Aston Villa and the end’s in sight

Villa draw at Anfield with Dave Woodhall poised for the season’s climax.

At the end of that match we don’t keep going on about anywhere near as much as other clubs’ supporters keep going on about us keep going on about it, there were 34 seconds of what was then called injury time. There was a disallowed goal, and I doubt the Villa were rushing to get the ball back when it went out of play during the final minutes but the amount that was added on raised no comment at all. Like many things, it was accepted then.

There were almost twenty minutes added onto Saturday’s game at Anfield. No particularly lengthy injury breaks, no endless VAR wrangling. Yet the referee and fourth official decided between them that almost another twenty per cent of the game’s scheduled duration should be added on. Or to put it another way, for every five minutes that were played, one was, in their eyes, wasted. Maybe they think match tickets are too expensive so they wanted to give the paying punters a bit more value for their money.

Villa kicked off at Anfield with the rare experience of knowing that the day had started well, Spurs’ defeat at home to Brentford meaning that anything from this game would take us above them into seventh place. Matty Cash and Lucas Digne were in the full-back roles and Boubacar Kamara was in central midfield, giving the side more defensive stability against an opposition who were, annoyingly, finishing the season in good form. Not that this was much of a problem, as Villa started well. The footballing firmament was rocked to its foundations as Villa were given an early penalty but normal service was resumed when Ollie Watkins, who isn’t a penalty taker and shouldn’t have been given the opportunity, put it wide.

No matter, because five minutes later Douglas Luiz’s cross found Jacob Ramsey and Villa were in the lead. Watkins and Ramsey both had good chances saved with Villa looking as impressive as they have at any time this season. Alex Moreno and Ashley Young came on early in the second half then, in the game’s second sensation, a Liverpool equaliser was disallowed for offside. Clearly this unusual state of affairs could not be allowed to continue and so it was that Moreno went off injured after barely twelve minutes on the pitch.

Liverpool were coming forward more now, but Villa and in particular the immaculate Tyrone Mings were looking capable of holding on. One team could bring on seasoned international substitutions, the other had to reply on squad players and youngsters; when that happens the result is usually inevitable. Perhaps Douglas Luiz could have stayed on the pitch a couple of minutes longer and if he had, Liverpool might not have got an even tighter grip on midfield. We’ll never know.

A ninetieth-minute equaliser and over to the fourth official to see how long he was going to allow Liverpool to get a winner. it had been nine minutes in the first half, surely that length of time couldn’t be repeated in the second period. It wasn’t – ten minutes were given and even then the referee, humming You’ll Never Walk Alone under his breath, added another one on for good measure. Unfortunately for him Villa held firm, despite another couple of bookings in the time added on, and it’s all down to us now.

It shows how far the team have come that we’re disappointed to only draw at Liverpool. A (very) small part of me in the past few weeks has wondered whether we’d be better off not getting into Europe this time round and concentrating our efforts on a crack at the top four next season. To say that in all seriousness is an even bigger indication of the massive improvement we’ve made but that idea’s gone right out the window now. Getting back into Europe is very definitely in our own hands. One game to go and if we win it we’re there.

Talking of which, Wolves’ Reuben Neves said after his side gave away an equaliser during another lengthy period of added time that the ref told him they had instructions to play the “full allotted added time” in the final two games, to which he not unreasonably pointed out why now and not for the whole season? That might be a hard question to answer so here’s an easier one. If Villa are losing against Brighton at the end of either half next Sunday will we see ten minutes added? I think I know that one.

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