One last match, one last resounding defeat. Arguably the worst season since our last relegation year in 1986-87 ended with one, final limp performance in the showpiece match. Inevitable really, considering the way we`ve been playing for the past five years. Arsenal didn`t help – they played some outstanding football and probably would have beaten anyone on that performance. But unfortunately for us, it was a Villa side almost at death`s door in front of them, and in truth, the scoreline flattered us – it should have been 4-0 at half-time, never mind at the end.
Had either of the two very convincing penalty shouts been given by a very poor referee, the score might have been more respectable, but it would have glossed over the glaring deficiencies in the way Villa set-up, played and finally gave up the ghost. Goals either side of the break killed us off, with the timing of the first goal cracked an already fragile confidence, while the second outstanding strike from Alexis Sanchez shattered it completely.
From shipping water for most of the first-half, Villa then reverted to the only way they know how to play and the game was up. Timid, sideways passing, giving the ball away more often than not, and little appetite for pressing to retrieve it. Our ‘star striker` cut an isolates figure, and put in what could best be described as a ‘Balotelli-like` performance, while other big names such as Delph and Cleverley were totally outclassed.
Like everyone else, I was desperate for a good performance, some attacking verve and maybe a goal or two, but in the cold light of day, what we got the only display we should have expected. A relegation-bound team, playing the only way they know how, against a side consistently in the top four for the past 20 years at the peak of their game – what could possibly go wrong? Tim Sherwood came in with a brief to maintain our Premier League status, and that is exactly what he achieved. In so doing, he extracted every ounce from the squad at his disposal, and the wins against Spurs, Everton and West Ham, together with the comeback against QPR and the Cup victories over the Baggies and Liverpool left us empty.
The last two games were a bridge too far, and thanks to others (yet again) we stayed up. On reflection, there was only one way the Cup Final was going to go, and having already lost 8-0 in the two matches earlier in the season, a comfortable Arsenal win was the only likely outcome. They seem to be our latest bogey team, joining Man United as a side we seem destined never to beat again.
The players didn`t perform yesterday, but maybe because they couldn`t. There was nothing left in the tank. Sherwood has come in and done his best – changing mentality and playing style of the Lambert years can`t happen (and hasn`t happened) overnight – so he deserved huge credit for averting certain relegation, and the chance to revel in the Wembley sunshine once again.
This summer will be massive for the club, it goes without saying. A new owner is vital for any significant progress, but failing that, a more pragmatic approach may be in order. Benteke is a fine striker, but performance like we saw yesterday (from him and the team) suggest he is a luxury we can ill-afford, and £32.5m would but us a number of desperately needed reinforcements. If new owners aren`t forthcoming early enough in the summer to make a noise in the transfer window, then selling Benteke may be the only way of generating the funds we need.
Aston Villa may be the biggest club in the world to all of us, but in reality, they are well down the pecking order among the also-rans, a club out of luck, out of sync and above all, out of steam.
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