Dave Woodhall watches Villa’s 1-1 draw at home to Derby.
I can’t remember the last time it rained at the last match of the season, but we got a couple of good soakings on Saturday afternoon. Maybe it was the Fates’ revenge for being disturbed by us playing at the ungodly hour of 3pm on Saturday, or maybe it was a timely reminder that the season isn’t over yet.
One thing that’s changed for the better in modern football is the inexplicable surge in attendances for the final league game. What used to be one of the lowest crowds of the season is now the highest and Villa Park was sold out well in advance for a game that in all likelihood wouldn’t mean that much to us. It was a big one for Derby, but fourth place was pretty much nailed on for the Villa, and in the early stages it showed.
The visitors started off looking by far the more eager of the teams and it was no real surprise when they went a goal up, nor that the culprit for their opener was Neil Taylor, who’s been out of form for most of the season. Taylor had looked a decent player at the start of his Villa career but he’s not been the same since the tackle that broke Seamus Coleman’s leg thirteen months ago and whatever division Villa are in next season, he’ll surely be the most obvious casualty of the summer clearout.
Eventually Villa got back into the game, with Taylor an early withdrawal in favour of Alan Hutton, and were unlucky not to have at least equalised before the break. Steve Bruce’s pre-match instructions seemed to have been i) don’t get injured, ii) don’t get sent off and iii) try not to lose. He must have reminded the team of the third part at half-time, because they continued where they left off. Jack Grealish was at his inspired, Cowans-like best but the ball seemed destined to stay out of the Derby net until seven minutes from time, when a goalmouth scramble led to Lewis Grabban’s eight goal of what must be the best loan period we’ve ever enjoyed.
There were still chances to win the game after that, although with Cardiff winning against Hull it wouldn’t have made much difference. Villa are fourth and Sunday’s league finale at Millwall will be a low-key affair with the home side unlikely to figure in the play-offs. Villa are equally unlikely to play a full-strength side; the Football League might have tightened up their regulations on playing weakened sides but I’m sure Jack Grealish picked up the slightest of knocks in the finals seconds on Saturday so no point risking him. In contrast, if Jonathan Kodjia plays and scores he could well go on the sort of run of which legends are made.
Talking of which, the lap of just-about-honour after the match got the reception it deserved, although the debate over the reception one player deserved will rage long and loud. Gabby Agbonlahor was given a special award before kick-off to mark either his years of service or his leaving depending on your point of view and the applause he received was both loud and prolonged. That might come as a surprise to some, but Agbonlahor always had his defenders; it’s just a pity that his performances against one club are almost all they can use to defend him.
In years to come Agbonlahor will be a what-if to provoke debate rather than a legend to inspire nostalgic affection. We’ve already had plenty of legends throughout our history and during the next few weeks we’ll be in need of one or two more. The short-list has been drawn up; now we’re just waiting for the winning candidate to emerge.