Aston Villa and the long trek

Villa lost 3-2 at Crystal Palace, as Dave Woodhall reports.

If you look hard enough you can find a silver lining in every grey cloud, and the current (hopefully soon to be ending) situation regarding supporters not being allowed to watch Premier League games does at least mean that there was no need to make the trek to Selhurst Park. Go to the ends of the earth, turn right and carry on a bit; that’s how you get there and for a Sunday mid-day kick-off, leaving home on Thursday afternoon would have been advisable, earlier if you don’t already live in London.

That predictable comment out of the way, and with the other one about Villa never playing well here to come, all was set fair for Villa’s end of the season to continue fizzling. Ross Barkley was finally dropped, injuries saw a return for Ahmed Elmohamady and a rare outing for the injury-hit but otherwise usually reliable Kortney Hause. Elmo would be looking for a new contract while his mate was hoping to persuade whoever deals with Villa’s transfers these days that a third choice central defender isn’t a summer priority. It was noticeable that Hause rather than Bjorn Engels started, indicating which of the two is likely to be moving on soon.

Both players would have been content with their contribution during a first half that commentators might have described as ‘pulsating’. Villa captain John McGinn opened the scoring with a well-placed 25-yard shot that went in off the post, Christian Benteke continued his recent good form (something that hasn’t been written since 2015) with an equaliser then Anwar El Ghazi put Villa into the lead almost immediately afterwards. 2-1 up at the break and it could have been more. All was looking good.

And then, not for the first time this season, Villa fell away. The second Palace equaliser came via a deflection; before Christmas it would have bounced harmlessly out of play, now it crept the wrong side of the post with Emiliano Martinez helpless. If that wasn’t enough bad fortune, a miskick bounced awkwardly for the Villa defence and perfectly for a winner that seemed to be more elbow than head, but some sub-section of a paragraph hidden deeply in the mid-May 2021 version of the Premier League rulebook meant it has to be allowed.

And that, again, was that. Jack Grealish played another half an hour back to full fitness, Keinan Davis and Wesley both came on too late to make much difference. We never do play well here; another day, another lost opportunity. Villa now seem to likely to be ending the season in eleventh place. There aren’t many of us who would have turned that down in September, but at the same time it’s still going to be a bit of a disappointment after witnessing so much excitement during the first half of the season.

But to end on a positive note, well done to the under-18s for getting to the FA Youth Cup final. Any team that can score nineteen goals in three cup ties is doing well and the game against Liverpool promises to be one to remember.