Aston Villa and the man who knows

Villa beat Spurs. Dave Woodhall is humbled by the surroundings.

Almost without noticing it the end of the season is coming up fast and the arrival of Spurs was a significant occasion, perhaps bigger than any other game so far. Villa have been expected to run out of steam at some stage during the run-in, and losing twice in succession might have shown that while it’s been nice to harbour dreams of a top six finish, that’s our lot this time round and try again in 2024. We had to beat Spurs to keep any sort of hopes alive, and so it was with a bit of trepidation that another sell-out crowd turned up at Villa Park on Saturday afternoon.

There were no major changes in the line-up, with Leon Bailey perhaps a surprise and definitelye fortunate starter. Phillipe Coutinho was missing from the bench with what’s turned out to be another injury and the spine of the team showed that Unai Emery preferred the ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ approach that’s served him well since Christmas over the fear of tiredness that’s seemed to be setting in recently. When the team was announced there were a few mutterings that the manager might have made a mistake or two, but we should know by now; Unai knows better than any of us. Football is a game of opinions but that one’s not up for debate.

It took just eight minutes for Emery’s team to prove their superiority. Jacob Ramsey picked out Bailey from midfield, moved into space and hit a first-time shot home to give Villa the lead. From then on it was like watching the Villa of a month ago. Ollie Watkins and Emiliano Buendia brought out fine saves but there were no further goals before half-time.

The second half saw a defensive mix-up almost give Spurs an equaliser, but Villa’s response was a twenty-five yard free kick from Douglas Luiz that was perfectly placed. Two-nil and the only question now was whether Villa could get the additional goal that would have taken them above Spurs in the table. It didn’t happen and instead we got a reminder that no matter whether Villa are above Spurs or not, there’s only one team who are going to get the contentious decisions go their way. A butterfly flapped its wings over the Pacific and Spurs were awarded a penalty. It was the only way they were going to score and it was followed by another bit of unnecessary drama when a clearly offside attacker was allowed to run on and put the ball into the net before it was disallowed. Why the flag couldn’t have gone up right away is a mystery known only to the Premier League and, I suspect, their paymasters.

In the end it was three more points and we’re back on track. That spine of the side looked rejuvenated; John McGinn in particular is heading towards Platt/Barry/Milner levels of midfield excellence. For too long Spurs have been the sort of club to look at, argue why they’ve gone so far ahead of us and wonder if we can ever catch them up. They might still finish above the Villa in the table; their final couple of games seem easier and that penalty could prove crucial. But when 2024 does come round, I know who my money will be on. And so, I suspect, does Unai.

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