The not so great escape

Villa lost 6-1 and also made sure of staying in the Premier League on Saturday. Dave Woodhall treated triumph and disaster both the same.

I suppose it had to happen some time. After weeks of Villa dragging themselves to the point of safety with top quality performances against some of the best sides in the league they went to Southampton, themselves desperately battling to avoid qualification for Europe, and were soundly battered thanks to a display reminiscent of the worst days of Paul Lambert.

There have been many references to 1986-87 this season, and here’s another one because back then Villa lost to Southampton by a five goal margin in what anyone unlucky enough to be there will still consider the most hilariously incompetent 90 minutes they’ve ever witnessed. Saturday wasn’t as bad as that – a shambolic defence and a record-breaking hat-trick aside, it was the sort of end of season game that happens when a team who’ve been under-achieving in recent weeks decide to perform with the freedom that comes of not having much left to play for. This week everything went right for Southampton and wrong for Villa. Next week might be totally different.

Of course such a scoreline is inexcusable, but the one consolation is that Tim Sherwood will have been as angry as the supporters who witnessed this debacle, and will be wanting to put it right. He will not shrug his shoulders and vow to go again.

And it is, of course, typical of this strangest of seasons that after a string of wins which didn’t seem to make much difference to Villa’s chances of staying up, due to everyone around them also winning, survival should be ensured two hours after the worst defeat in years. For the players, there’s been the odd situation of being virtually safe yet having a cup final appearance at the back of their minds, which must have had an effect since that semi-final win. Again, it’s not an excuse but it is just about understandable.

Next Sunday brings the climax to the season, and for Villa the nerve-jangling race for fourteenth place. By my reckoning the visit of Burnley to a sell-out Villa Park (and nothing shows better how Sky have hyped the Premier League than how the traditional lowest gate of the year is now the highest) will be the first time Villa have played a league game at home mathematically safe from relegation since 2011. That fact alone shows how appallingly badly the club has been run and managed since then.

I’d like to see a couple of the youngsters given a run-out, although with almost £3 million in prize money still at stake I could understand erring on the side of caution there. But I would definitely wrap Messrs Benteke, Delph, Cleverley and Vlaar (who for all his mistakes against Southampton is still a big game player) in cotton wool for the next fortnight and give some of our returning injured and out of contention players the chance to get themselves into the Wembley squad.