Villa drew 1-1 at Stoke, and Dave Woodhall ponders.
Some clubs will always be associated with one manager, no matter how long ago it was that they left or whatever’s happened since then. At Ipswich it’s Bobby Robson, Leeds have Don Revie and both Nottingham Forest and Derby will always be Brian Clough’s teams.
The man forever linked with Stoke will surely be Tony Pulis. However many managers they’ve had before or since, Stoke and whatever name they choose to call their ground now will always be Pulisville. It’s a horrible place in a horrible area where horrible football is played, regardless of who’s in charge and who’s playing it. Nobody looks forward to a trip to Stoke, and not in a good way.
And particularly not when injuries, suspension and sheer ineptitude reduce your team, particularly in midfield, to a depth not plumbed since the days when George Ramsay was wandering Aston Park looking for a team who might be a man short. It was no great surprise when Villa went a goal down, in the aftermath of what might be a season-ending injury to Alan Hutton. The real surprise was that they didn’t concede any more before half-time.
Well, that and the fact that after the break Villa came out and looked like they wanted to make a game of it. Anwar El Ghazi has summed up this season – full of ability but only rarely showing it and usually performing somewhere between anonymous and abysmal.
With an hour gone he went on a blistering run and laid the ball off, admittedly a bit fortuitously, for Albert Adomah, his chief rival for the title of Mr Under-Achieving 2018-19, to equalise.
Villa were on top from then on against a Stoke side who seem to have come down to the Championship with all the confidence and team spirit of Aston Villa three years ago, and the only reason we failed to get an unlikely win was Jack Butland in the Stoke goal, who pulled off a string of quality saves, not least from Tyrone Mings in stoppage time.
Comparisons with Gordon Banks on a day like this were obvious, and on that subject well done to all concerned for the tribute paid to one of football’s true legends. A minute’s silence is always more sincere than applause, and worrying that it might be disrupted does no favours to the basic decency of football supporters as a whole.
In the end it was a draw that absolutely, definitely and finally killed off any last hopes of a play-off place. But it was also a draw that showed Villa are capable of improvement, that our defence is starting to look a bit more cohesive and that when the Villa put their minds to it, they can still play a bit.
There’s still a lot to put right, and Dean Smith knows that better than anyone, but maybe there are also a few grounds for optimism. And whatever grounds they might be, they’ll be better than the bet365 Stadium.