Rumours abounded last night that Aston Villa boss Gerard Houllier has become so obsessed with planning an end-of-season, open-top bus tour of Birmingham to celebrate a mid-table finish that he deliberately spurned the chance of reaching a cup final.

A source within the club contacted the Cutter immediately following their 3-0 reversal to Man City in their 6th round clash to air his condemnation at the Frenchman’s folly.

Although his identity shall remain anonymous we can reveal that it may or may not have been assistant gaffer Gary McAllister.

‘When Gerard arrived relegation was a real possibility’, our source said, in a distinctive Scottish accent. ‘But soon enough we began picking up some valuable points and confidence was restored. I personally no longer dreaded looking at the table in the Sunday papers and we looked safe enough. There have even been whispers at the training ground of pushing for a top ten finish which, in fairness, is not beyond us by any stretch.’

‘Which is all great and lovely. The problem is though, from the very moment Gerard made the manager’s office his own he became too all-consumed with ending the season twelfth or higher. It became an obsession, to such an extent that I once caught him in the canteen moulding a huge number 12 out of mashed potato, like that fella Richie Dreyfuss in Close Encounters. Once twelfth became a real likelihood he began making plans for an open-top bus tour around the city to celebrate. And that’s when the madness truly started.’

Villa travelled to the City of Manchester stadium last night very much in form and only four matches away from possibly securing their first major silverware for fifteen years. Unless you count their Intertoto success in 2001. Which nobody ever does or should.

The Claret and Blue army were rubbing their hands at the prospect of seeing the likes of Young, Downing and Albrighton troubling a City side who have been struggling of late.

They were understandably surprised therefore, and not a little bit miffed, to discover that such stars – who have been on fire recently – demoted to the bench and replaced by talented, but callow, youngsters.

Our source reveals why such a lacklustre selection was made.

‘Gerard saw the cup as a distraction – a threat even – to his precious bus tour. Not only would the extra games tired the lads out and mean we might drop down a place or two in the league come May, but also if we had an actual trophy to show off on the tour that would throw all his plans completely off kilter’.

‘You see what he plans – and bear in mind this is all he talks and thinks about, to the detriment of sleep or toiletry requirements – is a celebration of the average. He has a typical French abstract view of things and likes the idea of revelling in the ordinary. If you ask me he’s seen too many Eric Rohmer flicks but there you go.’

My hair is not too long or short. My coat is a neutral colour. Parfait!

The Cutter understands that Houllier’s plans for the tour dominate every available space in his small, cramped office. Potential routes have been carefully drawn up and tacked to the walls, along with numerous phone numbers of possible participants.

Our source adds, ‘He has several middle of the road performers scheduled to appear on the town hall balcony playing acoustic, average songs. These include Scouting For Girls and of course local bland-masters UB40. Naturally the speakers will be set to not too loud, not too quiet. The team have been instructed to only wave half-heartedly to any fans daft enough to turn up and the bus driver will be forced to keep his vehicle at a steady 30 throughout, even on the A-roads. He’s thought of everything to be fair.’

‘He’s even taken charge of the banquet that will follow afterwards. He’s asked the mayor not to wear his official attire – just a plain grey suit – and has personally over-seen the menu which will be porridge followed by pasta. Just pasta, no sauce or anything. He deliberated for a long time about the addition of pate but eventually considered it too risky.’

The Frenchman was unavailable to comment last night having gone to bed at a very reasonable hour.