Aston Villa and the outside influence

Dave Woodhall watches Villa lose to Brighton and other events.

It’s that time of the season when other results are almost as important as your own. Of course, modern football means that the other games are never played at the same time as yours, so there’s no listening to the radio or cheering every five minutes as the rumours start to spread.

If Villa had won at Brighton we could have kept an eye on what came afterwards with little more than mild interest. As it was, no sooner had the match finished than attention turned to events a couple of hundred miles away. Unai Emery had changed things round a bit, playing Ezri Konsa at right-back and sending the team out in the hope that they could make up for the continued absence of Emiliano Martinez in goal.

The oft-maligned Robin Olsen was again the stand-in for Martinez and any criticism of him is undeserved because he kept Villa in the game for long period. And that’s the trouble, because when you lose and your keeper is still man of the match you can’t really say the result was down to bad luck.

This might have been Villa’s poorest performance of the season, although there’s been a lot of competition lately. There’s also the cast-iron reason for such bad form, namely a string of injuries that would have crippled any club and which would have been headline news for every other one competing with us at the top end of the table. That Unai Emery has never once put this forward as a justification for the team’s drop in form is yet more testament to his character and ability.

The team are quite clearly running on empty, and it showed throughout. There were misplaced passes and defensive mistakes, with Olsen the only thing between Villa and a heavy defeat. Unsurprisingly, Villa suffered another injury and just as obviously it had to be a player currently on top form, when Morgan Rogers went off midway through the first half. Brighton had a goal disallowed, while at the other end John McGinn was inches offside during a rare Villa attack.

There were three minutes left and Villa were looking like they might come away with an undeserved but vital point when a challenge from Ezri Konsa led to a penalty. It was somehow typical of the way events are going that Olsen manged to keep the original out, only for the ball to bounce perfectly for a match-winning rebound.

And so it was off to Liverpool, where the home side were doing us a favour against Spurs. Four-nil up and Villa’s goal difference was beginning to look insurmountable, but for the second successive game Spurs managed to pull two back.

You could argue that it was a good weekend for Villa, with another match gone and our challengers unable to cut the seven-point gap. It would have been better, though, if we hadn’t given Brighton their first home win against us since 1980-81, a season that finished with a game elsewhere taking on supreme importance, and that one didn’t end up too badly,