Something For The Weekend (575)
Turning green in claret and blue..
Villa finished the season with a consoling draw against the second best team in the Championship and with only ten men, which invited the conclusion that the gap between Villa and worthiness of promotion is hardly anything at all. It certainly isn't too fanciful to claim that if they hadn't had such a lousy start they would have almost certainly reached the play-off places and if the African Cup of Nations hadn't deprived the team of King Kodjia, automatic promotion would have been possible. Okay, I can dream can't I? Overall though, considering the depth of the systemic problems at the club over such a long period, the turn around has been as quick as could be reasonably hoped for. A club which got relegated with seventeen points, twenty points behind relegated Newcastle, have substantially further to go, on their long march back to the top of the hill.
Villa certainly had their chances to win the game and they definitely looked a little more adventurous going forward than we are used to. A combination of Brighton cynicism and poor refereeing got Nathan Baker sent off and gifted the visitors the goal they thought would give them the Championship title. Whatever contact was made between the two players looked minimal and certainly was not the cause of the guy going down like Charley Drake falling off a ladder. Payback came in the form of a very late goal from Jack Grealish, deflected into the Brighton net by a Brighton boot. Justice was done but I wouldn't begrudge Chris Hughton his promotion.
Any sense of consolation ended later when I saw footage of the hysteria breaking out at St James' Park, with mad Geordie surprise at being confirmed as champions, by the news of Grealish's late goal. To say I turned a sickly green with envy would only be a slight exaggeration but it was a choker. It has been far too long since the faithful experienced such joy. The irony couldn't have been more profound, that a club they despise, managed by a childhood Newcastle fan, should have been the cause of their joy. It was a massive favour from Villa, but will they forgive and forget? I doubt it, but they might give Jack Grealish freedom of the city.
With Villa finishing thirteenth, SHA escaping the drop by the narrowest of margins, and Madrid getting two teams into the semifinal of the Champions League, you can't help wondering why this country's second city, can't even get a single team into the nation's elite division. Only southerners and the Post Office think West Brom is in Birmingham but if having a town hall puts Man United outside Manchester, then West Brom is not part of Brum. The City of Birmingham needs to do better or we'll continue to be mistaken for some kind of backwater.
The good news this week was that the EFL had enjoyed the best attendances since 1959, when Villa were also in the second tier, and no doubt Villa's and Newcastle's presence had something to do with the increased total. The bad news is that according to the table, the Premier League has become even more unequal in Villa's and the Magpie's absence. The division between the the haves and the have-nots couldn't be clearer. Every club from eighth downwards has a negative goal-difference and the thirteen points between Everton in seventh and West Brom in eighth clearly marks two distinct divisions within the division. West Brom's forty-five points would normally be expected to put them halfway and previously teams with forty-two points would have been considered to have just escaped relegation, not put them mid-table. The narrow spread of points between eighth and seventeenth suggests that the middling clubs are now scrapping for fewer and fewer points and that the gulf is growing and the competition is weakening. Leicester winning the title was an outlier which didn't change anything. This reveals the truth about the Premier League behind the hype and the ever-increasing sums of money in the headlines. While this arrangement has ensured the creation and protection of England's mega-clubs, they are doing worse in the Champions League, with the biggest of them all just happy to reach the final of the Europa League.
With this being the case, it would seem that for any Championship club only half prepared, promotion could prove a poisoned chalice. Villa definitely aren't ready to face that challenge just yet but I am hoping that this time next year, they will be. Until then, we will all be waitin' on that sunny day.
Keep the faith!