Aston Villa and the hope that kills you

Villa beat Crystal Palace 2-0 and Dave Woodhall is finally enjoying it.

Apologies for the predictable headline, true though it might be. On Saturday the results went badly and Villa were irrevocably doomed. No question about it, we were down. Now, there might be only a flicker of hope, but it’s still there.

The team line-ups certainly gave little cause for optimism. Conor Hourihane was back, John McGinn was still in the team despite some underwhelming performances and it appeared that Jack Grealish was playing out wide with Ahmd elmohamady a late replacement at right-back. If that wasn’t enough, lining up for Palace were Christian Benteke, who was just bound to, and Jordan Ayew, who might not be the deadliest of strikers but has still scored nine in the league this season. If we’d got anyone up front who could have got that many, the league table would look a lot different.

Anyway, there was little surprise when Villa went a goal down after seven minutes and a lot more surprise when VAR went in our favour. I’ve always said what a great idea this is, and what a good interpreter of the rules Jon Moss has always been. Did he, even subconsciously, want to make up for the other night? I leave it up to the conspiracy theorists amongst us.

In any case, whoever scored it (I never take much notice of who might be playing for the opposition – is John Burridge still in goal for Palace?) should have been embarrassed at missing the cross completely with his head and letting the ball bounce off his shoulder, sorry, arm.

Neil Taylor went off injured, to be replaced by Matt Targett, and more by accident than design the attacking threat was much better balanced. Hourihane’s free kick was knocked on, Trezeguet was in the sort of space Villa’s defence usually leaves and we went in at half-time a goal up.

A penalty decision was overturned (and probably rightly, though it grieves me to say it) while Villa had a few more chances as it became clear that only one team wanted to win this game, and for once it was us. Trezequet was quickest to react again when the ball was knocked back into the box after an hour and the goal difference could have been improved by a lot more but the old failing of failing to convert chances was still there.

As for the Palace front two, Ayew wasn’t up to much but Benteke… What in the name of God has turned the only Villa centre-forward of the past thirty-odd years that could compare with Andy Gray and Peter Withe into the shambling waste of space we saw this afternoon? Normally it’s our players I lambast for wasting their talent but our £30 million sale has been in a class of his own since the day he left.

Still, it was three points and there remains the faintest of hopes. Everton are up next. If they’re as bothered as Palace weren’t and this win has given us a bit of confidence we could just, possibly, go into the last couple of games wishing, hoping, praying. It really is the hope that kills you.