Villa lost to Norwich in the final league game of 2018-19. Dave Woodhall looks to the next test.
If you’d said three months ago that Villa would get just one point from the last two league games of the season there wouldn’t have been many people surprised. If you’d gone on to say that there would be nothing riding on the games, there’d probably have been a bit of relief that we hadn’t been dragged into the relegation struggle. And if you’d said that the reason the last couple of games were a chance to put your feet up and give a few squad players some game time, you’d more than likely have been nodded at and asked to sit down for a while until the nice men in white coats came and took you away.
Yes, I know I’ve made that point before, but it bears repeating. Villa did so well from the middle of February onwards that the only concern for our last visit to what was again a packed-out Villa Park was picking up any unnecessary injuries or bookings. That’s why John McGinn and Jack Grealish were rested, although personally I wouldn’t have only dropped them, I wouldn’t let them leave the house just in case.
They weren’t the only absences, with Dean Smith wisely taking the opportunity to give Kortney Hause a run-out after injury and a few others to make what might be their farewell appearance at Villa Park, including Alan Hutton, given the captain’s armband as a further gesture of appreciation.
Norwich needed a point to make sure of the title and their greater urgency showed when they took an early lead. Villa equalised through Jonathan Kodjia, his third in four games, which bodes well for the play-offs should Tammy Abraham not fully recover in time. There was an hour or so when, as often happens on the last day, minds started wandering towards what was happening elsewhere then with five minutes to go and Villa generally on top, Norwich scored again and that was it. The lengthy unbeaten run finally came to an end, although whether that might not be an entirely bad thing and whether the team would have held out if we’d needed the point are different matters entirely.
And so the team came back out for a lap of appreciation that was heartfelt on both sides. We might not have got our Villa back in the strict sense of the phrase – no club of our stature will ever again be controlled by anything other than seriously rich business people – but we’ve got a unity that’s been missing for years. We’ve at best tolerated and at worst actively disliked a succession of managers; now we’ve got one who is both respected and admired.
And the same goes for the players. The feeling that they were only here for the money has gone and been replaced by mutual goodwill. We appreciate what they’d done and they know what a special club they’re a part of. Those last few words are important – every player, whether a longstanding servant or recently arrived on loan, gives the impression that they’re one of us. Whatever might happen in the play-offs, that’s one of the reasons why I’m already looking forward to next season.
Villa showed their sporting side by generously congratulating Norwich as they were presented with a trophy that’s ours by right and which I hope we never win again. Thoughts now turn to next Saturday and the first leg of the next chapter in top-class football’s oldest rivalry. We’ve played more important games against the Albion than any other club and this one might turn out to be the biggest of them all.