It is all too familiar and all too bleak. Aston Villa lose badly, the supporters rightly express their frustration, and the signs emerge that the relationship between manager and chairman is disintegrating.
Villa have been in transition since the day they moved to the top of the Premiership table on October 27, 2001 and not even David O?Leary?s ?honest bunch of lads? seem to have the craft to take the club that next step.
Villa are stuck in a timewarp and yet Doug Ellis, their chairman who was hiding under that tweed fisherman?s hat, seems to draw strength from the varying degrees of turmoil.
O?Leary might wish for similar powers of fortitude. The manager claimed, with some justification, that this performance against Everton on Saturday was the worst since he took over in May 2003.
But if one puts his complaints into the context of Everton?s transformation, it is obvious that the problems are more than just a lack of money.
Everton nearly suffered the indignity of relegation last season, then lost their best player (Wayne Rooney) in August and then their second-best player (Thomas Gravesen) in January. And yet, with good management and admirable harmony, they are on the brink of a place in the Uefa Champions League.
Villa, who finished sixth last season, improved their squad but seem to lack harmony or a sense of direction. Little wonder that those supporters who stayed to the final whistle on Saturday jeered the team off the pitch.
Here are two clubs of similar stature, similar wealth, similar history, with a similar fan-base. So what has gone wrong?
Certainly, the contrasts on the pitch did not help. Villa were deplorable, Everton magnificent and there was never a doubt as to where the points were going.
There was a period of a minute, just after half-time, when Nolberto Solano equalised for Villa and hope circulated the stadium like a Mexican wave. But a minute is not a long time.
The match began badly for Villa, tailed off in the middle, and ended up resembling a black comedy where only the Everton supporters were laughing.
It took 17 minutes for Everton to open the scoring when Leon Osman headed the ball home at the far post after a teasing cross by Tim Cahill.
Dominating the midfield, emanating strength up front, Everton shattered the illusion that they are a one-dimensional team who only grind out results.
The midfield was particularly significant. Whereas Eric Djemba-Djemba seemed to have fallen into the wrong context, Lee Carsley and Mikel Arteta dominated the centre of the field. Cahill and Kevin Kilbane proved the flair; Marcus Bent the strength.
Only Solano of the Villa players seemed up to the challenge but even he, talented though he is, was overshadowed.
Djemba-Djemba is the great imponderable. Talented enough to be part of the Cameroon squad for the 2002 World Cup, he secured a move to Manchester United
the year after, but with limited success.
He is a master of the short pass but lacks the urgency of Gavin McCann, the passion of Lee Hendrie, or the shooting ability of Thomas Hitzlsperger. Djemba-Djemba is better than most people make out but he is not a Villa player.
Still, by a mixture of luck and design, Villa equalised through Solano at the start of the second half. The Peru international midfield player, a breath of fresh air since his move from Newcastle United a year ago, had earlier struck the ball against the crossbar and seemed Villa?s best hope of a draw.
His goal owed much to the persistence of Luke Moore, the young striker, who dispossessed Joseph Yobo before releasing Hitzlsperger. The Germany international midfield player struck the ball hard and low and, although Nigel Martin parried the ball out, Solano was on hand to make no mistake from close range.
There was barely time to blink. Everton regained the advantage through Cahill, heading home after good by Bent.
To cheers of relief from the Villa supporters, Hendrie emerged as a substitute to replace Djemba- Djemba, before Darius Vassell was sent on in place of Luke Moore for the final half-hour.
Hendrie and Vassell are two survivors of the team that reached the top of the Premiership in 2001 but the world seems to have changed around them.
Osman scored Everton?s third goal, in the 68th minute, placing the ball home neatly from close range after more good work by Cahill on the right.
Villa Park began to empty after that but there were still enough supporters inside the stadium to record the loudest jeers of the season.
Doug Ellis, aware of the growing anguish, shook hands with his Everton counterpart and trotted up to the warmth of the board room. O?Leary shook hands with his Everton counterpart and strolled uneasily to offer his excuses. Different men, different agendas ? same pain.
Aston Villa have long been defined by the uneasy relationships between managers and chairmen but it is the supporters, among the most patient and long-suffering in football, who sum up the state of the club?s affairs. When the fans jeer, you don?t need to check the result.
Scorers: Osman (17), 0-1; Solano (46), 1-1; Cahill (47). 1-2; Osman (67), 1-3.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; de la Cruz, Mellberg, Ridgewell, Samuel; Solano, Djemba-Djemba (Hendrie, 56), Hitzlsperger, Barry; Angel, L Moore (Vassell, 62). Substitutes not used: Laursen, Postma, Berson.
Everton (4-5-1): Martyn; Hibbert, Yobo, Weir, Pistone; Osman, Cahill (Naysmith, 90), Carsley, Arteta, Kilbane; Bent (Ferguson, 88). Substitutes not used: Wright, Plessis, Vaughan.
Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire)
Bookings: Villa ? Djemba-Djemba, Solano, Hendrie (unsporting behaviour).
Villa man of the match: Nolberto Solano ? best of a bad bunch.