After I’d regained consciousness following Coutinho’s beautifully taken goal, Villa’s second at The Etihad, the world was at peace. Banished were the dark thoughts accumulated after sitting through the dour draws against Burnley and Palace, replaced by images of stoney faced Man City fans.
Then, as predictably as the sun rising and setting each day, Villa collapsed.
If the first 70 minutes were a perfectly executed game-plan, then the 20 minutes that followed will perhaps now exist as a UEFA Pro License classroom module of how not to see out a 2-0 advantage.
It’s sure also to prompt a wince from Villa fans for years to come, with countless re-runs of the City comeback guaranteed to grace our screens in Sky Sports cutaways and ads. Great.
Having had 24 hours to digest the result like a Carolina Reaper, the annoyance and frustration has grown, if anything.
Though City were clumsy and ponderous in the first half, Villa were diligent and hard-working in defence. We were compact, careful but with concealed weaponry in Buendia, Coutinho and Watkins. It was effective and we looked a threat on the break.
We were rewarded for this composure late in the second half, with Ramsey bursting forward to release the outstanding Digne, who delivered a superb ball for Matty Cash to head home. It was a really well worked goal.
After the break City looked even less composed, arguably lulling us into a false sense of security that suddenly De Bruyne had morphed into Henri Lansbury. Villa were resolute as the hosts passes found only dark blue shirts or drifted aimlessly out of play. The frustration and worry was audible as time went on, with high anxiety that Liverpool would win at Wolves.
Even more bizarrely, we could also reflect on missed opportunities. Countless times Ollie Watkins found himself in space only for some bad luck or judgement to overcome him. There were chances there to be taken, there can be no doubt, but then there was also a blatent foul as he looked certain to be beyond the last man. The referee, naturally, turned the other way.
The scene appeared set for a remarkable title deciding upset as Coutinho managed an other-worldly control of a football looping over his head. Man City could only watch on as The Magician caressed the ball into the bottom corner. It was stunning in all senses of the word, but not as jawdropping as what was to follow.Embed from Getty Images
Coutinho’s withdrawal moments later for Nakamba sparked a cataclysm of a kind only Aston Villa fans can look into the runes to predict. There will have been rampant cashing out on betting apps as City suddenly became energised, with Villa immediately looking shaky, the balance of power in the game shifted. Villa’s belief sapped, the legs tired, hope waned and the worryingly inevitable happened as City sniffed an unimaginable comeback against all odds.
Ilkay Gundogan, released from the bench on a rescue mission, was completely unplayable. The 31 year old German’s brace in a painful 5 minutes in which Villa conceded 3 times cannot be understated for its quality. Though few supporters of a football club would aspire to be a Manchester City, it’s hard to not admire individual talent such as this.
It was a tough watch given the stoic but controlled performance up to the 70th minute and all the more annoying that it played out to a global audience. We have grand ambitions, are far improved upon our embarassing relegation/Championship years, but have been reminded time and time again this season just how much we still need to do.
As the full-time whistle blew (early of course, lol), there was visible shellshock as supporters piled onto the pitch. Robin Olsen, a stand in for Emi Martinez, was assaulted numerous times as he left the field. Travelling supporters were showered with coins, with some appearing to have been hit and/or burned by wayward flares thrown into the away end. And all this against a backdrop of the home supporters trashing their own stadium, with the goalposts broken for good measure. If not gracious in victory, how might City fans have been in defeat? Classy.
For us, we have to look to next season. The Gerrard era and Purslow/Lange regime must now begin to realise it’s promise of continuous improvement. That must begin with a significant uplift in displays that produced just 6 home wins and a dismal 14th placed Premier League finish. If it’s not the hope of this that kills me, then it most certainly will be watching the Villa.
See you in pre-season all and thanks for reading & contributing in what was the 10th year of The Villa Underground.
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