Glensider Away At West Ham
Attendance: 34 969
So, the curtain comes down on another campaign, and I don’t think that once the dust has settled, there will be too many of us out there who hold the claret and blues close to our heart, who will feel too disappointed over our efforts this season, our final sixth place finish, and the opportunity of a UEFA Cup campaign next season via the final Inter-Toto competition.
Yes of course we should have picked up points against this team and that team, maybe snatched a point at this place or that place, points that would have seen us overhaul Everton and secure automatic entry into the UEFA Cup, but lets not forget that our counterparts at Goodison are saying the very same thing about the opportunities they threw away to overtake Liverpool, and break into the somewhat seemingly exclusive 'top four'.
No, I am a very firm believer, a belief built up over my years of following our great club, that come seasons end, the league table doesn't lie, and you finish where your efforts deserve to see you finish. Consequently, sixth place looks and sounds good to me. It’s a better finish than I dared expect before a ball had been kicked in anger last August, yet realistically announces to one and all that the club is well and truly back on the right track, progress and development right throughout the club continues to be made, and with Randy Lerner and Martin O'Neill working in combination, the immediate future of Aston Villa Football Club looks very bright indeed.
Of course there are challenges to be faced and met this coming summer, important decisions to be made and acted upon, but that though is for tomorrow, another day, and will no doubt cause enough topics of conversation to create heavy discussion and debate on our excellent Vital Villa forum. Those of you who don’t participate on the forums, I'd certainly encourage you to do so. There will be enough content on there to keep you all fully occupied throughout your spare time this summer, as you read the views of your fellow Villans, and of course, get the opportunity to post your own comments and observations. Come on, get onboard.
Right, what about our latest trip to east London, and another visit to our capital city, a place from where we have not returned to beautiful Brum with a three point haul since way back when, a 2-1 success at The Valley some four seasons ago I believe I'm correct in saying. That’s an amazing statistic, because in that time I have seen us turn in some top-drawer showings in London, performances at The Emirates, White Hart Lane, and Stamford Bridge immediately come to mind. Yet for one reason or another we've had to settle for a solitary point, as opposed to the three points that perhaps our efforts deserved.
Anyway, the four of us set out from Brum Sunday morning, all somewhat subdued because it was to be our last away-day of the summer, our last lads day out together until August, but all looking forward to the game, hopefully a victory, and the opportunity to wave goodbye to a guy who has become part of the furniture of Villa Park over the last seven years, Mr Olof Mellberg.
Olof had clearly been thinking of us too, because he made the tremendous gesture of handing out to the 3200 travelling Villans, a very special memorial replica shirt, saying 'Mellberg, Thankyou For Your Support'. We choose three white ones, one claret and blue, and entered the stadium once again singing the praises of our favourite Swede.
The game started in beautiful conditions, and Ashley Young, his yellow boots shimmering in the May sunshine, almost put us ahead in the third minute, when following a typical break from defence, witnessed so often on our travels this season, hit the outside of the post following great work from Gabby.
The Hammers though had made a bright start themselves, earning early corners that had us on the back foot, and on ten minutes they were ahead, ex-Villan Nobby Solano beating Scott Carson from the edge of the area, with a free kick that Scotty presumably only saw late. All credit to Nobby though, he refused to celebrate his strike as his team mates moved in to mob him. A tremendous gesture I thought.
There was some very good one touch play from the home side, and the game was flowing end to end.
We started to take control, our pace troubling West Ham, and on fourteen minutes we were level, a superb finish from Ashley, following great work from Nigel Reo-Coker, a target of the Upton Park boo-boys from the offset.
We really took over for the rest of the half, playing some delightful football, but unfortunately failed to put away the opportunities we created, and consequently West Ham went in at the break, somewhat fortunate to be on level terms.
Into the second half and we continued to press forward, it seemed only a matter of time before we grabbed the go-ahead goal.
Stan Petrov was booked for an alleged dive, yet if he'd have kept his feet he would surely have scored, but then on the hour mark we took the deserved lead with a superb effort from a back to his best Gareth Barry.
Surging forward at the retreating home defence, he slipped the ball in front of Nigel Reo-Coker, and continued his run to steer in the rebound after Green had parried Nigel's effort.
Gareth's celebrations with the travelling hordes behind the goal hardly suggested the fact that here was a guy looking to move on. His celebrations have genuinely given me hope that he'll be with us when we return to pre-season traing late June/early July. They say he's the very heart of this team - they are right!
It looked game over, we certainly didn't look in any danger. Three points in the bag we thought. Dean Ashton though had other ideas, his superb strike two minutes from time giving The Hammers are rather undeserved share of the spoils.
So there we are. Sixth spot, Inter-Toto football, and a long interesting summer ahead.
We all four agreed that taken as a whole, this season has provided us with more entertainment, more high-spots, that we've witnessed on the road for a long, long time. We've seen some exciting football played by MON's lads, some very good performances, and noticed a definite upsurge in respect for AVFC when talking to rival supporters while enjoying our pre-game/post game refreshments.
Yes, we're on the way back. No doubt about it. Now roll-on July and the Inter-Toto.