What a bizarre week, no sign of any decent football from Easter to the Blues derby, but in a Second City derby where Villa only managed to force one corner and one shot on target, Villa got a win that massively lifted the mood at Villa Park (if not papered over some massive cracks).
What did Villa fans learn from a week that included double Easter defeat, the loss of Ugo Ehiogu and the return of Gabby?
More important than any result in a season that ended mathematically a few weeks ago is the sudden loss of former defender Ugo Ehiogu.
Fans lucky enough to see Ugo play will remember the sharp intake of breath whenever he was called into action in his early days. He was signed for next-to-nothing (except a hefty cut of any sell-on – terrible business with hindsight and one that had Albion rubbing their hands in glee that their low-risk gamble paid off) and developed from a raw, committed player into a full England international and convinced Brian Little that Paul McGrath had a natural successor in the heart of the back four.
His sudden death, doing what he loved and was becoming increasingly heralded for, was a shock to football. Memories of his power and grace will live on in Villa fans for generations.
At the Blues derby he received two tributes – a minute’s applause before the game and one on the 44th minute to mark his age of 44.
READING ABOUT READING
Reading bounced back from a 7-1 defeat by scoring early against Villa… and that was pretty much that. Chester gave a glimmer of hope forcing over an equaliser but after a run of five games at home without conceding a goal, the second half started with another Reading goal to deflate the players and fans.
And then it looked a lot like the bad old days. Fans will complain while Villa have been winning they have been riding their luck, but this performance over all was bad enough that no amount of luck could compensate. Individual mistakes by Amavi cost the team and Bacuna’s needless heavy challenge for the late penalty added insult to injury – a cynic would say that not only has he not improved as player since he’s been at B6 but he doesn’t learn from past mistakes.
FULL UP TO HERE WITH FULHAM
The game against the Cottagers two days later was more of the same – with the added lowlight of Kodjia being sent off and suspended for Sunday’s game against Birmingham City.
Fulham’s goals had some good fortune about them, Jack Grealish’s did not. All in all it was just another flop and a return to the low quality of play and heads-dropping attitude fans had thought that had seen the back of.
Even Grealish’s goal comes twinged with a taint of “why hasn’t he been playing more?” Love him or hate him or still undecided on him, there are things he can do that none of the midfield generals can manage. A little more trust in him could go a long way.
THE BIG MATCH
Sunday’s game against the Blues gathered increasing interest (though not enough for it to be televised, which is good and bad given Villa’s record on the telly) as the week went on.
Both teams were to wear black armbands to remember Ugo. Not only had the bottom fallen out of Villa’s form, but they went into the game with their brightest spark of their season suspended. Then, Villa’s rivals fired their boutique Italian manager and brought in one of the dinosaurs Villa fans love to wind up in Harry Redknapp – who’s been admitting he hasn’t seen his new team play all season. And finally, a Villa win could make City fan’s sweat about the prospect of ending up in the drop zone. You couldn’t make it up.
But how wonderful it was. Agbonlahor – of all people – ensured Villa won the game with a goal in front of the Holte and the celebrations will last until the end of the season.
It wasn’t pretty (Villa only forced one corner and had one shot on target), nor was it a spectacle for the neutrals, but it was a win for the fans over their workmates, a win for Bruce over his former team, and a win for Gabby to enjoy.
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