Aston Villa and the perfect finish

Villa win at Old Trafford. Dave Woodhall wonders if he’s seeing things.

As the former manager of a football team who lost on Saturday once said, “Football. Bloody hell.”

You could say that and more about what we witnessed during that defeat. Looking at the possession and shots and probably that XG nonsense it seemed to be a fortunate win. Other statistics showed Villa scored 100% of the goals, got 100% of the points and were on the receiving end of 99.8% of the bad decisions.

Villa’s team was virtually the same as the one that had lost at Chelsea, the 3-5-2 formation being retained. With Leon Bailey out injured the side seemed more workmanlike than attacking, but it was soon clear that Dean Smith’s pre-match plan was working. Villa should have taken the lead after after fifteen minutes when Matty Cash’s great work laid on a chance that as the saying goes, Matt Targett found harder to miss. Then Ollie Watkins should have picked up on a poor back pass but shot weakly.

No goals in the first half, and the first twenty minutes of the second passed without incident, before a Manchester United player went down in the area, a Villa defender was within touching distance and… nothing was given. If the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can cause an earthquake on the other side of the world, then such a phenomenon must surely have led to a solar outburst somewhere in the deepest reaches of the galaxy.

The incident clearly unsettled United, unused to such happenings as they are, and they took some time to get over it but with the game still end to end they were gradually getting on top. Emi Buendia came on to provide some creativity in midfield and with the score goalless and four minutes remaining, Smith took off a midfielder and brought on forward Cameron Archer, making his league debut. How many managers would do that at Old Trafford?

Time was running out and a credible draw looked the likely outcome when a perfect corner allowed for a perfect run and flicked, unstoppable header from Kortney Hause. Austin McPhee might look like a Motorhead roadie but he’s transformed Villa’s set piece delivery. It seemed, for a couple of minutes, as though we might be going on to win at Old Trafford. At last.

But of course that was forgetting a force beyond the understanding of man or nature. Manchester United were losing in stoppage time at Old Trafford and Mike Dean was the referee. You know the rest.

Or not, because this was our day. Undeniably, unstoppably, it belonged to the forces of good. The penalty entered orbit and ended up somewhere near the blue plaque that marks the spot where Chris Nicholl launched his thunderbolt.

Game over, three points and another result that will make people take notice around the world. Yet again, to mention any player in particular would do a dis-service to the others. We’ve had more disruptions to the start of the season than I can ever remember yet we’ve come through them all and we’re looking stronger than we have for a decade and more. This team never gives up and most importantly of all, it doesn’t fear any opposition.

What a game, what a finish, what a result. Next time you get depressed about the mercenary and corrupt nature of football at the top level, about gloryhunting supporters and trophy-chasing players, just remember how you felt at the final whistle. Football. Bloody hell.

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