Newcastle are the only team to have not beaten us in the league this season. As a result they look likely to join us in our journey to the league below next season. It was at Villa Park that their relegation fate was decided 7 years ago and their fate was all but sealed yesterday when they failed to claim the three points they had expected to leave with. A win for their neighbours Sunderland who are at home to Everton on Wednesday will seal their fate and will see them along with Norwich visiting Villa Park again next season.
Everyone had guessed that this would prove a straightforward win for our visitors yesterday because doesn’t everyone beat us these days? However, we avoided the shame of setting a new club record of twelve consecutive league defeats yesterday by keeping a very, very rare clean sheet.
A goalless draw was the limit of our ambitions from the very start of this our final home game of the season so I guess this was a case of mission accomplished for our temporary manager Eric Black. His team selection did nothing to suggest we were looking to take the game to our visitors. We looked to stifle them rather than to take them on. We left creative players such as Grealish, Adama and Gil sitting on our bench throughout the game despite having a total lack of threat up front from start to finish.
This was a game that produced a workman like performance from Villa which is a description that has rarely been associated with our team’s performances this season. For some reason our visitors chose not to press us and they looked little better than we did which is quite a condemnation these days. If anything we looked more committed than they did which was surprising given they still had a decent chance of staying up before this game. They had chances to win the game in the second half but failed to take them. Colback flashed a shot over the bar on 46 minutes, Mitrovic chipped a ball over both Bunn and the bar 15 minutes later and then headed wide of the post on 74 minutes. We didn’t have any chances at all.
This point moves us to 17 points from 16 at long last. It is too little too late but there was a feeling of relief at the final whistle because avoiding defeat has almost become a cause for celebration having been becalmed on 16 points for so long.
Both Newcastle and Villa have fans that do not deserve to be relegated but I would not say the same about either of these two club’s owners.
This game was a poor one. It will be one we will soon forget and one that Newcastle fans will try to forget but may struggle to do so. What it did show was our fans at their very best. Fans marched before the game to again show their feelings about how this club is being run. Well done to everyone who took part in this as well as in past protests and to those that have organised these protests for us. Villa fans sang loud and proud during the game and the inflatables, banners and balloons made a striking impression during the game and particularly on the 74th minute. These are the things that are worth remembering from yesterday.
We now need to stop dithering and appoint a new manager. We cannot wait indefinitely to do so in the hope that a new owner will be in place sooner rather than later. We need to bring in players and let others who either want to leave or we want to leave go. We need to start preparing for the challenges we will face in three months from the likes of Rotherham and Leeds.
My player ratings from a game that brought us something other than another league defeat are:
Mark Bunn – 6 – Could not hold a low 70th minute shot from Wijnaldum but Bacuna was first to the loose ball and cleared it with a little help from Clark’s back. A far quieter day at the office than he would have been expecting.
Alan Hutton – 5 – Worked hard as he always does but his crosses were again woeful as was that attempted shot.
Kevin Toner – 6 – It was asking a lot for this young prospect to fill in for the missing Cissokho. He did look solid enough at the back and he will grow in confidence the more games he gets but he unsurprisingly looked less than fluent when trying to move forward. For me his future is clearly in the centre of defence and unlike others at the club he has one.
Joleon Lescott – 5 – One of his better performances in what has been a sorry season for him and for us both on and off the field.
Ciaran Clark – 7 – MOTM – Beaten too easily to a 74th minute cross by Mitrovic whose header was fortunately off target but showed courage to get his head in the way of a fierce goal bound shot from Wijnaldum in stoppage time. Our best defender by a distance yesterday and if he stays he might well get the captain’s armband next season.
Leandro Bacuna – 4 – Will this be Leo’s last appearance at Villa Park or will he come back in a Milan shirt in a few years?
Carlos Sanchez – 5 – Broke up play reasonably well and made none of those glaring errors that he is prone to.
Ashley Westwood – 5 – Did his bit in keeping the midfield together but offered little to those playing in front of him.
Idrissa Gana – 6 – Put his foot in and kept busy. I guess he will be among the few players we would like to keep but no doubt he will be one of the first that we get derisory offers for.
Jordan Ayew – 5 – Jordan had a quiet one. He was starved of the sort of service that players left on the bench may have provided him with. He has the ability to shine with better players around him I guess he will not get the opportunity to do so with us anytime soon.
Scott Sinclair – 5 - Scott showed to anyone who might have had any doubts about it that he is not comfortable in playing as a target man. He did however manage our one shot on target in the 65th minute when Ayew played a nice ball to him and he hit a shot from just inside the box that forced a save from Darlow tis a pity he had strayed just offside.
Rushian Hepburn-Murphy - Replaced Sinclair on 90 minutes so was not on long enough to gather a rating despite 6 minutes of Rafa time.
We will return – Up the Villa!