The Doc's Diagnosis: Villa vs Wigan Athletic

I think there are times when stubbornness or single-mindedness are praiseworthy attributes. But not when they cross the line. Not when they blunder into blindness. Not when they enter into the realm of the three monkeys.

I don't care what you think about Gareth Barry or his mercenary move to Eastlands. There was a massive, Gareth-Barry-shaped hole in the centre of the Villa Park pitch today, and it was crying out to be filled. Crying out. Perhaps only the equally large Martin-Laursen-shaped hole in the centre of Villa's defence was as remarkable.

But don't get me wrong. I don't want this to be a tirade about Martin O'Neill's failure to restore the backbone of our team. I don't want to bang on about how obvious it's been for weeks and months that we needed to fill those massive holes with commanding, authoritative presence. I'm fed up with transfer talk and this Diagnosis isn't going there.

But I'll tell you where it is going. And that's right to the heart of the tactical intransigence and complete stubbornness shown by our manager. Because believe me, this was a tactical shocker. A day in the dark. A Hammer House of tactical horror.


Although it's fading, I still have belief that Martin O'Neill understands the scale of the problem presented by Gareth Barry's departure. And, if rather grudgingly now, I still harbour some anticipation that he will recruit a player capable of filling Barry's boots.

Like many Villains today, I feel angry and let down. Not because we lost - indeed, even the nine-year-old son I took to today's game already understands that sometimes you lose games. But because we lost when we didn't need to. We lost because we never really started. We lost because we surrendered the initiative to a sprightly Wigan side before a ball had been kicked.

It's not rocket science, Martin. It really isn't. But it becomes damned complicated when you've got the goggles on: you know what I mean, don't you? Those 4-4-2 goggles. Those Heskey goggles. Those "I'm going to show John Carew who's' boss" goggles.

Now, like Damian and many more of you, I'm on record as being a fan of O'Neill and a believer in his ability to take us forward. But at the same time, I did voice some recent concerns. I wrote that I was concerned by his tactical rigidity, his seeming inability to change a game in mid-course, and his over-reliance on a favourite players and a favourite formula which can be all too easily worked out by opponents.

Well, I guess all those chickens came home to roost today.

I don't always agree with Damian, and that's fine. But one thing we do agree on is that 4-5-1 is the system that suits Villa best. Even with Barry and Laursen, it still gave us a compact centre midfield and allowed our more pacy and skilful players to go and be - well - pacy and skilful. Our best players are young and fast, and love to get wide - love to cause problems down the flanks. But to do that you have to buy the licence: and that licence comes from having two solid midfielders holding the centre of the park. Full stop.

I feel sorry for Fabian Delph and I feel sorry for Stiliyan Petrov. Delph was handed a debut - and like many of you I was up for that - but was left in no mans land. Petrov, newly installed as Club Captain, quite simply had too much to do. O'Neill dumped both of them in the brown stuff, leaving quality, capped box-to-box midfielders twiddling their thumbs on the bench. Is there anyone else out there who - after 10 minutes - thought that we were desperate for Nigel Reo-Coker?

Today's game screamed for a five man midfield. It would have allowed Webcam and Jimbo to get wide. It would have given Delph just a little more time to settle and pick his passes. And it might have offered some protection to the defensive trifle that Curtis and Carlos managed to conjure up. It was like watching the Keystone Cops all over again.

I don't really know how to sum up - I'm so angry, hurt and disappointed.

So let's try this:

1. Martin - you're a decent manager, but get off your high horse damn quick and start being flexible. Or you're going to lose friends - tens of thousands of them

2. Martin - you have a side whose key attribute is pace. The ball has to go wide, wide and wider still - and to do that we need three men in the centre of midfield

3. Martin - we don't give a stuff what you think: we happen to know that John Carew is better than Emile Heskey. Trust us on that one.

Yesterday was pathetic. The way we marooned Stan and Fab in the centre of the park against a 5-man Wigan midfield was just ... sorry, you find the word.

I'm sorry folks. No player ratings this time. I can't be bothered.