In the old-fashioned way

Dave Woodhall on Villa’s win against Everton.

It was, apparently, Retro Day at Villa Park on Saturday. The club said it was in response to fans demands; the cynics said it was a chance to flog some old shirts. But whatever the reason, it was thoughtful of a small number of the crowd to enter into the spirit of days past by recreating scenes from the eighties with a few punches being thrown on Witton Lane before the match.

This bit of street theatre over, we could concentrate on what was the 200th league clash between Villa and Everton – the first time such a milestone had been reached in top-flight English football although the statistical anoraks amongst us would argue that this was number 201, as a game was played in the abandoned 1939-40 season.

Talking eighties, that decade was a memorable one for both these clubs. Villa started it by becoming European Champions before being relegated then promoted again. Everton meanwhile, followed Villa’s success with two league titles of their own although they were denied the chance to emulate our European victory because of the post-Heysel ban on English clubs, sparking off a sense of injustice now into its thirtieth year.

As for the match itself, Villa’s performance might not have been early eighties vintage but it definitely showed a further step along the road of improvement, particularly as it came against the most in-form team in the league. After ten minutes Fabian Delph sent over the sort of deep cross that looked a certain goal even before Christian Benteke had got his head to it. Villa had to wait until just before half-time for their second, when a Jack Grealish corner was flicked on by Ron Vlaar for Benteke’s second. Individual genius AND set-piece tactics. Truly theae are interesting times.

Everton started the second half the sharper team, aided by referee Mark Clattenburg’s liberal interpretation of the rules, although the one time he failed to let play on was when Vlaar fouled in the box and a penalty was awarded. Villa looked on the ropes for five minutes, until another throwback to the eighties when Leandro Bacuna hit a first-time ball Gordon Cowans would have been proud of into the path of Tom Cleverley, whose burst out of midfield was reminiscent of Dennis Mortimer at his best.

Villa saw the game out with little worry, or at least they did until the 93rd minute, when Clattenburg decided to give the nostalgia theme one last try, this time going back to the 1957 FA Cup final with his interpretation of the rules on fouling goalkeepers. Everton got a goal which gave the final scoreline a closer look than it was; 3-2 definitely flattered the team that lost.

Unfortunately other results went against us, which means Villa are still not out of danger, but a repeat of this performance against West Ham next Saturday and we can consign this horrendous yet ultimately promising league season to memory and look forward to a day out in North London.