Have Aston Villa actually got the balls?

You know what? I've seen us presented with the chance to take third or fourth place over and over again this season. And more or less every time we've flunked it.

Now why is that? Martin O'Neill is in the FA dock for his behaviour towards Mike Riley on Sunday - and to an extent I understand his frustration - but the Liverpool-Chelsea game the other night, I think, put a few things in perspective.


Don't get me wrong: I think Villa were the better side at Old Trafford and I and Damian both had to swallow some pride at the success of his rejuvenated 4-4-2 (interestingly without Heskey). I guess it took some "balls" to stick with 4-4-2 after the debacle at Anfield, at least.

But my reason for this post comes from watching Chelsea at Anfield Wednesday night. I'm not a great fan of the Blues, far from it - but I was in awe of the "cojones" they showed against a Liverpool side rampant on the back of recent results and with a very early goal in the bag.

There are some echoes: United scored early against Villa, and Villa then came back with real fight, pace and skill to dominate the game for an hour. Like Chelsea, we went 2-1 up, putting the favourites' star players in the shade And like the game last night, that lead was wholly deserved.

But at that point the comparisons finish.

You see, Chelsea went for the jugular. Knowing they were on top, Hiddink sent the side forward looking for a third goal. They were aggressive, tough and determined. All the big players - Terry, Cole, Essien and Lampard continued to win the big one-on-one battles and kept forcing the play forward. It was a matter of time before the third goal came, as Liverpool were rocking under the sustained pressure of a team with the balls to see the job through.

And then the best bit. The substitution.

Hiddink threw on Nicholas Anelka. You cannot imagine a more aggressive substitution. A replacement that says "we want four".

Now back to Villa. We took off James Milner and threw in Nigel Reo-Coker, presumably to "shore things up". Then we sat back and defended.

The rest is history, isn't it?

I am no statistician, but I have a feeling that there is a long line of coaches who have tried to defend one-goal leads against United by getting behind the ball. It doesn't work. It doesn't work. It doesn't work. United have the quality to poach goals from anywhere.

If Villa had some balls, O'Neill would have looked at the game half way through the second period and gone for a third. Game over. And what's more, had we remained positive, the dying stages of the game might just have been played in United's half.

Chelsea did it at Anfield - because they played with real, real balls.

We flunked it at Old Trafford because we didn't believe we could hammer them.

God, I wish we'd hammered them as we should have done.

So do we have the balls to challenge the big four or not? Cue a poll from Damian.