Villa drew at Leeds in a game that Dave Woodhall looked at in wonder.
You can usually tell the age of a football supporter by their opinion of certain clubs. For example, anyone of my age would think of Nottingham Forest as one of the greats, despite them having spent the best part of twenty years out of the top flight, while Burnley, Bournemouth and Huddersfield are lower divisions stalwarts. But no matter how old you are and how much football you’ve seen, Leeds are a byword for dirty, cynical gamesmanship.
Sunday afternoon should have been a nothing really on it, end of season kickaround. Leeds needed a miracle to have a chance of automatic promotion, Villa had no more than an outside possibility of finishing fourth. Dean Smith raised a few eyebrows by fielding a full-strength side, but nobody really expected the game to be anything like as intense as the occasion seemed it would demand a month ago.
It took about ten minutes to realise that whatever the script might have been, Leeds hadn’t read it. By half-time Jack Grealish had been targeted four times, two of these fouls resulting in bookings, and Marcelo Bielsa had also been given a yellow card. Surely after those high jinks the second half would settle down and there might be a bit of football played?
You’ve seen what happened and even if you didn’t, you will. Time and again. What we witnessed was incredible even by the anything can happen in the next ninety minutes standards of Aston Villa 2018-19, and I suppose that your opinion of the ensuing events depends on which team you support. Leeds clearly slowed the game down, they indicated that the ball was going out of play and then carried on. It could be argued that Villa should have played to the whistle and there’s some truth in that – after all, this is Leeds we’re dealing with.
But whatever happened before the ball hit the back of the net, the scenes afterwards were inexcusable. Patrick Bamford went down like he’d been hit by one of his Uncle Joe’s works vans, Tyrone Mings acted the peacemaker by carrying a Leeds defender away from the scene of the crime under each arm, Conor Hourihane used what might be considered a somewhat combative demeanour and a couple of stewards wandered into the penalty area for some reason that remains unknown. Marcel Bielsea behaved with a vast amount of sportmanship and dignity. There; I’ve said it.
As for the match, Villa looked okay in the first half, should have had a penalty and missed a few good chances then after going down to ten men they battled away magnificently in a bearpit atmosphere with a referee well up to the usual standards of the Championships. We’ve come to expect nothing less.
John McGinn was booked, which is less surprising than just about anything else the afternoon threw up, Jed Steer was injured deep into stoppage time but hobbled on to the end and the final whistle saw fifth place virtually guaranteed. The winning run might be over so it’s time to start another; certainly, Leeds showed that we have nothing to fear from them should both teams get through to Wembley, playing with even numbers and with a vaguely competent set of officials.
So there’s just the one league game left of a season that’s been memorable in every way possible. McGinn, Gealish and Mings can’t be risked – in fact, they shouldn’t be allowed out of the house for the next week and a bit. Get the Norwich match out of the way and in the words of a manager we certainly won’t be coming up against next season, we go again.