The past weekend was not a good time to be an Aston Villa defender. Too many mistakes, too many goals concededand now the reality that European football is on hold at least until August 2006.
Liam Ridgewell seemed to suffer more than most. By his own admission, he turned in a wretched performance in the 5-1 defeat away to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. Jlloyd Samuel was no better and Martin Laursen seemed to lack confidence.
And yet, the day before, for a different club in a different league, there was an Aston Villa defender basking in the euphoria of a standing ovation.
Gary Cahill, aged 19, was playing in his final home match for Burnley before he returns to Villa Park. His loan spell at Turf Moor has been so successful that he is widely regarded as one of the best players in the Coca-Cola Championship this season.
He has played 31 matches for Burnley, including the FA Cup third- round match against Liverpool that ended in a 1-0 victory, and he has given every reason to believe that he can play in the Premiership for Villa next season.
Cahill was substituted during the 2-0 victory over Plymouth Argyle on Saturday and walked off to the kind of applause usually reserved for a match-winning goal. "It was my best experience in football as yet," Cahill said. "Words cannot describe it really. Unbelievable. I wanted nothing more than a win to see off the home fans and that is what the lads have done.
"It is nice to get a clean sheet too, as a defender, and that was great from a personal point of view."
Understandably, Villa have been keen to play down suggestions that Cahill is the latest in a long line of players to
have been successfully developed at youth-team level.
But his progress cannot be ignored and nor can the possibility that he will be pushing for a first-team place when the team tour Sweden in pre-season.
Of course, the difference between the Championship and the Premiership is great and Ridgewell's problems at White Hart Lane three days ago will highlight the pitfalls that lie ahead.
Ridgewell, who won an FA Youth Cup winners' medal with Villa in 2002, aroused similar compliments during a loan spell with Bournemouth during the 2002-03 campaign.
He made his Villa debut that January, in an FA Cup tie at home to Blackburn Rovers, but seemed better placed for regular first-team football by the time David O'Leary arrived as manager in May 2003.
Ridgewell has played 31 matches for Villa and has produced performances that range from the impressive to the disappointing. The match away to Tottenham is one that he will want to forget.
He said: "We felt for Stefan Postma [Villa goalkeeper] coming in, but all the lads are disappointed at losing 5-1. It was very disappointing. It might have turned out differently if we had got the penalty early on when Mark Delaney went down but it didn't go our way.
"But you have to look past that and, as a team, we did not defend well enough. There is six points up for grabs and we've got to look to take those.
"I do not think that is the last of our European hopes. Obviously other results have got to go in our favour but we are just concentrating on getting as many points as we can.
"If, at the end of the season, that is enough to get us into Europe, then all well and good, but we will just be doing all we can in these last two games and see where that gets us."