As part of an ongoing feature during the COVID-induced postponement of football, our writers and friends will share their favourite games at Villa Park.
Words: Matt Blogg | @Blogg_Matt
The Friday night football, under the lights at Villa Park, to end all Friday night footballs under the lights at Villa Park. August 23rd, 2019, saw Aston Villa claim their first three points of the new season, beating Everton 2-0 in an electric atmosphere driven by hope, expectation and pure desperation.
Seven of the claret and blue eleven were tasked with impressing me in person for the first time, whilst Everton’s combination of World Cup Semi-Finalists, European Championship winners and £50,000,000 men sent a humbling reality check my way. But would you ever bet against Aston Villa under the lights?
Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville took their seats, Michael Oliver blew his whistle and we were off. Finally, I was at Villa Park watching Premier League football again.
After a frankly terrifying first 20 minutes, with Richarlison wanting a penalty and Everton applying relentless pressure, everything got considerably more enjoyable as the roof of Villa Park was blown from it’s foundations by the roar of 42,000 care-free optimists.
After Jota’s measured through ball found Villa’s new £22,000,000 hitman, the big, bullish, brutal Brazilian caressed a finish past England’s number one with the confidence of a lion prowling the savannah in search of a gazelle. The afterthought of VAR did nothing to dispel the euphoria inside the cauldron of atmosphere, and when Everton finally kicked off for the restart, the dream of Dean Smith’s first victory as a Premier League boss was well and truly on.
Ten minutes before half-time, and this dream was strengthened further as Bjorn Engels did his strongest impression of a brick wall to prevent Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s goal-bound effort from renting the back of the net as its temporary residence, clearing the ball from the paint of the goal-line, before punching the air as if repulsed by the ball’s presence.
The favoured side of an uncomfortable first fifteen minutes of the second half, Everton introduced their new £40,000,000 signing, Alex Iwobi, reminding everyone inside the ground that the visitors were not going to roll over and accept defeat for the sake of a party in B6. The man nurtured by Jay-Jay Okocha provided more scares to Villa than a haunted house in the thirty minutes he was given to paint his picture, but after hammering the post and sparking the move that saw Theo Walcott politely decline the opportunity to dirty Tom Heaton’s sheet, the Villa Park faithful were mere minutes away from erupting as if possessed by Mount Tambora.
With the prospect of Oliver’s whistle providing the closing blow edging ever closer, Aston Villa launched their final attack of the occasion, with the irrepressible Wesley demonstrating the energy of a child after a bag of Haribo Tangfastics to shrug off the challenges of the weary Everton defence. A lay-off to Scotland’s answer to Zinedine Zidane preceded a pass intended for Captain Jack, but when Anwar El Ghazi intruded at the speed of sound, Everton’s fate was confirmed.
A touch to rival Andreas Iniesta set up the flying Dutchman for a simple finish that threw up the arms of every Villan around the world in spontaneous elation.
The deafening release of emotion drowned out Michael Oliver’s final act, as a sea of claret and blue pulsated around the stadium. The lights do special things to Villa park, and when the players respond how they did on that mesmeric night, there is simply no place like it.
With the first win now under their belt, Villa were back, and boy did the country know it.