Dave Woodhall enjoys Villa’s 1-0 win over Blues.
If you’re looking for one man to sum up Aston Villa over the past ten years you don’t have to look any further than the direction of Gabriel Agbonlahor. Highly-promising youngster in the final days of the Ellis regime, looked to be fulfilling his potential during the early Lerner years. Gabby looked the real thing. He thrived on the biggest stages, had a particuarly liking for scoring against the Blues, and didn’t their fans hate him for it. Throw in the fact that he was a proper home-grown hero who said that he’d rather pay for Villa than anyone and you had a player who was set fair to become a legend.
Then came the downturn, with his form matching that of the team. Agbonlahor became a byword for the idle, overpaid, useless side that slide ever-lower until it finally slipped ignominously into the Championship. He made comebacks, vowed to regain his form, didn’t, suffered mystery injuries, held the fans in clear contempt and made more headliens for what he did off the pitch than for his playing efforts. None of the managers who came and went in rapid succession managed to get more than a glimpse of the player he once was, even though they all tried. Agbonlahor became as popular amongst Villa supporters as he had with the rivals he had once tormented.
Which leads us on to Sunday afternoon. I said last week that the last time the two teams played each other at a lower ebb was in 1967, but at least then one of them was on the fringes of the promotion race, ever if it was the wrong one. There wasn’t even that consolation as Sunday’s teams kicked off after a heartwarming tribute to Ugo Ehiogu, a player with less natural ability than Agbonlahor, but who dedicated himself to a career that gave much more.
For an hour the game matched the occasion. Twelve o’clock kick-offs lead to a sterile atmosphere at the best of times, even given the presence of everyone’s second-favourite pantomime villain ‘Appy ‘Arry Redknapp, but they and the military operation surrounding the arrival and departure of the Blues contingent are here to stay until we all accept that those at the other end of the ground are our friends, workmates and relatives, not some barbarian enemy. Neither side mustered up many chances and it wasn’t so much a case of the respective defences coming out on top as neither attack having much of a clue.
Then, on the hour, enter Our Hero. Within three minutes he’d fired up the Villa supporters, wound up the Blues supporters and got himself booked. he had a few minutes getting his breath back before the sort of inability to clear a corner that we’ve seen far too often at Villa Park and there was Gabby to steer the ball home and spark scenes of delirium from a crowd that had never doubted him for one second, oh no.
Beating Blues doesn’t do much for the Villa in the long term. We still look miles away from a side that can get promoted and, more importantly, stay up. That’s for another day, though. For now, we’ve got something to celebrate, no matter how parochial it might seem to outsiders.
Saturday sees the final away match of the season. As usual, thousands of Villa supporters will travel up to Blackburn, itself one of our favourite destinations, to roar the team on to victory. I don’t suppose many of us ever want them to do anything but win. But, depending on results elsewhere, a good few might not be too upset if they don’t.