Aston Villa and the ongoing farce

Villa beat Brighton 2-1 with no thanks to a usual suspect, as Dave Woodhall points out.

Above anything else, there’s one point that should be remembered about Saturday’s match. A year earlier Villa had also won by a single goal at home, against Swansea, rising to fourteenth in the Championship as a result. Twelve months later beating Brighton took us to eleventh in the Premier League and complaining that we didn’t play particularly well in the process. That’s the effect Dean Smith has had.

And yes, it wasn’t a good display. Brighton were the better side for the first half-hour and deservedly took the lead because Villa’s old habit of poor marking at set-pieces dies hard. Then the game’s first turning point came when Brighton’s Aaron Mooy was sent off for two bookings, the first of which was deserved and the second, coming just five minutes later, was downright idiotic.

As we’ve seen before this season, losing a player doesn’t always penalise Villa’s opponents but it did give the side better impetus and in particular allowed Jack Grealish a lot more space, which he exploited to the full. With John McGinn having a quieter day than usual (maybe still drying out after his Hampden soaking last week), Grealish was at his best in getting forward, beating players and setting up his team-mates. There may be better midfielders in the Premier League but few who are as effective when they’re on top of their game.

Conor Hourihane equalised five minutes before half-time with a trademark left-footed bullet, only for the goal to be ruled out in a decision that showed the very worst of VAR, and there’s some stiff competition for that honour. Technology can work in some sports when there’s a binary decision to be made – whether the ball’s in or out of play and in which direction it was travelling. Football’s not like that; most decisions have some human element involved and here we had one where the referee on the spot, with a clear view, saw nothing wrong yet could be over-ruled by an official a hundred miles away, watching on television.

And that’s without the ludicrous situation whereby you can’t even tell whether a goal will count until the opposition have kicked off. I’m wondering whether, now the PPI deadline has passed, we’ll start to see adverts from ambulance-chasing law firms aimed at football clubs wrongly penalised by this on-going farce.

But never mind, into stoppage time and Frederic Guilbert’s ball split the Brighton defence for Grealish to get just enough of a connection for the ball to end up in the net and for the celebrations to begin – what seemed five minutes later.

The second half was a lot less incident-filled as Villa again found it difficult to get going. Too many players were off their game and Brighton to their credit were well-organised. Substitutions were made but there still seemed nothing was going to happen and as ever the crowd were trying to persuade themselves that a point was a decent result when yet again, a moment of inspiration from Grealish set up Matt Targett for his first Villa goal. A ninety-fifth minute winner, ten seconds left, and again the celebrations were (a bit) muted until the goal was confirmed. That can’t be right.

Eleventh in the table, even if it might not last for more than a day or two. I’ll be very surprised, or to be more accurate absolutely ecstatic, if that position stays the same after the next two games, when Villa face Manchester City and Liverpool. But hope springs eternal, and there have already been enough surprise results this season to show that anything’s possible – just look at that Championship table from a year ago. We’ve gone from being below Wigan and Bristol City to above Manchester United and Everton.

And the final word on VAR from Dean Smith; “I don’t like it”. Which ends the argument – Dean Smith is never wrong.