Villa lost at Manchester City with Dave Woodhall looking on with interest.
And so it came to pass. After 37 games Villa were destined to be the supporting cast when the title was decided. We were the cannon fodder, the band that’s on when you’re in the bar, the bloke sat in the corner of the Rover’s Return in the soap opera that was the finale of the Premier League season.
The script was that it would be in doubt until the dying minutes. The likelihood was a routine defeat, made more likely by the absence of Emiliano Martinez, and not helped by the tried and failed midfield trio, although at least the South American wizards both started.
In the event that you haven’t seen what happened, Villa were under pressure for most of the early stages but coped well and then late in the first half Jacob Ramsey carried the ball out of midfield, laid it on to Lucas Digne, whose inch-perfect cross was headed home by Matty Cash. It could have got better when Ollie Watkins missed a one on one, but with twenty minuets to go a route one moment when Robin Olsen’s long kick was headed down by Watkins for Coutinho suddenly made life a lot brighter.
Of course, it couldn’t last. If Burnley on Thursday evening summed up 2021-22, this afternoon could have come right out of most of the past thirty seasons. We got ourselves into a winning position, then the nerves and the lack of self-belief set in. Manchester City could bring on world-class stars while Villa, feeling the effects of a game less than 72 hours earlier, had Marvelous Nakamba replacing the tiring Coutinho. Nakamba has had his moments but since returning from injury he’s struggled and that was the case today. Whether bringing on a defensive-minded player was the right decision is open to debate; whether it would have made any difference to the way the match ultimately went is equally uncertain. Villa are the last team you’d want to defend a two-goal lead and that’s been the case for longer than I’d care to remember.
Once the first goal went in the next two were inevitable; as, sadly, were the scenes at the final whistle. Pitch invasions used to be about joyous celebration. Now they seem an excuse to taunt the opposition players. City supporters used to be known as good losers, and they’d had plenty of practice. Now they’re bad winners and they’re getting a lot of practice at that as well.
You couldn’t fault Villa’s effort. The players gave their all and another attacker to replace Coutinho might have made a difference but it’s not really worth dwelling on. Boubacar Kamara seems to be on his way, surely to God the law of averages will give us a successful French midfielder this time and I’d rather be concentrating on the start of next season than the end of this one.
And ultimately, for all the screaming about last-minute drama, and why this is the best league in the world, the title was won by a club who could afford to keep a £100 million player on the bench. Was anyone really surprised?