Aston Villa and the jaws of victory (continued)

Dave Woodhall reports on a rollercoaster day at Villa Park.

There are a few words that only seem to get used in a football context and ‘gutted’ is one of them. Like many words that slip into the realms of cliche it’s often over-used but there are times when it’s the only one that will do, and from about five to five on Saturday afternoon there was nothing else to use. Even that didn’t fully convey the sheer gut-wrenching torment of watching the ball hit the back of the net at the end of a pulsating, tense, and ultimately heartbreaking ninety plus where the hell did they get another five for stoppages minutes at Villa Park.

At kick-off time, the feeling was that if the Gods were on the side of the righteous, Villa might just possibly sneak something from the game but the more rational thoughts turned towards hoping that we weren’t going to get hammered too badly. Jack Grealish was missing, Liverpool are unstoppable. Shortly after that, there was a realisation that this was a day when every Villa player was giving his all. The ones who we were previously worried about were doing well, those who have already made their mark on the Premier League were outstanding.

That Villa went a goal up when a perfect free-kick from John McGinn was met by Trezeguet was no great surprise; at least not as much of a surprise as when VAR finally worked in our favour, ruling out a Liverpool equaliser for offside. We could have gone two up as well, but that would probably have been against some Uefa regulation.

The second half was the expected war of attrition and just as it seemed as though we might, possibly, hold out there was no way to defend a cross that was every bit as inch-perfect as McGinn’s in the first half. The sickener here was that it came from a player who shouldn’t have been on the pitch after being guilty of at least four bookable offences, and maybe more.

But if that was sickening, there’s no words to describe the feeling when that final corner wasn’t defended and the same player scored. Gutted, empty, bereft, disconsolate – chose your own from the ones that come closest. I know football isn’t really that important in the greater scheme of things but it’s still a massively emotional business and on occasions like this all rationale goes out of the window.

In the cold light of day it might be possible to draw some conclusions out of Saturday afternoon. Maybe Dean Smith could have worked his substitutions more effectively. In particular, it might have been better to bring on Ezri Konsa to replace Wesley instead of Jonathan Kodjia. Certainly, it was Kodjia’s half-hearted challenge that allowed the winner to creep in, although that might have allowed Liverpool to press even further forward, and in any case we should know by now that Smith doesn’t do defensive substitutions.

Trezeguet had his best game since signing, McGinn was back to his usual form, Tom Heaton pulled off a string of top-class saves and I know there are a lot of daft and meaningless awards in football thee days but if there’s a trophy for Biggest Transfer Bargain, the engraver should be practising how to spell ‘Marvelous Nakamba’ already.

For all the hard-luck stories, Villa lost again and the bottom three are that worrying bit closer. We failed to see out another game; I’ve not checked what a first half table would look like and I’ve no great desire to see that depressing statistic. We’re in danger of feeling sorry for ourselves and falling into the trap of accepting moral victories instead of real ones.

Or to put it another way, a team who we should never forget shouldn’t really be in the Premier League, who had to replace several of the mainstays that got us to the dizzy heights of fifth in the Championship last season, lost our top scorer, who were without our creative genius, were up against a side that can claim with some justification right now to be the best in the world. I might be gutted at the outcome, but I can’t be anything other than optimistic about the future.

And I know that before long it will be Villa who will be making the opposition feel the same as I did at five to five on Saturday afternoon.