Aston Villa and the fond farewell

Villa end the season by beating Chelsea as Dave Woodhall looks forward.

It’s been over fifteen months since supporters were allowed into Villa Park so there was more than the usual sense of anticipation surrounding the final game of a more than unusual season. Anticipated it might have been, but my return will be a bit longer because, part-timer that I am, I agree with my Wolves-supporting mate who said that the whole atmosphere of the return is a bit too dystopian to be worth the trouble. Not that I was missed because the ten thousand available tickets were over-subscribed within a couple of hours and everyone inside the ground had been looking forward to kick-off ever since their number came up last week.

Apart from anything else it used to be law that the sun shone on the final day. We didn’t get that, but if the weather seemed like winter was now into its seventh month, what happened on the pitch was (mostly) sunshine all the way.

Not surprisingly it was an unchanged line-up with limited scope for experimentation due to the small matter of the upcoming FA Youth Cup final, although there was still room on the bench for Carney Chukwuemeka. Talking of benches, one look at the talent on Chelsea’s sidelines showed how far Villa still have to go before we can seriously think about the Champions League, and there wasn’t even room for the player I’d have back tomorrow if the opportunity arose.

At this stage Villa are never going to outplay a side like Chelsea; instead we have to ally the considerable skill there is in the team with maximum effort, and every player gave his all today. The visitors had the better early chances and didn’t take them, Villa had a corner a couple of minutes before the break and another new set-piece move came off with Bertrand Traore showing that he might be infuriatingly inconsistent but he’s also great to watch.

Early in the second half Traore was brought down in the box, Anwar El Ghazi took the penalty and Villa were firmly in control. Well, as much as we could have been because Chelsea, with their Champions League place now in danger, came back strongly and Villa had to respond in kind. Marvelous Nakamba again justified Dean Smith’s decision to bring him back into the team, John McGinn alongside was every bit the midfield general and the back four did their job as they have all season. Then there’s Emiliano Martinez, bringing back memories of another Arsenal reject keeper from forty years ago.

Chukwuemeka came on and for the second time in four days didn’t look out of place on a pitch full of world-class talent. Chelsea pulled a goal back but Villa saw out the game without any further alarm. The final whistle blew, the mutual appreciation could begin and thoughts can turn to what the summer might bring and what the future holds.

On the subject of that fortieth anniversary, Ron Saunders would have loved the chance to manage this Villa side. They can play football, they can battle and they have team spirit in abundance. There’s still a long way to go before they can be spoken about in the same breath as their predecessors but for the third end of season in a row, look at how far they’ve come and get excited about how much further they can travel.