Aston Villa 7 Liverpool 2. Dave Woodhall tries to find words.
Over the past week and a bit we’ve seen Chelsea needing a last-gasp equaliser at Albion, Manchester City failing to get what should have been a comfortable win at Leeds, Leicester being soundly thrashed at home to West Ham and Laughalongamanchesterunited. Why is it that when the best teams in the league have an off-day, they have them anywhere but at Villa Park?
That was what I was thinking at kick-off and for another, oh, at least ten seconds after the match started. Many’s the time over the past decade that I’ve wondered how I was going to write about yet another humiliation, another occasion when a team of champions-elect turned up at Villa Park and won without breaking sweat.
Tonight was just as hard but for another reason. How in the name of every writer that has ever put pen to paper (I’m still old-school when it comes to such cliches) can you find words to describe what we witnessed?
From the first kick until the last everything was perfection, a claret and blue Nirvana on the greatest stage in football. Maybe it’s just as well that we weren’t allowed in to watch it – in years to come, if you said “I was there” you’d have to take your place with the other quarter of a million who would swear they were sitting next to you.
The best forty-five minutes in living memory is generally reckoned to be the game in December 1976 when Villa were five-one up at half-time against a Liverpool side on the verge of the sort of dominance they seemed capable of now. The first half of this game might not have been as thrilling, and the team surely won’t be able to repeat it in the way they seemed to do almost every week during that magnificently exciting season, but this time the referee’s whistle only signalled the end of Act One. What came afterwards was equally brilliant.
You can’t pick out a player, nor a goal, nor even a moment from what we witnessed with ever-increasing incredulity. Ollie Watkins’ first-half hat-trick, Ross Barkley’s debut that would have been the most memorable thing by far on any other night, Jack Grealish rounding off a world-class display with two goals, John McGinn proving again that he’s back to his best, the rare moments when Villa’s defence had something to do. That’s just a selection; to say everything else that was positive about this performance would fill the internet.
Normally the upcoming international break would be a hinderance, but while I’ve no doubt that the team would be happy to play another game tomorrow, maybe a couple of weeks with the pressure off is what they need. When Villa beat Fulham we could have won by a scoreline that would have made the rest of the league take notice. Tonight’s result was noticed around the world.
The Villa have moved me to tears many a time – tears of frustration, anger, and of joy on a good few occasions. But this was the first time they’ve done it while I’ve been staring incredulously at a television screen.