Villa finished their season in style, in terms of results at least, with a 1-0 win over the league’s best team of 2011 Liverpool following on from last weekend’s away victory over Arsenal. Fittingly Villa’s Player of the Season Stewart Downing netted an emphatic winger and equally fittingly the seasons brightest spark Marc Albrighton picked up the assist in an otherwise drab affair. Any lack of real quality from either side in the most part was overshadowed by a number of factors, not least the demise of Birmingham City who will be plying their trade in the Championship next season having ended the year as the worst team in the region. (Yay!)
In contrast Villa somehow managed to finish the season as the highest ranking team from the Midlands, finishing in 9th place, a feat which seemed impossible just two weeks ago with the side still mathematically unsafe from the drop. So a disappointing season ends on a high and the relegation of the Blues mattered more to most Villans than the score against Liverpool, though the result should not be overlooked.
Villa lined up with the same side that travelled to Arsenal and performed so well, while Liverpool left out the likes of Maxi Rodriguez, Glen Johnson and Andy Carroll after defeat to Tottenham last time out. That result meant that the Reds had to better Spurs’ result against Birmingham in order to cement Europa League football next season. A feat they could not achieve.
The first meaningful action of the game saw Nigel Reo-Coker booked for a foul on Jay Spearing which saw the midfielder substituted and replaced by Jonjo Shelvey early on. Later in the first half the hosts would have to withdraw their own youngster Fabian Delph who couldn’t shake off an achilles problem and was replaced by Albrighton.
The away side had the first chance when Meireles’ turn and shot was kept out by Brad Friedel, making his 400th Premier League start and his first since turning 40 last week. The veteran keeper’s future remains in the balance at Villa Park with a new contract offer seemingly on the table, though rivals West Brom have been strongly linked with a swoop for the American. Young cleared a Lucas volley off the line with relative ease from the resulting corner.
Stiliyan Petrov was in a strangely attacking mood and had two decent drives blocked from range before Carragher cut his head open to give him the classic Terry Butcher look in an uninspiring first 45.
The newly introduced Marc Albrighton then made an immediate impact after patient build up saw the Reo-Coker find Bent who turned well before picking out the winger. The 21-year-old delivered a teasing cross which evaded the onrushing Reo-Coker and made its way to the unmarked Downing at the back post. The stand out player for the season controlled well on his chest before riffling home a left foot volley off the underside of the bar from an acute angle. A great goal all round.
The second half began pretty much the same as the first. Slow and with little to mention for either side, though the visitors were controlling possession. Suarez found space on the left and outfoxed Villa’s sliding defenders before pulling back for Meireles. Friedel showed that age is no barrier by pulling off a fantastic flying save behind Dunne. The latter was accused of handball and Liverpool looked to have a case but it would have been harsh, that’s for sure.
The roles reversed shortly after when Meireles picked out the unmarked Suarez in the box but the Uruguayan blazed well over the bar and should have done better.
Villa’s best chance of the second half then fell to substitute Gabby Agbonlahor who failed to convert a ball across the six yard box after Bent had beat the offside trap. The striker was inches away from making it 2-0 having replaced Reo-Coker beforehand.
Petrov had another decent effort well saved by Reina before Ashley Young was replaced in the dying minutes which many will feel was his goodbye to the fans despite, along with Reo-Coker, despite caretaker manager Gary McAllister hinting otherwise.
All in all a great day for Villa yesterday saw the most significant news of their arch rivals Birmingham relegated. Importantly, Villa managed to finish top of the Midlands pile and quite astonishingly, given the circumstances, in 9th position, a point behind Fulham in 8th, with a first win over Liverpool at Villa Park in 13 years stretching a decent record of just 1 defeat in 8.
Villa Player Ratings
Brad Friedel – 7 – little to do in the most part but a remarkable second half stop from Meireles
Kyle Walker – 6 – solid if unspectacular on what is likely to be his last game for the club
Richard Dunne – 7 – assured in the most part capping a much improved back 19
James Collins – 7 – untroubled and commanding display on the final day
Luke Young – 6 – hugely reliable at unfavoured left-back since his return
Nigel Reo-Coker – 7 – booked but otherwise lively in potential swan song
Stiliyan Petrov – 8 – decent efforts at goal and supreme passing on the day
Fabian Delph – 6 – injured early on
Ashley Young – 6 – subdued on what is likely to be his last game at the club, rightly applauded off
Stewart Downing – 8 – cemented player of the year award with fantastic winner
Darren Bent – 6 – little impact after last week’s fantastic display
Marc Albrighton – 7 – bright off the bench and a good assist
Gabby Agbonlahor – 6 – could and maybe should have stretched the lead
Michael Bradley – no time, the case since his arrival
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