From start to finish

Dave Woodhall watches the Villa Park season end with a 1-1 draw against Brighton.

The Villa Park season ended as it began, with Jack Grealish scoring a late goal as the sun beat down under a clear blue sky. Back in August it was the final goal in a 3-0 win against Rotherham; on Sunday Grealish’s deflected shot earned Villa a draw against Brighton just as the visitors were celebrating the win that would have given them the Football League trophy. What happened between these two goals, both from Grealish and the Villa team as a whole, is best forgotten.

The team Steve Bruce put out on Sunday was as patched up as Villa teams often are. The one consistent theme throughout this season, and for that matter more seasons than I care to remember, has been the number of players unavailable for one reason or another. Unsurprisingly, the casualty list extended during the game as Scott Hogan was taken off late in the first half with what looked a worrying ankle injury.

At least Hogan’s injury gave Keinan Davis a run-out, and the nineteen year old had an impressive second half, including what seemed a stonewall penalty turned down five minutes before Brighton took the lead with a penalty of their own that also saw Nathan Baker sent off. Until then Villa had had the better chances, but down to ten men and with Brighton half an hour from the title, the usual script would have seen Villa sit back and accept a one goal defeat.

Instead, and this might be the slimmest of straws to clutch, they finally dug in and looked to get back into the game. It took until the final seconds of normal time and there was an element of luck in the way Grealish’s shot took a deflection, but luck isn’t something that’s gone Villa’s way very often lately. I’m not that fussed who ended up winning the league – perhaps now we can be spared the “IT’S NOT FAIR!!!” outbursts every time we play Newcastle – although there would have been something very wrong with a team named Albion winning a trophy at Villa Park.

And so the season ended. Other results meant we finished thirteenth, in the bottom half despite spending the sort of money in the summer that clubs who finished above us could only dream of, then doing it again in January. Nobody can be happy with either the final table or the performances that led to it, although opinions before the match ranged from diabolical, get rid of the lot of them to a resigned belief that this was the season when we stopped the rot and next time round we’ll start to move forward. We better had.