The final countdown

Villa’s league programme ended with a 1-0 defeat at Millwall, as watched by Dave Woodhall.

If it wasn’t for the small matter of the play-offs coming up you could have said that Villa were already on their holidays at the Den on Sunday afternoon. As it was, their minds were obviously focused on the thought that the next trip to London could be a few miles north in three weeks time.

The team selection was, as expected, more of an Aston Villa XI than anything approaching a full-strength line-up with wholesale changes including a rare league outing for goalkeeper Mark Bunn. Steve Bruce got round the regulations on dropping too many squad members from the last game by putting most of them on the bench, which saw John Terry become possibly the first player to need a police escort while warming up on the touchline. They do things differently at Millwall.

Of course, if Terry had been playing the penalty Millwall scored from wouldn’t have been given. But James Chester doesn’t have the same kind of influence on match officials and Villa went a goal down. Villa could have equalised not long after but a couple of scuffed shots were just about all there was to talk about at half-time.

There wasn’t a great deal more of note in the second half, either. Nobody played particularly badly, but neither did any of the fringe players make an overwhelming case for playing at what turned out to be Middlesbrough next Saturday. If, as he’s hinted, Bruce still has a couple of places in the side left to fill then I doubt if he’s made his mind up based on what he saw during what was little more than a Bank Holiday stroll in the sunshine.

Millwall got a second penalty that was twice-saved by Bunn after a few substitutes came on for the last fifteen minutes and the last seconds of the game saw the players and officials working to what looked a pre-arranged plan to get off the pitch before the Millwall supporters got on. It was the best bit of ingenuity seen all afternoon.

In hindsight nothing about the match was a surprise – team selection, effort, or result. That being the case you can’t draw too many conclusions from it. We got through the afternoon with no injuries and that was really all that mattered. We found out we’ll be playing Middlesbrough in the play-off semis and later on, what the prices will be for the home leg. It’ll all be a bit different to this one.