Aston Villa with nothing to play for save their pride and their fans played their part in defending the integrity of the EFL by not surrendering meekly to a team that needed a win as had Huddersfield last weekend for example.
We were reduced to ten men in the 63rd minute when the referee decided the penalty they converted was not quite enough punishment for Baker so it then appeared Brighton were set for the win that they needed to clinch the title. However, their wild goal celebrations proved to be somewhat premature because 10-man Villa kept at it and Grealish hit a late equalizer that handed the trophy to Newcastle.
The sorrowful reaction of the Brighton players at the end showed how much the game had mattered to them. No doubt Newcastle fans will accept that we played a major role in bringing them the trophy they collected yesterday and will stop whingeing about our football club for a short time as a result?
We finished the season with a plucky point but in the bottom half of the table, albeit top of that bottom half. We now face a vitally important summer during which Steve Bruce will need to make the changes necessary to gather the extra thirtysomething points we will need to secure automatic promotion next season.
What yesterday’s game did prove is that in games against Brighton this season there has not been a great deal to choose between the two teams (although it is arguable that we produced our two best performances of the season against them). Brighton who have been promoted have had the consistency that we have lacked and have not had the runs of bad results and poor performances that have blighted our season and cost us any hope we once had of joining them in the top flight next season.
Respect is also due to the Seagulls fans who applauded at the right moments, showed appropriate respect and resisted any temptation there may have been to remind us of our under-achievement during this season. Enjoy your return to the top flight and I hope we will join you next season.
The highlight of yesterday for me was the half-time appearance of Villa heroes’ Peter McParland and Nigel Sims 60 years on from their 1957 FA Cup win against the Busby Babes. I really hope that we can lift that trophy again for them soon as this is the longest time our club has gone without winning it by some distance.
On a personal note, I would like to take this opportunity to add my late friend Peter Wyper to the list of Villains that we have sadly lost during this season. Pete was a life-long Villa fan who was among those that cheered the 57 cup winners on their return to the city from Wembley. Pete passed away yesterday evening following a lengthy battle with illness. He will be much missed by his family and friends – HEITS.
My player ratings from our last game of this disappointing season are:
Sam Johnstone – 6 – Was sent the wrong way from the spot but had earlier did very well on the 58th minute to block a shot from Baldock with his legs after the forward had got the better of Baker. Sam also did well to keep out a 77th minute shot from Bruno. If that was to be his last game for us it was a decent one but will it prove to be given he has now found his confidence with us?
James Bree – 6 – Was found on the edge of the box by Bacuna on 78 minutes and his shot was deflected just over the bar.
James Chester - 7 – Solid enough at the back as usual and is becoming a threat up front.
Nathan Baker – 5 – Given his marching orders a little too readily for me in the 63rd minute when he clipped the heel of Baldock as he was pulling the trigger having reacted slower to a header on than the forward had.
Neil Taylor – 7 – A good solid overall performance that was his best for us to date for me.
Albert Adomah – 4 – Did the best of what work he did when they had the ball. His impact up front was once again only minimal prior to his 61st minute substitution. He is capable of doing a lot more than he did yesterday and than he has done of late.
Henri Lansbury – 6 – Hit a decent 13th minute shot from around 30 yards that Stockdale pushed wide for a corner low at his left-hand post. He really should have put us ahead 7 minutes later when Pocognoli chested a Taylor cross back across the face of the goal to him but he turned his header inches wide of the far post with the goal gaping before him. Nice to see both Henri and Hourihane getting forward more often than has recently been the case and they can become a very effective midfield pairing with a pre-season behind them.
Conor Hourihane - 7 – MOTM - Bent a free-kick around the wall in the 2nd minute of first half stoppage time which Stockdale did well to turn around his post. Hit a 56th minute shot from outside of the box that Stockdale got down low at his left-hand post to keep out and 2 minutes later Davis played the ball back to him inside the box and his shot was again saved by the keeper low at the far post. Eventually took an 85th minute free-kick from the edge of the box following Bacuna’s shenanigans that forced a save from Stockdale.
Leandro Bacuna – 5 – Showed the same lack of discipline that led to his recent suspension for getting in the face of a linesman again yesterday when twice forcibly demanding the ball at free-kicks from Hourihane. When did he last score from a free-kick and what leads him to think that he should be in line to take a free-kick ahead of Conor (who tends to force a save rather than prod the ball into the defensive wall)? His petulance was more striking for me than what impact he otherwise had on the game yesterday. Will his name still be found on the team sheet next season or will his long-awaited move to a Champions League team actually happen?
Jordan Amavi – 6 – Did well enough playing once again in an advanced role.
Scott Hogan – 5 – Pounced on a sloppy half-hit 34th minute back pass from Pocognoli hitting a shot from inside of the box that was deflected just wide by Stockdale’s outstretched leg. Worryingly limped off the field following a clumsy challenge by Sidwell that the referee chose not to show any card for.
Keinan Davis – 7 – Replaced Hogan in the 2nd minute of first half stoppage time and showed some promise for the future during the second half. Lansbury played a ball into the box for him to run onto on 50 minutes but penalty appeals were ignored by both the referee and his assistant when Dunk slid in to take Davis rather than the ball. He was not quite able to force the ball home near the goal line after Amavi had headed the resulting corner towards Chester at the far post who in turn had headed the ball goalward. Grealish hit a 69th minute cross and having turned nicely he hit a shot that forced a save from Stockdale. Had an opportunity to win the game when the ball fell to him off a defender with a minute of stoppage time remaining. Keinan ran to the edge of the box but his shot was a weak one and was easily held by a relieved Stockdale.
Jack Grealish – 7 - Replaced Adomah on 61 minutes. Hit our late equalizer on the 89th minute. Taylor played the ball to him near the edge of the box and his curled shot went past a couple of defenders as well as remarkably keeper Stockdale who was left on his knees having failed to get anything on the ball as it went past him. This was a clear step up on some recent displays from Jack.
Tommy Elphick – 5 - Replaced Amavi on 65 minutes. Half hit a 68th minute back pass that Murray ran onto before playing the ball unselfishly back to Baldock who saved Tommy’s blushes by making a hash of the scoring opportunity which left the ball being played clear after it hit Chester’s leg rather than the back of the net.
Up the Villa!