By Jonathan Parkin
West Ham 1 Aston Villa 1
It seemed unbelievable for huge swathes of the season, but the Villa boys have done it. The final day came with Villa somewhat in the driving seat, Bournemouth could only catch the Villans if they beat Everton and Watford could stay up with a point if Villa lost. There was everything to play for.
Dean Smith was forced into one change, with Fred Guilbert coming in for the injured Ahmed Elmohamady. The lack of changes really reflected Villa’s good run of form and performances coming into the final day.
The first half of the match was a generally cagey affair. The major chance fell to West Ham’s Michael Antonio, who really should have made more of a momentary lapse in concentration by the Villa defence. The boys in claret and blue gave the fans a gritty and determined performance, which improved significantly once the second half arrived.
Some positive spells came and went, and while Villa crafted out chances, West Ham couldn’t really create an opening. John McGinn played the ball into the feet of Jack Grealish, and Villa’s captain fired the ball past Fabianski and into the net. The Villa faithful could relax for all of a couple of minutes, as Yarmolenko’s shot deflected up of Super Jack’s foot and over the outstretched Pepe Reina.
Villa hearts were sure to be beating out of chests, and the Villans worked hard to limit chances late on. McGinn was working away in the corner to hold up the ball, and kill second after second. Minutes stretched on like hours, but the clock ticked on and the referee called time to give Villa the all-important point. Watford lost against Arsenal 3-2 and a win for Bournemouth still wasn’t enough to get above the Villa.
The difference in the team over the last four games is incredible. Real effort put in, and small amount of quality in the final third, and Villa have stayed up. They haven’t made it easy but they’ve ground out survival and the table reflect the determination of Dean Smith and the Villa boys. It’s onwards and upwards hopefully now, some good additions in the transfer window, particularly in the final third, and who knows what could happen next season.
Use code MOMS10 for 10%
Pepe Reina – 6.5
There wasn’t a lot more Pepe Reina could do when he stretched for the looped Andriy Yarmolenko shot. He got a finger to it, but there isn’t much that can be done to avoid freak incidents like that. Otherwise, the experiences Spanish stopper had few saves to make, but passed the ball well and provided the ever-calming presence between the sticks. Though Pepe’s spell at the Villa may now be over, he has had a huge impact and without him Villa would have had a much bigger fight on their hands. His rendition of La Bamba in the changing room on Instagram was a fantastic watch, and his thanking of the fans really highlights his class.
Frederic Guilbert – 6.5
After his scintillating performance against Arsenal, Fred Guilbert didn’t have quite such a dominant display this time round. The energetic full-back was rarely caught out before being substituted, though he was partly at fault for not tracking Antonio for West Ham’s best chance of the game. On the front foot Fred failed to add a lot, with only one accurate cross.
Ezri Konsa – 7
Much like with Guilbert, Ezri Konsa was at fault for the Antonio chance. Other than that, Konsa had a good game, and his solid defensive work helped Villa limit West Ham’s attacking threat to a few snatched shots and speculative efforts.
Tyrone Mings – 7
The mistakes have been cut out in the last four by Tyrone Mings. He and Konsa worked together to give limited opportunities for Antonio in the first half, and less for Haller in the second. Though the 27-year-old did play many aimless long balls up the pitch in the first half, this was fixed in the second as he favoured a more patient approach.
Matt Targett – 7
Full-back Matt Targett made a team leading five tackles in a performance that was solid, if a little unspectacular on the front foot. Targett did his job, and kept Fredericks, Bowen and Yarmolenko contained.
Douglas Luiz – 7.5
Once more, an accomplished display from the young Brazilian Douglas Luiz. Two tackles and interceptions were only part of the picture as Doug burst forward with the ball from midfield to set others away on the attack. The defensive midfielder also recycled possession nicely, and has shown that he really is a top-quality defensive midfielder ready for the Premier League.
Conor Hourihane – 7
Whenever Conor Hourihane got the ball, his first move was to look for a forward pass, and this really helped Villa to push up the pitch. This attack mindedness is something that is lacking with someone like Nakamba in the side in his stead. The Irishman is never the most aggressive in the tackle, and this game was no exception, but others made up for this with gritty performances.
John McGinn- 8.5 MOTM
John McGinn was the livewire in the Villa midfield for the entirety of the 90 minutes. In the first half he was certainly Villa’s best performer, with a shot wide and a pass to help carve out the Jack Grealish saved shot. The Scot continued with his high energy display to win battles in the centre of the park, and carve out the opportunity for Grealish to shoot and score. His effort from the first to the last whistle, including his holding up of the ball by the corner flag, show his commitment to the cause.
Trezeguet – 6.5
If you look at his attacking stats, Trezeguet had a very disappointing game. However, the Egyptian really put a shift in, despite his lack of quality in the final third. He hared back to make vital interceptions on multiple occasions, and made sure his full-back was rarely left exposed. The lack of criticism may have affected Trezeguet’s performance, when things are more comfortable, the Egyptian doesn’t need to be the unlikely hero.
Ally Samatta – 6.5
The lack of quality in the final third was also on show from Ally Samatta as well, with the Tanzanian fluffing a half chance in either half. Much like Trezeguet however, the striker really worked his socks off to put pressure on the West Ham defence, and he even held the ball up once or twice. Even with that said, Villa will need to invest in a high-quality striker before the start of next season, as Samatta won’t score enough goals over a full season.
Jack Grealish © – 8
Captain Jack Grealish nearly had the ideal final day, with a fairy tale goal to keep the Villa up. Andriy Yarmolenko had other ideas as his fluky strike took a little of the shine off the lifelong Villa fan’s dreams. Super Jack was creative and tricky all game long as he toyed with Ryan Fredericks down the West Ham right. His effort on goal in the first half was poor, but was evidence of the improvement in Grealish’s game in the final matches of the season, in terms of getting into good positions and gambling more often. What his future holds, who knows? But the Villa certainly stand a much greater chance of keeping hold of Jack while in the Premier League.
Off the Bench
Keinan Davis (67) – 6.5
The customary chance for Keinan Davis to score came and went yet again. Granted, it was from a very tight angle, but Davis seems to have no confidence in front of goal, once more emphasising the Villa’s need for a striker. His work otherwise was decent enough, with space created for other players and pressure put on the West Ham centre-halves.
Marvelous Nakamba (75) – 6.5
Marvelous Nakamba didn’t have a huge impact after coming onto the pitch for Conor Hourihane. The Zimbabwean did add extra solidity to the Villa midfield, and won a freekick to take the pressure off the Villa backline.
Kortney Hause (75) – 6.5
The defence didn’t look any less stable with Kortney Hause at centre back. The 25-year-old made one tackle in an assured performance. The goal can’t be seen as any of the defence’s fault particularly, it was a freak goal that little could be done about.
Anwar El Ghazi (89) – n/a
Winger Anwar El Ghazi came on purely as a time-wasting sub, and to save the tired legs of Trezeguet.
Dean Smith- 8
Aston Villa and Dean Smith in no uncertain words pulled off a great escape. Seven points adrift with four games to go, and most fans would have said the Villa were down, ready for Championship football and a fresh start. Deano has worked hard however, and the tactical changes within games, as well as work on the defence have come up big when he needed them too. With some better recruitment, and a continuation of this solid style, Villa can really push on next season.
For all of his doubters, Smith should definitely take all the plaudits for engineering Premier League survival. As a Villa fan he will know that Villa never do things the easy way, he must have known the whole time, no wonder he was always so calm.
Give Jon a follow on Twitter here – @JonParkinSports