Aston Villa and the ever-increasing hope

Villa’s 1-0 win against Arsenal gives them a chance of survival and Dave Woodhall a moment of realisation.

Well thank you very much Aston Bloody Villa.

Ever since the restart I’ve been persuading myself that it doesn’t matter. Football isn’t important, and the Villa are doomed anyway. The Premier League isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, it was a lot more fun in the Championship. I didn’t care. I don’t care. Win, lose or draw, makes no matter to me. I’m not bothered; if we’re allowed in the ground next season I’d rather watch us hammer Wycombe than try to scrape a draw against Manchester City.

Then tonight happened. Because no matter how much you try to pretend you don’t care anymore, sooner or later you realise that you’re only fooling yourself. It doesn’t matter what the level, how good, bad or indifferent, or ‘ow many times they break yer ‘eart, once they’ve got you, you’re theirs for life. They can make you feel like you’ve just been kicked in the guts repeatedly (often), or looking for the nearest bridge to jump off (sometimes), but no matter how many times that happens, it’s all worth it for nights like this.

I may as well be magnanimous in victory and say that Watford had the raw end of the deal by playing first. When they lost four-nil to Manchester City we knew exactly what we had to do, namely that any win would take us out of the bottom three. It wasn’t fair, and it showed yet again that television ratings are more important than sporting integrity.

Anyway, the match. An unsurprising line-up, and it’s Trezeguet’s turn to start out wide. As usual Villa didn’t do much early on, and there was an unsettling moment when the steady but unspectacular Ahmed Elmohamedy went down injured, to be replaced by the more talented but inconsistent Frederic Guilbert, making his first appearance in months.

Villa’s problems have often come after the drinks break, but this time they made up for it when a corner from Conor Hourihane was thumped home by Trezeguet. He might not be the best winger we’ve ever signed, but you can’t argue with two vital goals in three games. Equally, for a player who many would say isn’t up to Premier League standards Hourihane has set up our last five.

There wasn’t much else of note that happened in the first half, and in the second Villa finally got the run of the ball. Keinan Davis, on for the ever-underachieving Samatta, missed a chance that had been laid on superbly from Jack Grealish, then in what was almost a re-run of the game at Everton we allowed Arsenal a free header but with Pepe Reina stranded the ball hit the post and bounced fortuitously back into the keeper’s hands. Dean Smith, meanwhile, has learned that it’s possible to make substitutions as the game is winding down. Arsenal might have had most of the play but for once Villa’s defence – all eleven of them playing their part – coped magnificently.

Four minutes of added time, or four hours depending on your point of view, were seen out and the scenes at the final whistle showed how much this meant to the players. Jack Grealish slumped to the ground after giving his all, and he wasn’t the only one. John McGinn’s return to form continues while I don’t have to say how Douglas Luiz-MotM performed.

Of course, it might all be to no avail. There’s still one more game to go and Villa have got to win at West Ham (and we all know how their owners will want the game to go) to make sure of survival. But two weeks ago we were doomed. Even at six o’clock this evening I was still saying that going into the last day with any sort of chance would be a good achievement considering how badly we’ve played for much of the season. Now we’re out of the bottom three and the 1/10 favourites for relegation of last week are as long as 9/4. If it does come off, Great Escapes don’t come much greater. Not, of course, that I care one way or the other. Honest.

And a sombre note to end a magnificent evening. You may have read that Chris Nicholl was mugged at the weekend and a watch that tracks his movements stolen. The Independent Saddlers Supporters Association have set up a GoFundMe page for Chris here. Put some of your winnings from tonight towards making life a bit easier for a player who would have been in his element in this one.

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