays of wide men Scott Sinclair and Charles N’Zogbia.

Sinclair, scorer of a fine second goal, was arguably man of the match while N’Zogbia  offered a reminder of the talent that persuaded Alex McLeish to make him the club’s £9.5m record signing in 2011.

“I’ve heard he might let you down [but] I take him on face value and he hasn’t let me down yet,” Sherwood said of the Frenchman. “I said to him I have a long memory and I know how good he was at Wigan and what he possesses and how scared managers are when he is flying. I told him he needs to be a little bit fitter and needs to do a little bit extra than the other players and he said ‘no problem’.”

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