Aston Villa


Aston Villa (v Liverpool, Villa Park)

Competition: English Premier League

Date: 13 May 2024

Result: Aston Villa 3 – 3 Liverpool

Tickets:  £42 adults, £14 kids (North Stand Lower restricted view – front row!)

Attendance: 42,600

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆☆☆☆☆

The Game: My first time bringing the little lad to Villa, and he absolutely loved it. With Villa playing for a Champions League place, but clearly dead on their feet over the last few weeks, a Martinez error in goal in the very first minute gifting Liverpool the lead looked at ominous sign. Villa grew into the game, though, especially after Watkins beat his man and squared for Tielemans to equalise. The game had an air of chaos about it, with Moussa Diaby extremely effective on the break but unable to finish from at least three really good chances throughout the game.

Instead, Liverpool pulled away, and I must admit that at 3-1 just after half time, I turned to the little lad and said “that’s it” – it just didn’t feel realistic to come back given the state of the team recently. It turns out it wasn’t it at all. Villa were the better side for much of the game, and when Jhon Duran scored a long range beauty the place erupted, before an equaliser that may or may not have been intended made things 3-3, with both Villa’s late goals coming after the 85th minute.

Diaby could have won the game, drawing a top late save from Allisson, but the draw was enough to have Tottenham needing a win against league leaders Manchester City to catch Villa for that Champions League place. There was a sense of ‘nearly done’ in the vocal crowd reaction after the equaliser, and it proved right – the following day, Villa stepped out of Spurs’ reach to get into elite European competition for the first time in my lifetime. Incredible game.

The ground:  I loved showing the young lad around Villa Park, which was suitably adorned with a flag in every single seat to welcome the impressive team. We were in the very front row of the North Stand, the far side from the away fans, and my first time in the North Lower. It feels quite cramped and old school compared to much of the rest of the ground, but nobody sat down at any point from start to finish, so it had a terrific atmosphere.

We dropped in the shop for one last time – images of it being knocked down to buy a new one as Villa try to boost commercial revenue to aid the push towards the top-end of the Premier League appeared online only two days later. I’ve been going there since the mid 90s, so a strange feeling!

Extras: The ‘Up The Villa’ flags were a great momento, and I ended up bringing heaps of programmes home, mostly for Liverpool fans, but that’s Ireland! As the last home game, the speaches and crowd send off for the players was superb, too.

Assorted asides: The following day we rented a car and hit up Alton Towers Waterpark. Decent but a lot of effort for the reward all in.

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 5. Home wins: 1 Draws: 3 Away wins: 1

Goals: 19. Home goals: 10. Away goals: 9. Goals per game: 3.8


Groundhopping: Aston Villa (v Brighton, Villa Park)

Competition: English Premier League

Date: 28 May 2023

Result: Aston Villa 2 – 1 Brighton

Tickets: £39.50 (adult), Doug Ellis Lower

Attendance: 41,925

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆☆☆☆☆

The Game: With Villa needing to win (or some complicated stuff involving Spurs and Brentford’s results if they didn’t – both won as it turned out) to qualify for Europe for the first time in 13 years, this was a game that I simply had to get over for, the culmination of a season that for Villa has had a redemptive story arc worthy of a full season Netflix series.

To say Villa fans were up for this is a huge understatement. Two hours before kick off, the team coach was welcomed into the club car park by thousands of fans chanting and a few flares. The ground was packed half an hour before kick off, and the atmospehre was electric in a way I haven’t expereinced at Villa in a very long time, probably going back to cup games in the late 00s (I don’t get to a lot of games, to be fair!).

Thankfully, the game lived up to it. Brighton are a remarkable club, considering their resources, and this match was properly toe-to-toe from the off, with Villa scoring two early-ish goals, from Douglas Luiz and Ollie Watkins, both assisted by an absolutely marauding local lad Jacob Ramsey, suddenly a really key player in a side transformed by Unai Emery.

Brighton got one back through Undav, but while they threatened, there’s a change in feel around Villa at the moment, a lack of the vulnerability that long felt like it lingered in the background of these kinds of games, and I felt we were more likely to add another than they were to score. That final whistle – after which I had to almost sprint to the exit to catch my late flight back – was nothing short of ecstatic.

The ground:  I love Villa Park and have attended dozens – possibly over a hundred – Villa games over the years, but this was the first time I sat in the Doug Ellis stand (I’ve been in all the others). I think the atmosphere was electric everywhere today, so it didn’t matter too much where you were sitting, but this was fiery fromt start to finish. Love the feel of Villa Park, too, and the mixing of Brighton and Villa fans outside without any issue was nice to see.

Extras: I couldn’t resist the end of season shirt prices (£20 for the away), and found a programme from a 2008 game against Ajax I attended in the charity box alongside the matchday programme, so pleased with that. The currywurst van was good, too.

Assorted asides: European football, baby! Sure, it’s not the Champions League, but if you flick through my groundhopping posts, you’ll see I’ve a bit of an affection for the Europa Conference League, so I’m all for this.

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 13. Home wins: 8 Draws: 4 Away wins: 1

Goals: 38. Home goals: 26. Away goals: 12. Goals per game: 2.92


Groundhopping: Aston Villa (v Leeds, Villa Park)

Competition: Premier League

Date: 13 January 2023

Result: Aston Villa 2 – 1 Leeds United

Tickets: €39.50 (adult), in the second row of the Holte End Upper.

Attendance: 42,008

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆☆☆☆

Disclaimer – I am a lifelong Aston Villa fan, so this may not be the most neutral take. My first trip since 2017 (covid, babies, etc). had to be documented, so here it is.

The Game: There’s been a growing rivalry between Villa and Leeds in recent years, and this definitley had a little bit of bite (not least Jesse Marsch, the volatile-feeling Leeds manager), but I’m impressed with Villa’s newfound composure. Bailey put Villa in front in about the 3rd minute, curling a beautiful shot just inside the post from the edge of the area after a break from Kamara, who is nothing short of exceptional.

From then, Leeds dominated for large parts of the game, but didn’t create a huge amount as Villa frustrated them with lots of slick passing around the back and created a couple of decent chances of their own. There were two forced changes for Villa in the first half, with Watkins and Digne going off injured, leaving the ineffective Ings and newly signed wide man Alex Moreno to play most of the game.

Moreno looked seriously nervous at first, but soon found himself playing in heaps of space as Leeds defended narrow; he looks really effective. Villa led 2-0 when a VAR check eventually ruled Emi Buendia onside after he scored from a rebound from another Bailey chance (he had many, most seemed to run down blind alleyways), before Bamford scored off what looked suspiciously like a foul from Gnonto in the build up to set up a tense finish.

A great game to be over for, semi-riotous under the Friday night lights, and I got to sit a few seats from my old season ticket location in K5, near the front of hte Holte End Upper. It’s been way, way too long.

Aston Villa 2019/2020 – My Season Review

Wow, what a hairy one. It’s been a weird season all in, and I think every Villa fan knew from early on that if we stayed up, it would be a very close run thing. It was evident from the utter euphoria that accompanied that home win against Everton early in the season, which I watched through Now TV in a hotel room in Munich. The reaction showed we knew even then that wins would be hard to come by.

The end of the season has been at the opposite extreme to those ‘eyes from abroad’ early days for me: locked in our houses with the games played out in front of nobody at all, and, oddly, they’ve brought most of the year’s highs (and been a fantastic distraction), though I’d be lying if I pretended I didn’t think it was over with four or five games to go.

The season’s really had its moments, from the ‘ghost goal’ we conceded against Sheffield United (which I have a feeling Bournemouth fans might be talking about a while) and general VAR controversies, to the power and passion of Grealish and Douglas Luiz, and the defence finally coming together for those final few games that saw Villa edged to the narrowest of 17th places. Relegation could have gone the other way if West Ham had conjured a single late goal on the final day. What a rollercoaster.

A heads up before I start: this is a long one.

A good season, or a bad one?

This is a genuinely difficult question. I don’t think there’s much doubt that if Villa had conceded a late losing goal at West Ham on the final day, this would be classified as really quite a bad season, with relegation back to the Championship. That said, I think most Villa fans – and I certainly put myself in this category – would consider staying up, even marginally, a really quite good season. Beating the drop on the last day was totally euphoric, and a fantastic end to the year in a game we probably should have won.

Cynics will point to the money spent in the summer (which was substantial), though it has to be noted that a substantial chunk of that money was spent on players that were on loan last year, and took the team to only 5th in the Championship. Almost none of it, bizarrely, was spent on established premier league players. There have also been significant injury issues throughout the team.

In fact, it’s hard to argue the team this year was any stronger than last year’s all things considered: sure, the defence probably looked a little bit better on paper (though it performed poorly for most of the season), but we bought two relative flops up front and lost a far better striker in Tammy Abraham back to Chelsea, and even the goalkeeper position’s strengthening disappeared when Tom Heaton was injured for the second half of the season (round of applause for Pepe Reina’s cameo, though).

This was a team that was at best only just good enough for the Premier League, and that’s how it went, so by that measure it went well. We also got a cup final back in February and gave the money boys from Manchester City a real game in it, too. So all things considered, a pretty good season, but only because it went the way it did on the final day. I’d give it a 6/10. That said, there’s plenty to worry about, with next season just around the corner…

Aston Villa, The Play Off Diaries: Stumble and Fall

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.

So now…

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‘.

Aston Villa, The Play Off Diaries: Off To Wembley!

Well, that was far from a classic. Tinged with the added emotion of Jlloyd Samual’s death in a car crash a few hours before kick off, Villa’s second leg against Middlesborough was one of the tensest and most uninspiring games of football I’ve ever seen as an Aston Villa fan. All’s well that ends well…


An oddly flat but intense game.

In my experience, Villa have always known how to test your nerves. You’d have to say, trying to look at things from a Middlesborough point of view, on balance they were really poor over the two legs. Without wanting to downplay the occasion, which makes things very different to a normal game, you could almost say Villa won by default. I’m reliably informed they had one shot on target over 180 minutes, none in this second game, which they needed to win, but seemed to forget that until the latter stages. They created incredibly little.

Nevertheless, Villa contrived to make things difficult for ourselves. The first half saw the home side sit back from about 15 minutes on, after a strong start, struggling to hold the ball outside of our own half, and sitting horrendously deep as Middlesborough seemed to keep a lot of the ball. Inability to clear our lines or hold onto the ball in an in any way attacking position is offset, I guess, by the fact that Adama Traore was once again largely shut down. The best Boro really created in the first half was a number of potentially dangerous crosses, which the superb Alan Hutton largely opted to let just fly over his head at the back post. It said more about Middlesborough’s lack of quality, though, than anything Villa were doing.

Things did get better in the second half. With the intensity ramped up, that Adomah/ Grealish partnership came into play, and looked really threatening at times. We seemed to figure out that the best way to defend was to try and get the ball in the other half and hold it, and Grealish and Grabban both had decent efforts on goal. I’m a little unsold on Grabban still: he had very little impact on the game (though you could certainly blame the service), and looked clunky at times. James Bree is also an obvious weakness: he struggled at right back in place of Elmohamady, and I’d be more than a little worried about him coming up against someone better on that wing when Wembley arrives.

The drama came at the end, of course. Downing smashed the crossbar – heart in mouth. Johnstone made a very rare error, in saving a shot by handling outside the area, a move he arguably should have been sent off for, depending on your definition of a clear goalscoring opportunity.  I suspect we would have gone through anyway, given how late in the game the incident was, but the leniency will serve us well in the final: Johnstone is essential to this Villa team, and I suspect he’ll have work to do at Wembley.

Here’s my good friend Stephen’s take on watching me watch the game. I suspect my nerves were more entertaining than what was on screen…

It’s hard to say anything all that positive, apart from that we did enough, and it really is all that matter at this stage. This was emphatically not a classic, though I do think the better team won.


All of which means it’s a one-off game against Fulham that determines whether Villa go back to the Premier League; a game played on the same day as the Champions League Final, and allegedly substantially more valuable. As I said in my previous blog on this, Fulham are the team it would have been better to avoid. They’re all but unbeaten since New Year, they have Mitrovic and Sessegnon, both of whom are undeniably Premier League class, and they will certainly go in as favourites.

Aston Villa, The Play Off Diaries: A Flaky, Winning Start

When it comes to this part of the season, I guess when your team plays well for a solid chunk of the match and gets an away win, you just have to take the positives and say ‘that’ll do’. So in short: as far as first legs, go, this will do:

The game

I broke rule number one of living in Dublin for this particular game: thou shalt not go out in Temple Bar. With yours truly and my amazingly well-behaved four-year-old in tow, the Aston Villa Irish Supporters Club hit up Buskers On The Ball, a place they had managed to convince to show a playoff first leg on a large number of their screens, despite it clashing with Leinster’s European Cup Final rugby exploits. There must have been 30-40 Villa fans there, which makes the games more fun to watch, but doesn’t compare to when the club was based up on O’Connell Street, and at times drew in hundreds. That’s second-tier football, I guess.

I rarely know as much about what’s going on with a game before it kicks off as I did with one. As you might have gathered from my first playoff diary, I was pretty keen on working out what to expect from this (I said low scoring and scrappy, so I guess I didn’t do too badly). I learnt that Middlesborough are pretty much what you’d expect from a Tony Pulis team, and that much of their threat comes from corners, or from the flair of Adama Traore.

As you might know, Adama is a former Villa player, one we somehow poached from Barcelona as a youth player towards the end of the Premier League era. On his day, he’s exceptional, but he’s spectacularly inconsistent. Villa all but marked him out of the game, and I suspect it’s something we’ll have to do again second time around.

First half, it was slow and steady but very much Villa in control. Despite conceding a load of those corners (most of which Johnstone dealt with competently), Grealish, Adomah and Snodgrass were by far the better midfield. It was that other lad, the big Aussie Jedinak (who, I’ll admit, I’m not totally sure I’d have had on the pitch) who actually did the damage, nodding in from a corner by Grealish. He was given plenty of space, but what an untouchably good header, in off the base of the post.

Middlesborough created a bit, but nothing all that convincing (Assombalonga had a particularly poor game, though he was quite isolated). Snodgrass saw a curler tipped onto the post by Randolph; a brilliant stop, I’m still not quite sure how he got to it. Johnstone made a cracking save from Bamford at close range, the kind of range at which his only option really was to hope it came within arm’s length and react quickly. Bamford, frankly, should have scored. The second half was almost unwatchably dour, which suits in a way, even if it is essentially the build up to ‘halftime’ in the context of the semifinal. Overall, it was a tense, uninspired game of few chances. But Villa won, and over this game, and the next couple, that really is all that matters, nobody will care if it’s a sneaky 1-0 or a thrashing.

Aston Villa, The Play Off Diaries: It Starts.

As you might or might not know, I’m a life-long Aston Villa fan. It’s been a rocky road. In the early days, it was quite good fun: a flamboyant, attacking club that won things – albeit relatively minor things like the then Coca-Cola Cup – and reached finals on a regular enough basis to bring lots of excitement. I had a season ticket as a student, by which time the club was a lower mid/table Premier League struggler, but still boasted the flair of people like Juan Pablo Angel and Thomas Hitzelsberger (don’t laugh, they were both excellent to watch). I still make roughly a game a year, which is less than I’d like, but as much as is really fair in the context of having a young child and living in another country.

In the next two weeks, Villa have the chance to regain their status at the top table, so I’ve decided I’ll take the chance to write about it. For two games. Or three. However long it lasts. I won’t be there, in all likelihood, but as far as a small number of games go, there’s nothing bigger than the playoffs. Time to ramble…

The Story So Far (And What I Think It Means)

It’s been a weird few years as a Villa fan, to say the least. I went to the last game in the Premier League and sat amongst the Holte End as Villa fans semi-ironically celebrated a draw against Newcastle, in part because it was likely to send them down (football fans are notorious for celebrating others’ misery, sadly), but also in part because they actually got a result. Specifically, a dour 0-0 draw. That side were awful, and even back then it seemed obvious – with relegation confirmed – that a quick return to the Premier League was not even close to a given. There were vocal protests outside the stadium before kick-off to go with it.

Last year was about clearing out and stabilising, something Sunderland – and the increasing difficulty in quick returns to the Premier League – have demonstrated is very necessary. Villa are largely rid of deadwood these days (I say largely looking at you, Micah Richards and the sadly shadow-of-your-former-self Gabby Agbonlahor), and with the infamous end of the parachute payment situation looming, failure to go up this season will mean squad reductions to meet financial fair play rules, inevitably. And for the casual observer, yes, football has got that much about money, and yes, it does matter to fans, for a very simple reason: financial desolation can mean a huge, huge drop for a club.

2017/2018 has also been an odd season. I wasn’t a fan of Steve Bruce before he arrived, to be honest, but he has definitely put in place a relatively colourful, attacking team. Having finished 13th in 2016/2017, and been lower for much of the season (it’s worth mentioning that Wolves and Cardiff City – who finished in the automatic promotion players this year, finished 15th and 12th respectively last year – the Championship is odd), things got off to a really bad start this year as well.

Villa opened with seven points from seven games. That was followed by a total turn around: a run of 11 wins in 14 games, lasting from mid-September to late November. After a poor December, they won six in a row through January, and converted that to nine out of 12 up to the end of a big home win against Wolves that made automatic promotion look like a real possibility, as they briefly pushed into second. Then came the (as a long time fan, seemingly inevitable) collapse, with losses to struggling Bolton, QPR and Norwich and a draw with Hull seeing Cardiff and later Fulham march past, and the playoff place solidify. I know a lot of Villa fans look at the poor run post-Wolves as the moment automatic promotion slipped away, but the seven points from seven at the start of the season is at least as culpable.

All that means Middlesborough over two legs for a place in the £100 million game. The playoffs are traditionally a lottery, though, contrary to popular opinion, they do traditionally slightly favour the team who finishes third. In the history of English second-tier playoffs, the team in third has won the most times (10). Fourth has gone up 6 times, fifth 8 times and sixth 5 times, so it does broadly reflect finishing places in terms of your chances. Based on recent form, and the quality of Alexander Mitrovic, I’d definitely be looking at Fulham as the team to beat. Obviously, from a Villa perspective, we have to look at Middlesborough first.