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: Harry Trend | @HazaTrand
Our 2017-18 campaign was a favourite of recent times. No, we didn’t go up, and no, we weren’t in the Premier League. But Aston Villa were winning regularly again. For the first time since 2010 the Pride would finish the season winning more games than they lost.
No longer did it feel like a mish-mash of players stepping onto the pitch in claret and blue shirts.
Steve Bruce, for all his faults, had assembled a likeable and effective squad.
Being from Cardiff, I drew a fair amount of stick from my Cardiff City supporting friends whose team had thrashed us 3-0 in August, and I was there for that too, watching my team get outplayed whilst Scott Hogan fed off scraps.
Following that defeat, a lot had changed, but one win in the last five meant that chances of automatic promotion were slim. Nevertheless, a win against Cardiff was important to maintain morale for the play-offs.
The opening exchanges were in the air, which suited Cardiff with bigger men in the middle. Throughout the season, City had been playing agricultural football, and tonight was no different.
Nathaniel Mendez-Laing came closest for the away side in the first half, burning Mile Jedinak prior to hitting the far post.
Aside from the action on the pitch, there was a great moment when the home fans chanted “Brucey, knock him out, Brucey Brucey, knock him out” – referring to Neil Warnock as Bruce gave the crowd a wave.
Sam Johnstone ensured Aston Villa went into half time 0-0. The Manchester United loanee made a good save to his left to deny Glenn Whelan an own goal before getting a hand to Callum Paterson’s follow up.
Jonathan Kodjia came on for the ineffective Albert Adomah on the hour mark, and the ball stuck to the former more than it did Grabban who went out on the left.
But it was Grabban who set up our best opportunity with a lovely through ball across the floor to Conor Hourihane, with the Irishman poking past the keeper and the post.
As the game entered the latter stages, Aston Villa found more space in midfield to work with. Nevertheless, Cardiff were still a threat, with Johnstone having to save from range to keep out Mendez-Laing’s attempt.
But on the 85th minute, Villa’s greatest threat of all scored one of the best goals seen at Villa Park. If the goal hadn’t been scored under the Villa Park lights, I’d question whether the nostalgic feeling would still be there. But it was, and that is what makes it perfect.
Aston Villa win a free kick by the left corner of the penalty area. Robert Snodgrass puts in a typical arching delivery, but Bluebirds centre-back Sean Morrison gets to the ball first to half-clear. Note the words “half-clear”.
It goes up and high and begins to fall towards the edge of the box – the edge of the box where a certain Jack Grealish waits.
Imagine being Grealish in that situation. Every eye on the pitch and the stands on you, the ball dropping as you back-track slightly. Earlier in the game Grealish had a chance of similar nature and completely fluffed his lines.
The number 10 didn’t let lighting strike twice – a poor metaphor maybe – because what Jack unleashed was lightning.
Ping. A first-time volley from outside of the area flies in off the post. Bliss. Joy. A release of frustration.
It’s sad how the season ended, but sometimes it’s better to dwell on the journey rather than the ending.