Aston Villa and what money can’t buy

Dave Woodhall watches Villa draw with Manchester City.

WARNING – The following contains a very old and very bad joke.

The other day I was checking when Saturday’s matches were due to kick off. Some were 12.30, others were three o’clock. For Villa v Manchester City it said: “Every ten minutes.” I did warn you.

We went into this one with the same trepidation as that League Cup final of 2020 – losing was a formality, just please don’t get battered too badly. The team looked an odd one, with the usual suspects keeping their places, our South American matchwinners on the bench and what looked to be Leon Bailey up front with Ollie Watkins. Strange and, in the circumstances, potentially suicidal.

Then again, desperate times call for desperate measures and they also call for the sort of effort we got from kick-off to full time. Villa were under pressure for most of the match but we coped with everything. City might have had a couple early on but they didn’t and we started to get more into the game, despite losing Matty Cash to injury after 27 minutes. It was a bit of a gamble to put Ashley Young into his place for such a long time against such opponents but it paid off, with experience making up for a loss of pace. A cool head was needed and that was just what we got, Young even setting up the attack that led to Villa’s best chance of the first half.

We might have been a bit lucky to go into the break level but that didn’t last long, when City went into the lead five minutes into the second half. That, you might have thought, was that. Sit back and await the inevitable.

Inevitable was what it looked for a long time afterwards, with City hitting the bar and missing a couple of other chances. Philippe Coutinho came on for John McGinn, there didn’t appear to be much difference in Villa’s approach and it seemed as though beaten but at least not battered was how the match would end. And then.

The kind of entitled, spoilt brats who are Manchester City fans in the way their older brothers were Manchester United and their fathers Liverpool often come out with sneering stuff about “Why should anyone support a team like Aston Villa?” For the kind of feeling that comes when Jacob Ramsey got the ball in the penalty area and found Leon Bailey, that’s why. Your team can buy as many league titles, cups and maybe one day even the Champions League as they want, but you will never, ever get the same feeling we did when that ball hit the back of the net.

From then on only one team was ever going to win. The crowd noise moved up a level from frenzied to rabid, the team poured forward and Coutinho did get the ball into the net, but although the offside decision was ridiculous the City players had already stopped when he hit it and anyway we don’t deserve any decision to ever go our way again Hawkeye Sheffield United.

One-one was the final score and although we’d had little enough of the play, we were the ones who felt disappointed at the end. It was the sort of match where it’s unfair to single out one player but special credit to Young as he rolled back the years and also to Douglas Luiz, who’s had an unsettling couple of days but who, like the rest of his colleagues, showed that there’s still enough spirit in the Villa side to move up the table smartish. Keep on learning, keep on battling and all will soon be well.