Villa lose to Manchester United. Dave Woodhall is resigned to it all.
I was at Villa Park on Sunday afternoon, even if it was only giving someone a lift to get their Covid jab. There’s a connection there between the choice of being stuck with needles and of playing Manchester United; in fact, I’m not entirely sure whether I’d prefer root canal surgery to the prospect of enduring ninety-plus minutes in their company.
Anyway, the annual visitation was upon us and it was no great surprise to learn that Villa were unchanged from the win at Everton. Ross Barkley, for one, deserved an opportunity to see if he can continue with his improved form of the past couple of weeks and the rehabilitation of Wesley via the bench continues.
As for the game it went more or less as you’d expect. Villa did well in the first half and were good value for the half-time lead, with Bertrand Traore on one of his good days, scoring and looking dangerous. We also started the second half brightly and Ollie Watkins might have got a second. But this is Villa against Manchester United and you know what’s coming next.
Douglas Luiz makes an unnecessary challenge, doubly pointless because any challenge inside the area is likely to lead to a penalty these days and three times over given the colour of the shirt his opponent was wearing. That was effectively game over, then four minutes later a bit of a defensive cock-up put the visitors ahead.
Jacob Ramsey, then Wesley and Keinan Davis came on in an attempt to turn the game round (compare and contrast with the substitutions the other lot were able to make) but a third goal as Villa were chasing the game was enough to finalise proceedings. Except, of course, for the grand finale of a typical refereeing display when Ollie Watkins received a second yellow while trying to avoid a challenger that could have ended his season or worse. Some things never change.
After the match there were one or two comments about the players not contesting decisions with the referee (from Greater Manchester – the Premier League aren’t even trying to hide it anymore) but really, what’s the point? You know they’re going to get the benefit of every debatable decision and you also know that at least once in the match there’s going to be a time when you can only stare in resigned amazement. Intimidation, incompetence or corruption? Maybe all three. If the refereeing had been fair throughout, Villa would very likely have lost anyway; Manchester United are a better team than us and there weren’t enough of our players on top form to have made much difference to the result.
But that isn’t really the point. The refereeing wasn’t fair, the big decisions went to United yet again, and maybe that lack of confrontation with the officials is down to the fact that they always will. You may as well save your fight for the battles you can win – starting with Everton on Thursday night. Watkins being suspended might lead to Louie Barry getting a place on the bench, which would be one silver lining. On that theme, well done to the Villa women’s team for avoiding relegation.
And to finish where I started, at least it’s out of the way. Now to deal with the side effects.