Dave Woodhall refuses to bite his nails on the penultimate weekend of Villa’s season.
The season is drawing to a close and that small, nagging, ‘but’ remains. Villa played Chelsea on Saturday in front of the biggest gate of the season – it’s ironic that our biggest crowds have been for televised games; maybe being on TV doesn’t have as much effect on attendances as we might think.
We were a goal up thanks to Christian Benteke’s 23rd of the season and at half-time, with Chelsea down to ten men, optimism was in the Villa Park air. The visitors could even have had another player sent off, had John Terry been justly punished for what should have been a second yellow card foul shortly before the break. Then referee Lee Mason decided that the number of players had to be evened up – and there’s a body of opinion that says he was looking for a reason to dismiss Benteke to make up for not sending him off before half-time. Chelsea scored shortly afterwards, and with time running out another failure to clear the ball led to their winner.
I really don’t like Chelsea; they’re probably the only club in the world who would want me to support Manchester United in a final. They ended the season by moaning about Villa supporters who cheered when Terry was injured. However they aren’t going to make an official complaint, which is big of them. And this, remember, from a club whose supporters were responsible for some of the worst hooliganism English football has witnessed. In contrast to Chelsea’s classlessness we saw the decent side of football with Stiliyan Petrov’s farewell after the match – as a player, at least. I don’t think anyone believes Stan won’t remain at Villa in some form, hopefully for many years to come.
The other results at the weekend weren’t too clever, which means all eyes are on the Emirates on Tuesday night when Arsenal take on Wigan. There are those who seem to be building Wigan up into some unbeatable superteam and while they did well to win the FA Cup on Saturday, Manchester City were dreadful and Arsenal can’t possibly play as badly as that. Equally, to play another intense league game three days after the dramas of a cup final is bound to have an effect on anyone, least of all a team who, let’s not forget, have hardly been out of the bottom three all season and whose supposed revival consists of gaining five points in their last six league games – three of them coming against the Albion, who’ve gone from chasing European qualification to getting hammered regularly by relegation candidates within the space of a few weeks. A cynic might think there’s something behind this recent mysterious loss of form.
Wigan have to beat Arsenal then Villa, who ourselves are no slouches on our travels since Christmas. Sunderland then have to get a point away at Spurs, who are also chasing a Champions League spot. It might all happen, but it’s unlikely. Look at the bookies prices – you can get as much as 33/1 on Villa going down while the best price for Wigan is 1/20. That’s the reality of the situation.