The Doc's (sort of) Diagnosis: Villa vs Stoke City

I suspected it, and so did all of you. This was never going to be a shoe-in.

What surprised me was that I expected Stoke to work hard, get behind the ball and make themselves difficult to break down. They did that, but to Tony Pulis' eternal credit they also came to Villa Park and had a go. A real go. They played some decent football, attacked Villa at every opportunity, and had a goal disallowed which should - if we're all honest - have stood.

Stoke could have taken a point. They could have taken all three points, with some better finishing.

But they didn't. And to the eternal frustration of the cynics on this site, the fact that they didn't is where my focus is going to be.


It may sound a cliché to say that there are "no easy games" in the English Premier league. But in case you cynics had any doubt, perhaps you'd prefer to be Manchester United or Liverpool supporters this evening. Roundly beaten by supposedly modest opposition, they prove two critical points: i) you have to beat everyone - you can't go to sleep against "inferior" opposition and ii) this season's Champion's League places are wide, wide open.

I know that this is the most boring and predictable of points. And I know many of you like to read beautiful prose from the Doc. But I'm not in erudite mood or form. What I want to say is this: trophy-winning teams win games when they aren't at their best. We weren't at our best today, and the Stoke players gave their performance of the season for Pulis, but Villa won.

And that's huge.

We can't dazzle every week, every game. But the absolute top sides win every week and every game because they just do. They have the belief and the "karma" that comes with the winning habit. And they also, more prosaically, have a defence like ours: a defence that hasn't conceded a goal in well over 300 minutes of Premier League football and doesn't look like it will ever concede one again, whatever's being thrown at them.

I like the fact that we now have a team that can win with immense finery and verve, but can also win dirty with backs against the wall. I like the fact that we have a captain who plays like a captain, who reads and shapes the game with real intelligence and calls in his resources exactly where and when they are needed; and I like the fact that we have defenders we trust with our lives: King Carlos was immense again today, and is making a mockery of the £21m Mark Hughes paid for Lescott.

The cynics will be out tomorrow and will say that Stoke deserved a draw, Martin O'Neill can't revolve a squad and the rest of the blah blah blah. And Eoin1971, who knows more about football than all the rest of us put together, will find a reason to disagree with all of our views. I think he must be Capello in disguise.

It's good. It's all very good indeed. Villa are winning when they're playing well and and winning when they're not. We're touching two points a game, which is nailed on Champions League form. We're beating the best, and we're beating the rest. Just.

And anyone who fancies a little whinge, would you rather be Liverpool? Go on - would you?

I won't give player ratings this evening, because I wasn't at the game and can't go off highlights.

What I will do is give you a "Doc's Man of the Match", based upon what I heard on the radio commentary and what I saw on the highlights. And that is Carlos Cuellar, who sounds like he was quite outstanding again today. But I'm sure he's not as good as the £21m Joleon Lescott.

And since you ask, no. I don't feel an ounce of sympathy for Mark Hughes. For three reasons. First, I met him in a nightclub once, and thought he was a big-headed twat; second, he's a multi-millionaire in a world where millions are dying of hunger; and third, he bought the precious and the mercenary instead of the committed and the faithful.

These are fine times. A side that wins pretty is great. But a side that wins ugly is, in a strange way, even better.

And don't even pretend you don't know what I mean!

Doc couldn't get to Villa Park today, but he did listen to the game on the radio and has watched the highlights. He therefore accepts that this is more Doc's Rant than Doc's Diagnosis.