Well, now we have seen the end of yet another rollercoaster season for everyone of an Aston Villa persuasion. Following Villa’s promotion from the Championship in 2019 and coupled with the avalanche of signings in the Summer transfer window, optimism and spirits were high going into Villa’s first Premier League season in four years.
No-one could have predicted what was about to happen, in particular the Coronavirus pandemic that forced the season to stop to a halt. Let us start our review of the season just gone with what happened starting in August 2019…
Villa’s return to the Premier League came in the form of an away trip to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Excitement and anticipation before the game was at the forefront of every Villa fans’ minds. This excitement and hope were increased significantly when John McGinn was able to slot the ball past Hugo Lloris, with the French keeper unable to stop the shot from the Scotsman. However, hopes of an unlikely three points in North London were soon dashed by goals from Harry Kane and Tanguy Ndombele leaving Villa with a 3-1 defeat.
Optimism was still high though, as Villa had shown quality and played well throughout the ninety minutes but were unable to ride out Spurs’ late onslaught.
Villa’s next test came in the form of Bournemouth at Villa Park, with their promising performance against Spurs still on the minds of everyone of an Aston Villa persuasion. This optimism was dashed when Villa conceded twice in ten minutes to leave Villa 2-0 down. Douglas Luiz’s wonder goal late on in the game gave Villa hope, but Villa had to settle for a defeat. Suppoters hopes were about to rewarded though.
The next visitor to Villa Park was Everton, and the Toffees represented a good chance for Villa’s first three points. Villa went on to put on a blockbuster performance in front of a racous atmosphere at Villa Park, secured a 2-0 win (with a bit of luck along the way) giving the first three points on the return to the top flight.
Villa then had a league cup tie away to Crewe Alexandra, where a rotated Villans side beat the Railwaymen 6-1 on the night, to ease into the third round of the tournament.
Aston Villa’s final game in the month of August came in the form of an away trip to Selhurst Park to face Crystal Palace, with the Eagles with a solitary win so far in the season. This match went on to be frustrating for the Villans, with the Villa losing 1-0, although every Villa fan felt that Villa should have had an equaliser from Lansbury, but the referee felt that Villa captain Jack Grealish had dived in an attempt to win a penalty an Palace were given a free kick and went on to earn the three points.
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The month of September began with a largely uneventful Premier League match between Villa and West Ham, with the match ending in a 0-0 stalemate with both sides coming away from Villa Park with a point to show for their efforts over those ninety minutes.
The next game for Villa was much more eventful, as the Villans took another trip to North London to face Arsenal. The Gunners came out 3-2 winners, but this does not tell half the story of what took place in what was an eventful match.
John McGinn was once again was the source of Villa’s opening goal, giving Villa fans hope for an unexpected victory. And when Ainsley Maitland-Niles was sent off for Arsenal following a challenge on Villa left back Neil Taylor, Villa fans dared to dream of a Villa three points against the Gunners.
Matteo Guendouzi promptly went on a mazy run past numerous Villa players and eventually won a penalty off Bjorn Engels; Nicolas Pepe was then able to equalise for Arsenal.
Grealish himself then went on a mazy run of his own, straight through many Arsenal players before laying the ball off to Wesley, and the Brazilian striker promptly put the ball past Bernd Leno to give Villa back their lead, 2-1 Villa.
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Then, a scramble and poor defending left an easy goal to be scored by Calum Chambers to make the game level, 2-2. Arsenal then went ahead for the first time in the game, when Aubameyang’s free kick gave the Gunners the lead in North London. There was also a moment where Villa could have perhaps got a penalty from a handball but were denied this and came away with a perhaps undeserved defeat.
Villa were then able to beat a rotated Brighton side 3-1 in the next round of the Carabao Cup to put Villa through to the next round of the competition where they were set to face Midlands rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers at Villa Park.
Villa rounded off the month with a 2-2 stalemate against Burnley at Villa Park, in a game where Dean Smith’s side should probably should have taken all three points, but threw away their two goal lead. The Clarets scored a late equaliser through Chris Wood to leave Villa sharing a point instead of taking all three.
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Villa now had only had 5 points from a possible 21 with only one win. Fans were still optimistic, but everyone knew that Villa needed to start getting more wins quickly, or run the risk becoming embroiled in a very early relegation battle.
Well, Villa started the month quite well!
Villa’s first test of the month was at Carrow Road to face fellow relegation candidates Norwich City. This was was seen as an important milestone, especially as Villa hadn’t managed to win at Carrow Road in the Championship, so Dean Smtih needed a different outcome this time round.
It’s fair to say that this was a pretty good result for Villa, coming away with a very impressive 5-1 win against the Canaries with some great goals being scored, with Douglas Luiz’s strike perhaps being the pick of the bunch. This was certainly Villa’s best performance of the season so far.
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Aston Villa then followed up this positive result and excellent performance with another one in the next game when Villa took down Brighton with a Targett strike in the final moments to win a second game in a row. This was a sign of the Villa squad’s ability to fight until the very end, a trait that was going to come in handy near the end of the season…
Villa then faced an almighty challenge when they travelled to The Etihad to face Manchester City, with the Citizens representing Villa’s biggest test so far. Despite holding out for a good portion of the first half, City found a way to break Villa down and came away 3-0 winners on the day.
Villa rounded off the month with a league cup tie against Wolves at Villa Park, which was expected to be a tough test. However, Wolves fielded a much rotated team on the night featuring many fringe players and youngsters. Villa came out the winners with a 2-1 score line to keep Villa’s cup run going – their next Carabao Cup test was against the runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool at Villa Park their path to the final was never going to get easier. No-one was expecting Villa to get to the final at Wembley. Could they?
Runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool were the next visitors to Villa Park. This was a much more tightly contested encounter in which Villa were able to take a shock lead through Trezeguet early in the first half.
The Villans were able to withstand a Liverpool onslaught for most of the game – this was until Villa conceded two goals in ten minutes and Villa, in the end were unlucky to come away with a defeat with a 2-1 score line. Villa arguably deserved at least a point, if not all three. This showed a Villa trait that would haunt the squad for most of the season – their inability to hold on to a lead. Credit though to Liverpool for their fight back.
Villa then faced another difficult match at The Molineux, and Villa travelled to Wolverhampton hoping to improve a poor record against Wolves away from home in recent years. Unfortunately, Villa continued on this form, coming away with another 2-1 defeat, which was deserved unlike the 2-1 loss to Liverpool the previous weekend. Wolves raced to a two-goal lead, with Trezeguet pulling one goal back in the final moments of the match.
Aston Villa rounded off the month by welcoming Newcastle and ex-Villa boss Steve Bruce to Villa Park which put Bruce up against his successor on the Villa dugout, Dean Smith.
Bruce would have been desperate to get one over the club who fired him a year previously following a 3-3 draw with Preston North End.
Villa were 2-0 winners, comfortably beating the Magpies on the night courtesy of goals from Conor Hourihane and Anwar El Ghazi, who gave Villa the lead before half time. Villa were able to hold onto this lead and took all three points.
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Villa ended the month of November in 15th place, 4 points ahead of 18th placed Norwich City.
Villa started the month of December with a trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United, who had been the team to confirm the Villa’s relegation to the Championship four years previously.
The Red Devils have got the better of the Villans in most of the clubs’ previous meetings, with Villa’s last victory over United coming all the back in 2009, when a Gabriel Agbonlahor goal gave Villa a 1-0 win at Old Trafford lifting Villa to third.
This was a different matter though, with Villa once again in a relegation battle this time around.
Villa were able to put together a very good performance securing a 2-2 draw.
Smith’s side had taken the lead through a wonderful curling effort from Grealish before a Heaton own goal just before half time put United level. United took what was probably an undeserved lead through Victor Lindelöf following a set piece situation. Tyrone Mings was able to secure a deserved point a few minutes later. Should Villa have collected all three points though?
Stamford Bridge was Villa’s next destination with a similarly poor record against Chelsea, having not won there in the Premier League since 2011. Villa won 3-1 on that occasion.
In this game Chelsea were the dominant side for the majority of the game and had a 2-1 victory at the end of the 90 minutes to show for it. Villa did manage to score an equaliser, but Chelsea always looked the more likely side to secure all three points.
Villa’s December went from bad to worse when the side fell to a 4-1 loss at home to Leicester. The less said about that game the better.
And, well, the next game, a 2-0 defeat away at Bramall Lane against Sheffield United, with the Blades completely dominant and Villa did not really turn up. Let’s not talk too much about this game either…
Aston Villa were then able to take a break from the league campaign with a visit from Liverpool in the Quarter-Finals of the Carabao Cup with many Villa fans fearing the worst.
But as a result of Liverpool’s Club World Cup campaign, neither the Liverpool first team nor Jurgen Klopp made the trip to Villa Park, with the Reds fielding what was essentially their U23 side.
Villa were unsurprisingly dominant throughout the ninety minutes coming away with a 5-0 win – this was the game that saw Jonathan Kodjia score his final two goals in claret and blue before completing a move to Qatar.
However, Villa’s December in the Premier League got worse when Southampton arrived at Villa Park. The Saints, similar to Leicester a few weeks before, put in a dominant performance and came out 3-1 victors. The only consolation of the game for Villa was Villa captain Jack Grealish pulling a goal back in the late stages of the match. Villa’s league form was now deteriorating after three consecutive defeats.
In the next game though, Villa finally picked up a crucial victory with a 1-0 home win over fellow strugglers Norwich City. The Canaries made the match tense and hotly contested – but, they had nothing to show for their efforts, with a goal from Conor Hourihane securing all three points.
Villa rounded off the month of December with a trip to Vicarage Road to face Watford. This was a game I would rather not write about, given that Villa simply did not turn up, and received a 3-0 defeat for their troubles.
Aston Villa finished the month of December, and the year of 2019, in 18th position, with 18 points, a mere one point adrift of safety.
Aston Villa began the New Year with an away trip to Turf Moor, where they faced Sean Dyche’s Burnley, which was always going to be a very tough match, given the resilience and quality that Dyche’s side possess.
Before the match, fans could see this one going either way, but probably defeat following Villa’s shocking recent form. Villa did surprise though, coming away 2-1 winners following a wonderfully powerful shot from Grealish, coupled with another goal for summer signing Wesley. Ex-Leeds United striker Chris Wood pulled a goal back for Burnley late on in the game and Villa went on to secure a massively important three points.
There was controversy though, when Grealish scored, but was deemed offside by the narrowest of margins – this did not ultimately matter in the end but could have been pivotal for Villa’s season. Villa also lost Tom Heaton and Wesley to season ending ACL injuries during this win.
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Villa then took a trip to Craven Cottage to face Fulham in the FA Cup. Fulham put in a strong performance and won 2-1. The Cottagers fully deserved to go through to the next round.
Villa then took a trip to face Leicester in the first leg of the Carabao Cup Semi-Final, where Villa played well for the ninety minutes, with a goal from Guilbert securing a 1-1 draw going into the second leg at Villa Park. This draw, and away goal put Villa one step closer to Wembley and the Final, despite being level. Would Villa be able to beat Leicester over the two legs and get to the final?
The next game in the Premier League did not turn out to be great for Villa, as Manchester City came to Villa Park and ran out emphatic winners, scoring six past a struggling Villa side to secure their 6-1 win. Let’s move on. Quickly.
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At least we had something to shout about in the next game, an away trip to the South Coast to face fellow strugglers Brighton a game that saw Villa win 2-1 in their previous visit in the Carabao Cup. In the latest meeting, it looked as if Villa were going to fall to yet another Premier League defeat, but luckily Villa’s star man and captain Jack Grealish was able to secure an all-important point for his boyhood club, which would prove so vital in Villa’s bid to secure at least another season of Premier League football.
Villa’s final league game for January was a home tie against Watford, with the Hornets also being in the midst of the relegation battle. This was a massive game for both sides, with a win for either side lifting them out of the relegation zone.
This was the definition of a must win game.
The face-off looked to be going Watford’s way when Troy Deeney scored for Watford following some poor Villa defending. Midfield dynamo Douglas Luiz was able to latch onto the loose ball in the Watford box which he promptly rifled home to make it 1-1. Game on. Throughout the remainder of the match there were opportunities for both sides with the drama yet to come.
With the clock way past the ninety minute mark and close to the end of stoppage time, a shot from Ezri Konsa (deflecting slightly off the boot of Tyrone Mings) went past the scrambling gloves of Ben Foster and into the back of the net. Villa Park went crazy and Villa had secured a vital three points!
Aston Villa ended the month of January with the second leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final tie with Leicester at Villa Park, with the Villans level with the Foxes with a 1-1 aggregate scoreline going into the second leg.
With Villa Park carrying an air of anticipation and excitement, it was going to be a tense ninety minutes.
Summer signing Matt Targett was able to relieve some of the tension by giving Villa the lead on the night and on aggregate, carrying Villa a step closer to yet another trip to Wembley. In a hotly contested tie, there were chances for both sides, with Iheanacho equalising to boost Leicester’s hopes of reaching the final.
There was yet more drama, when a cross from Elmohamady came to the feet of fellow Egyptian Trezeguet, who was able to score a last-minute winner for the Villans to take Villa on another trip to Wembley!
Villa ended the month in the final of the Carabao Cup and in 16th place in the Premier League in what turned out to be a very good month, in the end, for Aston Villa.
February began with Villa taking another trip to the South Coast, this time to face Bournemouth, who were also in the midst of the relegation battle, with the Cherries then in 18th place in the Premier League.
Eddie Howe’s side were only two points adrift of the Villans in 16th place.
So, a win was vital in both sides’ bids to remain in the Premier League. The game turned out to be a frustrating match for Villa, as despite controlling possession and having the most shots with 18, compared to the Cherries’ 16, Villa lost 2-1. What made the defeat even more frustrating was the fact that Bournemouth were down to ten men for most of the second half. Villa could only muster one goal to halve the deficit, which just wasn’t enough.
The next game, this time at Villa Park against Tottenham was perhaps the most similar game to the first match against Liverpool earlier in the season. Villa took the lead twice against Mourinho’s men, but alas, could not hold onto their lead against Spurs and the West London side kept on going and won the game 3-2, despite the valiant efforts of Dean Smith’s side. Villa still had still not beaten a traditional ‘top six’ team.
Villa now faced another trip to the south coast to face Southampton, who had only two victories in their last five, but again Villa could not win the game, being poor in front of goal, only managing one shot on target compared to the nine from the Saints. Villa once again came away from the South Coast disappointed. 2-0 the final score. Villa were now winless in February.
Villa could then take a break from the stresses of a Premier League relegation battle, appearing at Wembley to play Manchester City in the Carabao Cup.
Many saw this as only being a landslide victory for the Citizens, with many people basing this on City’s aggregate score in the Premier League against Villa, which stood at 9-1…
But Villa could draw hope from their league performances against the likes of Spurs, Arsenal and Liverpool, as despite succumbing to defeat each time put in competitive performances and arguably should have won at least two of these games. And, of course Villa’s last trip to Wembley was a rather successful one…
The Final under the Wembely arch started poorly for Villa, as they were two nil down within half an hour with City dominating the game with 70% possession. Hope had seemed to have been completely dashed by Pep Guardiola’s side – but Samatta, a new signing in the January window was able to score a powerful header into the back of Ederson’s net just before half time. Whilst it gave Villa fans a glimmer of hope that the team could pull off what would have been an incredible comeback. Despite Engel’s forcing a late save, it wasn’t to be, and Villa were runners up after a 2-1 loss at Wembley.
Villa returned to their relegation battle with a humiliating 4-0 away battering at Leicester. This now made it four straight losses in a row.
Villa ended the month right in the middle of the relegation battle and were in 19th, but only 2 points from safety. There was still hope for survival.
Coronavirus pandemic and the Premier League’s enforced break.
Not long after this match the world was being rocked by the Coronavirus pandemic, which meant that, like every other sport, football and the season had to take an enforced break with the fates of leagues now in a state of flux.
PPG (Points Per Game) was one option that was speculated but one that Villa fans were firmly opposed to, as it would see Villa relegated.
Null and void was also an option, which would follow in the footsteps of the Dutch Eredivisie and France’s Ligue 1 – but teams in the European spots and title chasing Liverpool would have lost their title. Over the next few months as the situation became clearer, the Premier League was eventually able to return, with no fans and strict protocols to keep staff and players safe. Villa, with every other team, had a chance to secure their survival.
Villa’s first game of Project Restart was a home game against Sheffield United, which despite ending goalless, brought up many headlines and controversy. This came from Hawk-Eye, a system that deems whether the ball has crossed the line and tells the referee. But the system did not work on this occasion and the Blades were denied what was undoubtedly a goal that should have stood, seeing that Nyland carried the ball over the line.
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Villa then welcomed Chelsea to Villa Park in search of their first win since January against Watford. Villa took the lead through Kortney Hause on the stroke of half time to put Villa against the run of play. But Villa fans did not care! Unfortunately for Villa, in the second half Chelsea got their reward for their dominance and Pulisic and Giroud’s goals handed Villa yet another defeat.
The Villans then took a trip to the North East to face Steve Bruce’s Newcastle. This was a much more even game, and a game that Villa really could have won if they had taken the several chances that they created throughout the game.
However, following half time, extremely poor defending following a throw-in meant that Gayle was through on goal and promptly gave Newcastle the lead.
Villa then deservedly equalised through Elmohamady, with hope of a win was now sight. Villa could not manage to take all three points and capitalise on losses for Bournemouth, Watford and West Ham to leave Villa still in 19th, but only in the relegation zone on goal difference.
Villa’s final game of the month was against high-flying Wolves at Villa Park, with Villa’s last home win against them coming in the 4-1 success in the Championship two years previously. This was another game that got away, even though Wolves dominated, and Villa also could not capitalise on Watford’s defeat to Southampton.
Villa ended the month in oddly a better position, despite not winning a single game, were still in 19th. Villa were still somehow only in the relegation zone by one point.
In the month of July, the season was going to come to a dramatic conclusion where none of the relegation spots had been decided – the relegation battle was still up in the air.
Many people, including Villa fans were dismissive of Villa’s chances of survival because of the Villan’s porous defence and an attack that was very often toothless.
But could Villa pull off a great escape?
Villa’s first match of the month came with a trip to Anfield to face Premier League leaders Liverpool who were unsurprisingly the massive favourites to beat the Villans.
As it turned out, the game was not as simple as people may have initially thought, as Villa looked extremely solid and had their defence seemingly sorted and mistakes ironed out.
What was encouraging was that Villa were able to break on Liverpool on a fairly regular basis, but any foray forward came to nothing – perhaps underlining Villa’s impotent strikeforce. Villa could have done with points at Anfield, but the resistance only lasted until the 70-minute mark, when a short ball across the Villa box came to Curtis Jones who scored. Sadio Mané was able to round off a 2-0 win for the Reds.
A further loss came in the next game against an in-form Manchester United, who emphatically beat the Villans 3-0 on a night where there was controversy when the Red Devils were given a penalty at 0-0. This came after a Konsa challenge on Bruno Fernandes was deemed a foul which was a dubious decision to say the least. United then went on a rampage and comfortably beat Villa.
This was a game in which Villa started brightly but once United got going, just couldn’t compete across the pitch. We desperately needed to win again and fast. Their gap to safety had by this point now increased to 4 points.
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Villa’s first win since January came in a vital 2-0 victory against Crystal Palace at Villa Park – a game that was to prove pivotal to Villa’s fate come the end of the season.
Trezeguet gave Villa the opening goal when he was completely open for a tap in at the back post following a Hourihane set piece. This was after controversy, when Palace defender Sakho seemed to score from a header, but VAR deemed that the goal should be chalked off due to handball.
This was definitely a key moment. Trezeguet got the goal that sealed Villa’s win when the ball was lifted into the Palace penalty area that landed at the feet of the Egyptian, who was able to get his shot under the keeper and seal the win. But Villa were still 4 points adrift of safety. Nonetheless, this result did give fans and the whole club a huge lift.
Villa had an opportunity in the next game to lift themselves above Bournemouth in 18th and bring themselves to within a point of safety when the Villans took a trip to Goodison Park to face Everton.
This turned out to be a frustrating game for Villa, as Villa spurned chances, notably a El Ghazi goal-line miss following Konsa’s opening goal.
Instead of getting a 2-0 lead, Villa instead conceded a late equaliser from Theo Walcott, drawing 1-1 with Everton. Villa took just one point in an encounter that should have seen Smith’s side grab all three. Villa were now three points off safety and at genuine risk of relegation back to the Championship.
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Then came arguably Villa’s best performance of this Covid impacted campaign when Arsenal came to Villa Park in the penultimate game of the Premier League season.
Villa needed to beat the Gunners to lift themselves out of the bottom three following defeats for Watford and Bournemouth, in order to provide themselves as good a chance of survival as possible.
In a tense and competitive game from both sides, Villa got their all-important goal, when a set-piece came in and glanced off the head of Mings which got the ball to the feet of Trezeguet who was able to volley his shot past Martinez and give Villa a vital lead just before the half hour mark.
Davis had a great opportunity to make it 2-0 following a Grealish through ball but missed the target by millimetres. This could have proved costly for Villa when Nketiah got his header towards goal, but luckily for Villa, it bounced off the inside of the post and into the grateful gloves of Pepe Reina.
In restricting Arsenal’s efforts on goal, Villa were able to obtain a vital three points following a tense last final minutes and with it lift Villa out of the relegation zone ahead of the final day. Beating Arsenal 1-0 was massive.
Villa took a trip to face West Ham on the final day, knowing that a win would guarantee at least another season in the Premier League, whereas a draw would mean that Watford would have to lose to Arsenal and it would not matter what Bournemouth did.
If Villa lost, they would need to hope that Watford and Bournemouth both lost by a greater margin. It would prove to be an extremely nervy final day, with permutations changing constantly.
Arsenal flew out of the traps against Watford, racing to a 3-0 lead which eased Villa’s nerves… slightly. Bournemouth took the lead and managed a 3-1 win, easily beating Everton.
Villa needed to at least draw to stay up.
Pulse rates skyrocketed when Watford pulled two goals back to make it 3-2 to Arsenal so even more pressure was piled on Villa.
Grealish, receiving a pass from McGinn, rifled a curling shot past Fabianski to give the Villa an all-important lead at the London Stadium.
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Heartbreak was not far the opening goal, when Yarmolenko’s deflected shot nestled in the back of Pepe Reina’s net and Villa were set for an almost unbearably nerve-wracking finale to the season.
In the end there was no need to worry, the final whistle went with all results staying as they were to the ecstasy of every one of a Villa persuasion.
Villa were staying in the Premier League!
How do we summarise this campaign?
Well, it was a complete rollercoaster ride, with so many highs and lows.
Villa’s miraculous comeback in the remaining games and ultimately securing survival on the final day, the 2019/20 Premier League season is sure to live long in the memory of many a Villa supporter – me included.
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