Aston Villa and the supporting role

Villa lose 2-0 at Liverpool and Dave Woodhall thinks about returns, happy or otherwise.

Back in the mists of time a patched-up side missing Jack Grealish took on Liverpool at Villa Park and led until late in the game, finally losing to the last kick of the match. I said then that it was the most gut-wrenching feeling imaginable but there were plenty of positives to take from the defeat and they’d stand us in good stead for the rest of the season. After all, we’d signed virtually a new team during the summer and they were bound to improve as they spent more time together

To say that events haven’t exactly worked out as planned is an understatement. Since then Liverpool have got better, Villa have got worse and the eventual return fixture came round with all the trepidation of the first day back at work after a lengthy furlough – something to be got over with on the off-chance that things might get better afterwards.

In normal circumstances Villa would have been an afterthought in the triumphant return of the Premier League champions, home of football, thirty years of hurt (I’d settle for that sort of two Champions Leagues and more trophies than almost every other club have won in their history-type of hurt thank you very much) nonsense but at least we were spared the Eulogy to the Kop that normal service would have demanded. Yes, I am bitter.

The team Dean Smith put out was its usual unbalanced self. There might be some justification in the defenders that were picked – the one minor improvement since we kicked off again is that Villa aren’t shipping so many goals as they were. The trouble was a midfield that didn’t offer much cover and a forward line that is probably the slowest and possesses the least goal threat in the league. It wasn’t a team that was going to go down with all guns blazing, but neither did it seem an exercise in damage limitation. What exactly was it going to do?

The answer turned out to be as much as it possibly could. Villa battled well enough for the first seventy minutes and had the team featured a striker worthy of the name a minor miracle just might have been possible. But the chances were wasted and the two major innovations of the restart proved to be decisive. The second half drinks break (and does anyone really, truly, think that this excuse to slip another few adverts into the match isn’t here to stay?) was the opportunity for the home side to rethink their ideas and being able to bring on five substitutes (ditto) showed their strength in depth.

Liverpool scored not long after the game started again, got another before the end and that was it. Much as it grieves me to give them any praise, twenty-three straight home wins is a massive achievement and even if they didn’t really have to break sweat in the end, neither were Villa hammered out of site. Douglas Luiz was once again our star performer and John McGinn had his best game since returning. The weekends’s fixtures saw us lose a point on West Ham and gain a goal on Watford and Bournemouth. It’s unlikely that we’ll do so well in the next round, but you never know.

And one aside. The pubs re-opened yesterday. I like pubs almost as much as I like going down the match but I haven’t really missed them and I don’t have much desire to go rushing back just yet. Regardless of results and performance, I wonder how many of us, whatever team we support, will feel the same when we’re finally allowed into football grounds again?