It’s been a year since Aston Villa were robbed of an important Premier League point against Crystal Palace.
Words: Mark Jirobe | @VillaMarkPGH
In late August of 2019, Aston Villa were getting ready to take on Crystal Palace in an early door meeting in the Premier League. There was no major talking point leading into the game. There surely isn’t a rivalry between Palace and Villa in any way. But if you followed Aston Villa, you would know this game came after an emphatic win against Everton that allowed Villa to pick up their first win of the Premier League season.
The Everton result wasn’t just a regular three points on the day sort of affair. It was Villa Park under the lights loudly, proudly and unapologetically cheering their hearts out as if to say “We. Are. Back.” after spending the last few seasons in the Championship.
The next fixture against Palace was an ultimately boring affair minus a few half-chances for both sides in the opening half. Late into first-half stoppage time, Villa wide-man Trezeguet was booked for a sloppily timed challenge on Palace defender Joel Ward but the game would be all nil going into half-time once referee Kevin Friend shrieked his whistle. The opening forty-five minutes seemed rather dull compared to the most previous Everton game, but Villa supporters were hoping to see their team come out strong in the second half.
In the 54th minute, Trezeguet would be shown a second yellow card for yet another poorly timed challenge on Wilfred Zaha & just like that Villa were down to ten men on the pitch. Palace started to smell blood in the water and the Eagles quickly pounced on the opportunity to make their mark on the game. Tom Heaton was forced into making a world-class save in the 58th minute on a curled Luka Milivojevic attempt on goal, keeping Villa in the game even with the disadvantage of numbers.
In the 73rd minute, Jordan Ayew would find the back of the net for Palace after a bit of a defensive miscommunication by the rear-guard of Aston Villa. It seemed that trying to scrape a single point would have been a successful day away from home at Selhurst Park for Villa. And after the Ayew goal, it actually looked like a switch flipped for Villa. The players looked up for the challenge of trying to nick a point and get out of Croyden as quick as possible.
‘+6’ shined across the fourth officials board like a lighthouse and Villa then knew they had a life-line of sorts. Kevin Friend made it pretty damned clear he didn’t see it that way across all six minutes of the injury time, with blatant fouls on Jack Grealish and Frederic Guilbert deemed to not be worthy of a free-kick.
Henri Lansbury, on the pitch for mere minutes, received a slick through ball in the penalty area from a pushed Jack Grealish and then Lansbury blasted the ball into the back of the net. Absolute scenes in the away end at Selhurst Park with the Villa fans in raptures over nicking a point away. And then just as quickly as Lansbury slotted the ball past Palace keeper Vicente Guaita… Kevin Friend stepped in to ruin the day.
He alleged that in the build-up to the goal, Jack Grealish dived and that eliminated the goal for Villa. The newly created VAR system could not step in to help Villa, due to the fact that Friend blew his whistle once ‘simulation’ had occured and therefore VAR could not look to see if Grealish simulated or not. This created a major cry from the general footballing community that these minor actions have giant consequences, only adding to the discussion of what VAR can and cannot oversee. The game would end 1-0 and the travelling Villans would be supremely disappointed and justifiably angry with the occupational short-comings of Friend.
At the time, it was predominantly agreed that Villa got the short end of the stick against Palace. It must be said that if Lansbury’s goal stood, hypothetically Villa may not have had to wait until the final day of the season to fight for their survival in the Premier League. Sure, there were more than few other bad refereeing decisions that could be pointed to throughout Aston Villa’s season (mainly against Arsenal). But if Villa were to secure a point being down to ten men against Crystal Palace, especially after a win against Everton, they may have been able to string along a run of positive form. It’s the tiny margins of errors like this that can make or break a season and make no mistake, Aston Villa supporters will probably never forgive Kevin Friend for his decision on this day one year ago.