Whatever will they think of next?

Dave Woodhall watches Villa snatch a 3-3 draw at home to Sheffield United.

If I add up the things that get on my nerves (a list that seems to get longer by the day), high up on the list would be matches that get moved for TV, matches that get moved to Friday night, matches that get moved to cold, wet, windy Friday nights when the forecast for Saturday is a pleasant, sunny afternoon and top of the list most days is Aston Bloody Villa.

It didn’t take long after kick-off to realise that this was going to be a long, cold night. Villa were being taken apart by a Sheffield United side that cut through our invisible midfield at will and posed a constant threat. I made it seventeen minutes until a Villa player and the ball were in the United penalty area at the same time and by then we were already a goal down thanks to the deadly combination of a cross into the box and some non-existent marking.

Villa picked up a bit towards the end of the first half and didn’t look too bad in the second until a goal that was possibly offside at least twice in the build up and definitely came after Lovre Kalinic had the ball in both hands. Two down and that was the match done and dusted. Three down after another diabolical bit of defensive slumbering and it was damage limitation from then on.

Except. Just after Villa went three down, what seemed the most pointless and at the same time overdue substitution of all time had brought on Andre Green for the disappointing Jonathan Kodjia and Glenn Whelan for the downright appalling Mile Jedinak. Bringing on Whelan is usually a cue for a chorus of “You don’t know what you’re doing” aimed in the direction of the dug-out, but that particular chorus had already had an airing courtesy of a referee who spent the match looking for greater depths to plumb.

And tonight, he changed the game. Eighty-one minutes, and a sarcastic cheer greeted Villa’s first (I think) corner. Thirty seconds later and a muted round of applause from what was left of the crowd greeted Tyrone Ming’s goal. If nothing else it would help the goal difference.

Four minutes later, Tammy Abraham got another goal and you never know…

Five minutes stoppage time and much of it was spent in the wrong half but John McGinn gets the ball, crosses and the script was written for Andre Green, who hadn’t done much since coming on, to head the equaliser.

In the long run it was another draw, and one that will probably take Villa further away from the play-off places once Saturday’s games are finished. But, it was still memorable, the sort of game that will live in the memory much longer than a scruffy one-nil win, no matter how much three points would have been more important.

Looking further on the bright side, Tyrone Mings made an impressive debut; he and Tommy Elphick had the makings of a decent partnership and it’s always good to have a player who sends opposition supporters into fury by his mere presence. John McGinn was his usual all-action self and in the midst of the post-match reaction Tammy Abraham becoming the first Villa player to get twenty league goals since Peter Withe was largely overlooked.

And most of all, on the way out of the match I heard someone say that this was the most undeserved comeback of all time. I’d say that it was the most undeserved since the last Friday night game we played, and that particular injury-time travesty was the start of Villa’s run of poor form. This one might see a similar upward turn in the team’s fortunes. And if you think that’s unlikely, on Friday night bringing on Glenn Whelan made a three goal difference. If that can happen, anything can.

One thought on “Whatever will they think of next?

  1. All good drama needs a villain. Without one the drama tends not to function, and whether it is Richard III, or Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, we all love a villain. The reason we know football is more sophisticated than anything either the Bard or Hollywood ever produced, is that no one wears a black hat and everyone gets to pick their own personal villain. A decision that can be deferred indefinitely, and well beyond the final whistle.

    Friday night’s drama was a pre-eminent exemplar in the realm of dramaturgy, where the role of villain changed hands several times, before the denouement was finally concluded, Gordian knot fashion, in the fifth minute of added-time. The travelling Yorkshire contingent picked their villain early on, as they rehearsed for the pantomime season yet to come, by booing Tyrone Mings, Villa’s classy-looking debutant, and mostly stuck with him until they were offered a better candidate late in the game.

    As for the home crowd, they were confronted with multiple candidates to blame for Villa’s abject early showing. Manager Smith, Kodjia, Taylor and Jedinak were all on the short-list, as Villa were totally outplayed by a team showing why they are strong promotion contenders, which they were determined to confirm by topping the table, and no one could deny that Villa were making them look pretty convincing.

    On eleven minutes United scored and a new candidate for villain number-one stepped forward in the person of referee Harrington, who pronounced that the ball had crossed the line, when he was in no position to make a decision of any certainty. He was certainly further away from from the goal line than he was when he decided he couldn’t see Mings’s or McGinn’s shirts being pulled, later in the game. And, by the time the referee had imperiously waved away Kalinic’s appeals that Sharp had kicked the ball out his hands, for his second goal, which seemed to secure the points for the Blades, the referee hardly deserved any benefit of the doubt. United made it three-nil nine minutes later, as Sharp, with a shove on Hutton and close-range header, completed his hat-trick.

    There looked to be no way back for Villa and even though they pressed, it all seemed futile, as I enjoyed a good sulk and started throwing toys out of the pram, figuratively speaking, that is. Villa had been poor and United had been better, but it couldn’t be denied that some lousy decisions had made the scoreline far more emphatic than it should have been. Like the Baggies’ handball goal in another crucial game, it seemed that referees’ selective-purblindness was conspiring against us.

    When Mings scored with a towering header in front of the Holte, it looked like a consolation goal which crowned a fine debut, but it did seem that the Blades’ players were blaming goalkeeper Henderson for it, when he’d done pretty well to keep out Hourihane’s free-kick. Villa continued to press as United started to look uncertain. Even as Tammy nipped in for a tap-in at the far-post, it still looked like a consolation goal which only deserved celebrating as his history-making, Peter Withe-equaling, historical milestone. There was a few looks exchanged amongst the Villa contingent, suggesting the question: It couldn’t, could it? With United getting men behind the ball, and with Villa’s prior delivery in mind, it looked highly unlikely.

    However, it seemed that we had forgotten all about that well-known theatrical device, deus ex machina. For there, seemingly flown in for the purpose, was Andre Green, who had been planted by the football gods, to be perfectly placed to meet El Ghazi’s perfect cross and bury it in United’s net. The crowd roared. Billy Sharp looked gutted. Villa fans smiled and the Sheffield United fans shook their heads. Dean Henderson took the blame. It had been football drama at its best. I moaned about the referee all the way home. UTV!

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