Well, that sucks.
It’s a quirk of football, though, that pretty much any team can play any game poorly. It seems to apply doubly when it’s absolutely loaded with meaning (how many good cup finals do we see? I’d argue not many). In truth, I think Villa could have played another 90 minutes and might not have scored in this game. I’m not sure if it was a case of bottling it on the big day, or Fulham just working out how to shut the team down, but I’ll lay it out how I saw it.
Most days, that game would have finished 0-0. That’s not a complaint, by the way: Fulham’s goal was extremely well taken. It’s just, I’m not sure I’ve seen Villa concede another goal where a man was just left alone roughly where Hutton is supposed to pick him up all season. Generally speaking, it just doesn’t happen.
The goal went in early, though, and in truth, Fulham could have had more before the break. It was the same old theme of the playoffs this year for Villa: step back, and let teams come at you, and hope the defense is good enough. It would be another thing if the ‘attack on the break’ approach was working a little better, but it really wasn’t.
The second half was a little stronger from a Villa perspective, if very frantic. Grealish was by far the best player on the pitch. One of Fulham’s defenders got a pretty harsh red card with 20 minutes to go. Villa had a couple of decent penalty shouts and Grealish tried to take on everyone (and almost succeeded). But there was nothing really clear-cut. Grabban seemed to drift, and was utterly ineffective. Snodgrass had a sub-par game by his standards, and the wing-backs were pretty ineffectual. Apart from chucking on a load of strikers who didn’t do a whole lot, there didn’t seem to be much of a plan B. Only Adomah and Grealish – as has become standard, actually – had particularly above-average games, and it just wasn’t enough.
I already have a love-hate relationship with the playoffs. In one sense, they’ve obviously inherently unjust, and arguably an end of season money-spinner. Fulham went up, and they also finished third, so there was a certain poetic justice to it all, where it makes me personally happy or not (the answer is not, in case I’ve left any doubt!).
The consequences for Villa, as I outlined before it all kicked off, are quite substantial. Next year has an air of ‘must do’ about it now, as the parachute payments will be gone. The deadwood, in the form of Micah Richards and Gabby Agbonlahor, really need to go. We probably need a new striker, unless Kodjia can find some real form.
Of course, many of the best players will be gone, too. It’s hard to picture Grealish hanging around all that much longer in the Championship. Snodgrass, Johnstone and Grabban (the latter I’m fine about) are on loan, and will be going, perhaps except Johnstone. Terry can’t have that long left in him. The squad, in short, is going to need an overhaul, and it’s currently quite hard to envisage Villa finishing higher next year, rather than lower.
It’s bleak, in other words. Very bleak. Or perhaps that’s just my pessimism.
I’d be lying if I said football doesn’t matter to me. The same day as this final, though, the results of Ireland’s vote over the rights of women to access abortion services came in. I think you probably have to live in Ireland to understand how frightening to 8th amendment is to anyone who’s ever had a child. There are numerous reasons why it was a bad regulation, ranging from some revolting extreme cases, to simply that it seems sensible to allow someone in the early stage of pregnancy to decide for themselves whether they want to be a parent.
And yes, I know you probably weren’t expecting a football blog to take that turn, but it’s hard to be all that sad in the context of today’s other result, which matters a whole lot more to me. I won’t go on about it, but in my view, Ireland is growing up and emerging from a world of religious dogma at a rapid pace, and I’m proud of it. It makes a football match seem more than a little insignificant.
Context, I guess, matters. Time to get my writing into gear and focus on the ‘other world cup‘.