Even the most optimistic of Villa supporter took their seat before the Everton game, knowing that even with a win, we still had a mountain to climb.
Villa performed well at Goodison Park against a subdued Carlo Ancelotti side safe inside the net of mid-table obscurity. It was a game Villa needed to win, and one which we lead until the 87th minute.
The odds of us surviving this season collapsed as Esri Konsa could only manage to slice a Theo Walcott looping header over the goal-line.
Was this the moment that ended any realistic prospect of Villa escaping the relegation zone?
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DRAW NOT ENOUGH
This was a genuine must-win game. In an era of hype and bluster, where every match is billed as do or die, this was actually one of them.
There were similarities to Villa’s victory over Crystal Palace as the game at Goodison Park settled into a rhythem.
Villa were the more purposeful of the two sides, Everton, while neater than our previous opposition, looked like a team playing within themselves during a fixture having little or no bearing on their campaign.
There were early positive signs.
Conor Hourihane looked to be replicating the threatening approach he’d shown last time out at Villa Park. Ahmed Elmohamady, an under-appreciated resource in a Villa side lacking in consistency and creativity delivered a number of dangerous balls into the box. Douglas Luiz once again demonstrated a range of passing and technical ability we can perhaps only hope to retain.
There were, more concerningly, the familiar warning signs when it came to quality.
Mbwana Samatta, brought in to bolster our attack following a season ending injury to Wesley in January, was dreadful. The Tanzanian has now gone almost 700 minutes of Premier League football without registering a shot on target.
It was also the second consecutuve game that Samatta failed to test the keeper from 12 yards, despite a ball delivered with pin-point accuracy to his head on both occasions. Keinan Davis could not be brought on soon enough as replacement, instantly improving our attack, despite also being a lone striker.
Trezeguet, whose paceless, error strewn display last weekend was masked by two welcome goals, continued in the same vein. Only this time he didn’t score. Smith continues to persevere with the Egyptian presumably on the basis of his apparent work-rate and arguably the glaring lack of better alternatives. The fact is that Trezeguet isn’t good enough.
Worse still, his replacement, Anwar El Ghazi epitomises many of Villa’s signing’s for the last two decades. There are glimmers of quality to put on the highlight reel, but upon closer examination, we find a player whose contribution is woefully inconsistent. As Villa lead the game 1-0, El Ghazi was presented with a golden opportunity to guide the ball home.
The Dutchman, practically on the goal-line, having done all the hard work in making a run beyond the now beaten defender, then didn’t fancy challenging an advancing Pickford. The ball cannoned off El Ghazi’s boot and out of play from practically underneath the crosssbar. This was the moment that any seasoned Villa fan will have already marked as the moment we would rue.
Villa had taken the lead minutes earlier after controlling the early portion of the second half. Grealish had probed, McGinn harried, Everton were definitely contained. Conor Hourihane delivered a delightful ball in, Konsa emerged through a crowd on 73 minutes to stab the ball home. Jubilation.
Villa were in complete control against an opposition already leafing through their holiday brochures when we decided that now would be the time to switch off. This Villa regime, having conceded in every single away game and with 16 goals against in the closing 15 minutes of games, had clearly learned nothing.
Everton went close after a Konsa slip allowed a ball to be played square across the Villa penalty area. Calvert-Lewis prompted every Villa fan to reach for their defibrilator, somehow managing to steer the ball just wide of the stranded Reina’s upright. It was a huge let off you would have thought might have provoked an awakening amongst the ranks.
As the 87th minute approached, Gomes delivered a deep cross under limited pressure down Villa’s right. The ball sailed over everyone, exposing Matt Targett’s positioning as Theo Walcott ran onto the ball, looping a composed header beyond Reina.
Konsa, in attempting to fashion an overhead kick to clear the ball, could only manage to slice it over the line despite Reina’s best efforts to stop it also.
If there was a goal to incapsulate our season, this was rather appropriate.
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To describe this as a monumental hammer blow would be an understatement. Indeed, the visible reaction of Mings falling onto his haunches, Konsa berating himself and realisation dawing across the faces of the coaching staff said it all.
Villa were outsiders to stay up prior to the draw at Everton, but any escape now would require a combination of not only good fortune but us beating both Arsenal and West Ham too. We could even achieve the latter and still conceivably finish second bottom.
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The point we take is in the harsh reality of where we are and what we need, is simply not good enough. Especially as this was three points totally there for the taking.
This failure isn’t confined to one moment in the 87th minute on Merseyside either.
It’s symptomatic of a whole range of factors converging to ensure that Villa will in all probability be playing Championship football next term. The truth is that a great many of our issues are self-inflicted, but the inquest on that is for another day.
Next we must motivate ourselves for Arsenal and once again the mimimum requirement of securing all three points.
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