Aston Villa and the first flush of youth

Villa lose to Liverpool in the FA Cup, but Dave Woodhall still applauds.

When the story first broke that Bodymoor Heath was closed due to an outbreak of you-know-what, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to think this game might be postponed, but no. Never mind integrity, or the inevitable farce that resulted, or even safety, Villa played Liverpool in the FA Cup because the FA were making money out of it.

To put it into context, on the day the Premier League was first cancelled back in March, ten Covid-related deaths were recorded in the UK. When Villa played Sheffield United in June, the first match back, that figure was 79. Today it was 1,325. Not only should the match have been cancelled, there should be no more football until the situation is a lot more manageable.

There were comments along the lines that this game was some sort of payback for Villa beating Liverpool’s youths in last season’s League Cup, which ignores the small fact that Liverpool chose to put that team out. Villa had no such choice tonight. Talking of which, Jurgen Klopp putting out such a strong side – it’s down to him but what was the point? An attempt to get some sort of twisted revenge for those seven goals in October?

Anyway, Villa’s youngsters it was – and this wasn’t even a full under-anythings team as we have a few out on loan who would have got into this side – against a Liverpool line-up equal to one they’ll put out in Premier League games this season. With four minutes gone the inevitable happened when the grown-ups took the lead. It promised to be a long 86 minutes and on occasions Liverpool looked like they’d get those seven goals back before half-time, but a defence superbly marshalled by Mungo Bridge and Dominic Revan, plus keeper Akos Onodi, coped with all that came their way. And then, four minutes before half-time came the moment when Louie Barry became the most talked-about seventeen year old in football.

The ball was inch-perfect, his run was timed superbly and the way he took his goal was top-drawer. He will, surely, score many more but none will be so roundly applauded, nor celebrated by the scorer in quite such a way. One-one at the break, and a lot of bets had already gone down.

There was more of the same for fifteen minutes, until Liverpool killed off the game with three quick goals and as many substitutions, over £100 millions-worth of new arrivals making sure that there was no way back for the Villa. There was also no way past a defence that was on their knees by the end but still chasing every ball and lost cause.

It was, in its way, like watching a non-league side who’d battled their way into the third round and a glamour tie against the big guns. For some of the Villa side this will be as good as it gets in their football careers. For others, it will surely be just one step on the way to glory. It shouldn’t have happened but it did, and the night went as well as we could, realistically, have hoped.

Being a cup tie it only really affected the clubs concerned. Villa have got two league games in the next eight days, which will ultimately affect every other club in the Premier League. It’s inconceivable that the players who are currently ill will be anything like back to full fitness in that time, and more clubs are being similarly affected every day. Even leaving the health factor aside, football’s credibility is going the same way.

And it was DEFINITELY our year…