Bradford City continued their fairy tale Capital One Cup story by beating Aston Villa 4-3 on aggregate in the semifinal on Tuesday. While Wembley beckons for the Bantams, serious questions face Paul Lambert and his men.
Although it was 2-1 on the night, courtesy of another late Andi Weimann goal, Bradford advance to Wembley and have the chance to lift a cup and secure European football next season.
As an Aston Villa fan, I am astounded for several reasons.
If you're a regular reader, you'll know that aside from my penchant for Christian Benteke, I do my level best to remain objective and open-minded. Unfortunately, I simply cannot ignore my vested interest this time around.
2012 was not fantastic for Birmingham's historic club—there was nothing positive about the Alex McLeish reign other than the lowering of the wage bill, and Paul Lambert's time was tarred with the same brush.
Coming into 2013, hopes were high. The 2-2 draw at Swansea City was just the tonic we needed to overcome a dismal Christmas period, yet even that felt like a loss considering the nature of Danny Graham's equaliser.
Surrendering a two-goal lead at Midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion and an undeserved loss to Southampton hardly helped the feel-good factor return to Villa Park, but it was clear that a great performance was just waiting to surface.
Oh how we hoped it would be against Bradford. Oh, how we were disappointed.
But the backlash—even in the immediacy of the defeat—is way off the mark. Twitter is a powerful tool, but it's put to misuse by millions every minute. If you took Twitter as a consensus, you'd think Lambert being sacked is the way to go.
Sacking the manager does absolutely nothing at this stage, and for the record I believe Lambert is still the right man for this job. Fans will ask how I can defend that opinion, but in turn I ask those fans to sleep on their anger.
The 3-1 loss at Valley Parade is the determining factor here. It's an undeniable fact that Villa have looked susceptible at the back without Ron Vlaar, but now the Dutchman has returned and things still aren't going our way, a new scapegoat must be made.
It's legitimate to suggest Christian Benteke's inability to man-mark has directly caused four goals conceded in recent weeks; he lost Ivan Ramis to set the tone against Wigan Athletic; he lost Billy Jones against West Brom, and he made two errors against the Bantams.
Shay Given—a goalkeeper who has historically struggled coming off his line—was subjected to two games against a lower-league side who simply love to pound the box. Was he the right choice?
Villa naturally sacrificed width by bringing on more strikers in desperate search of a goal, but many managers would have waited till the 80th minute to try something new and be berated for it.
It was not a perfect night, nor a perfect two-legged tie, but the damage was not done tonight—Villa won 2-1.
The backlash is unacceptable. The calls for Lambert to be sacked are both ill-advised and unacceptable.
Much like Martin O'Neill built a team only he could prosper with, Lambert has done the same. What manager walks into this tough a job and prances away from the threat of relegation?
It's pretty obvious that Randy Lerner is sticking with Lambert even if Aston Villa are relegated, making the calls, boos and derogatory messages to players nothing but inexcusable, negative actions that weigh the club down even further.
Lambert works within the constraints he's given, and footballers of quality cost an awful lot these days. Some fans cast their eyes to Tyneside and remain envious of Alan Pardew's Ligue 1 dealings. While I am jealous of Newcastle's phenomenal business this winter, who's to say our dressing room is the right place for those new recruits?
While Pardew sets about detaching Newcastle from the United Kingdom with a hammer and chisel, adopting French as the primary language and establishing the city as new-found colony, who are any of us to say this is the route Villa should take?
Last year we moaned because of Alex McLeish's drab, negative tactics—pump the ball up to Darren Bent and see what happens.
This year, Lambert has treated us to as much tactical flexibility as you could possibly ask for: the 4-2-3-1, the 4-4-2, the 3-5-2 and the midfield diamond—I'm in dreamland!
Finally some positive changes: attacking football!
Charles N'Zogbia is coming back into form, Vlaar is on the pitch and Richard Dunne is training. Benteke is scoring, Weimann is reliable and Fabian Delph is finding some form.
Villa fans, your anguish is understandable, but this is the wrong time to be expressing it. Elimination from a cup semifinal hurts, but the moans and groans are having a terrible effect on a young squad.
Get behind this team and they will stay up. It starts with us!