Stan-ding Ovation

Dave Woodhall on a highly-charged day at Villa Park.

Saturday was never going to be an ordinary day. The gobsmacking news about Stiliyan Petrov overshadowed the match, and reflected the truism that football really isn’t that important.

The idea for a minute’s applause came about on Friday afternoon, was picked up by social media that evening and was spread to supporters at the game. The internet can sometimes be a mixed blessing but here it was shown to its best effect. Stan had already made a surprise appearance before kick-off  and was given a heartwarming response, but it was still emotional to see the clock tick up to ‘19’ and witness Villa Park rise to give one of the loudest and most heartfelt ovations the ground has ever known. Not only is Stan a wholehearted player, he’s also a decent and honourable man. The support he’s already received from around the world shows the esteem in which he’s held.

As for the game, with Villa down to the bare bones of the squad it was no surprise that they were two down and seemingly headed for another routine home defeat when goals from James Collins and Eric Lichaj brought the scores level with ten minutes remaining. Unfortunately, another bit of poor set-piece marking saw Chelsea take the lead again almost immediately and add a fourth in stoppage time.

Other results went against Villa and there’s still the nagging worry of relegation but there were also positives to take from the match. The most obvious was that the team were never over-awed even with seven Academy Graduates in the starting line-up to face an opposition whose combined cost must have been well into nine figures. For such a young side to have battled so hard bodes well for their future, particularly on a day when they could have been excused for wanting to be anywhere else except Villa Park.

Villa need a win soon, and that could easily come on Saturday at Liverpool, usually one of the hardest grounds to get a result but which just lately has been as welcoming to visitors as Villa Park. Three points and a bit more abuse aimed at KKKenny from those lovable Scousers would be a welcome respite from the gathering Astonian gloom.