Aston Villa v West Ham United

Preview Percy set a new world record this week as he became the first person ever to achieve a blood pressure reading with a comma in it. We wonder if a certain referee might have had something to do with it.....

Next up we go to Birmingham where our hosts will be Aston Villa. Kick-off is at 3pm this Saturday and the weather forecast is damp, becoming miserable, progressing to downright horrible as the day progresses. Drive safely if that's your mode of transport.

Our hosts have had a bitty type of season so far, sitting as they do in 10th spot with 27 points from their 24 matches so far. Their last 6 read DWLDWL, those being in order a 1-1 home draw against Swansea, a 1-0 away win at Sunderland, a 2-1 home defeat to Arsenal, a 2-2 draw at Anfield, a bizarre derby win at 4-3 at home to West Brom and a 2-1 defeat at Everton last weekend.

Villa were, of course, responsible for giving us all a laugh on the opening day of the season by setting off some of the most self-pitying hand-wringing ever seen outside Merseyside when they beat Arsenal 2-1. If you'd given Arsenal second place at the end of the season at that point they'd have bitten your arm off. It'll be interesting to see the reaction when they finish third then.

Based on that start to the season Villa might have expected to be a little more comfortably-placed than they are. As we saw last weekend, 10th spot is no guarantee of safety just yet - an away win would see us sitting just two points behind them - and the spotty work experience kid tells me their home record s something similar to ours, with their faithful seeing three wins, two draws and seven defeats on their own patch this season.

Talking of the spotty work-experience kid, he has produced his usual reams of partly researched, partly made-up stuff about all their players. However we at the Avram Grant Olympic Rest Home For The Bewildered are spitting blood over recent events and I have a nice long rant lined-up. So I really haven't got the time to tell you that their top scorer this season is Christian Benteke who has scored seven in the league this term. Or that he spent last summer looking to be on his way out of Villa Park with fees of ?25m being bandied about. Or that if he goes next summer he'll probably fetch a lot less than that.

Similarly, I'd love to inform you that Czech striker Libor Koziak, who arrived in the last window from Lazio, only mustered four goals up to January at which point he broke his leg in training, pour soul, and will therefore miss the rest of the season. But I have more pressing things to mention.

I won't even have an opportunity to mention that a potential replacement for Koziak is Grant Holt, who came in on loan from Wigan a few weeks ago, or that Gabriel Agbonglahor is likely to be fit for this one having recovered from a foot injury, whilst the skipper Ron Vlaar will probably miss out with a hamstring problem.

There isn't time.

The reason for that is that today the powers that be finally held up their hands and abandoned all pretence of refereeing integrity amongst the so-called select group. It must be some consolation to Andy Carroll that he has been sacrificed to protect the career of the disgraceful Howard Webb.

Let's look at the incident that saw Webb - a poor referee who shouldn't have been allowed within a thousand miles of that World Cup Final without a ticket - show yet again another of the errors of judgement that have become his trademark over the years. Even if - and given the evidence of him looking the other way when the incident happened it's a big concession - one gives Webb the benefit of the doubt and say that it might have looked a wee bit iffy at full speed (it didn't but let's indulge the thought for a second), having been presented with the subsequent photo and video evidence, an honest man would surely have conceded that there was at worst significant doubt as to whether Carroll's conduct was intentionally violent (and even that's taking diabolical liberties with the English language in interpreting the meaning of the word "violent").

On that basis there could be no grounds for the red card to be upheld. For Webb to stand by his original decision, therefore, is one of the most disgraceful and obvious examples of an official covering his own backside ever seen outside of an episode of "The Thick Of It".

When he finishes his refereeing career Webb will go back to his job as a police sergeant. I would have suggested that if you live in the area covered by his force you might want to drop a line to the Chief Constable to express concern as to whether someone apparently willing to act dishonestly to protect his career really has the integrity to act as a police officer. Unfortunately, since the force in question is the South Yorkshire force that appears to have acted dishonestly in altering over 100 statements to protect the careers of the police officers involved in the Hillsborough tragedy, the question would probably be a bit pointless - that sort of thing seems to be standard procedure for them.

Then there's the FA's role in all this. The evidence was reviewed by "independent" committees. We don't know who they are as they remain anonymous. We'll just have to take their word over their independence then. We don't know how they came to the conclusion that the evidence shows that there was intent on Carroll's part as they do not have to explain how they came to a decision that has baffled verifiably independent observers. They just announced it and that was that. No openness, no accountability. Why? If they have a genuine explanation for their conclusion why not tell us what it is. Without such explanation, one is led to the conclusion that the consequences of doing the right thing would be to admit that (not for the first time) Howard Webb made a serious error and that these were consequences that the committees were not willing to face.

The the message from the FA is threefold: 1) Protecting the reputation of a dishonest referee matters more than the truth; 2) It's alright for kids to grow up trying to con referees as no referee will admit to have being fooled; and 3) If you're a referee it doesn't matter how wrong you are, if you decline to admit an error in case it affects your chance of an all expenses paid trip to Brazil the FA will back you all the way rather than try to rectify things.

All three messages are rather worrying. In particular number 3 gives carte blanche to the unscrupulous to get involved in some rather murky areas. Now I'm not suggesting that Webb is involved with dodgy betting syndicates or anything - I just think that he's made a cock-up and has not been honest enough to admit it. However, an even less scrupulous individual than Webb might take advantage of the fact that he can pretty much do what he wants without fear of contradiction or sanction to make a few bob from dubious sources. It's happened elsewhere after all.

A system in which the organisation that supplies referees is effectively responsible for the assessment of its own members, and one in which the FA will apparently go out of its way to defend incompetence and dishonesty is one that is clearly open to abuse. So, in the future, if and when something naughty happens we'll be able to look back on Webbgate as the point at which the FA said "go ahead lads fill your boots".

And next time the FA goes to fine a manager for questioning the integrity of a referee, he will at least be able to point out that Howard Webb has proved conclusively once and for all that he, at least, has none.

Finally a brief word about the Swansea fans. Football is a partisan world - that's all part of the fun - and over the years we have been used to seeing supporters tie themselves in knots to defend their players. For example look at the average Liverpool or Chelsea supporter's reaction every time that Suarez or Oscar dives. However, pretty much to a man, Swansea fans have been quick to condemn the actions of Flores so hats off to them for their honesty - a word Webb and Flores might want to look up in a dictionary - and best of luck to them for the rest of the season (as long as it's not at our expense!).

Back to the game and it's time for a prediction. They're not good at home when opponents sit back (according to another of the snippets that I haven't got time to use), which is what we tend to do on the road. So I think this will probably end up all square.

We did have a jar in which we at the Avram Grant Rest Home For The Bewildered had intended to put 50p in every time Howard Webb told the truth this week. Unfortunately, it remains empty so I've had to use the ?2.50 I've saved by not paying the spotty work-experience kid because I didn't get to use his stuff this week and place it on a 1-1 draw as we slowly make our way upwards.

Enjoy the game!

When Last We Met At Villa Park - Lost 1-2 (February 2013) Bit of a travesty this one as we somehow played them off the park and lost. A dubious penalty converted by Benteke and a goal from the diving N'Zogbia gave them a 2-0 lead. A Westwood OG pulled us back into the game and MOTM 'keeper Guzan held on to the points.

Referee: Mike Dean Just when you think it can't get any worse......

Danger Man: Christian Benteke - top scorer so he gets the nod - though frankly Dean is always the most dangerous person in any match involving us.

Daft fact of the week: Birmingham is the source accent for the highly irritating "anything for you cupcake" advert currently polluting our airwaves. Advertising executives, who occupy the same place in our affections as Premier League referees, are probably getting all excited at the fact that everyone remembers the advert. They'll probably be less impressed when they realise that nobody can remember for the life of them exactly what it is the ad is supposed to be selling.

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