It was a fine performance from Aston Villa today with Stewart Downing's, brilliant goal in the 33rd minute proving the difference. Neither team showed a tremendous amount of ambition so it's tough to take too much away from this one, but Villa were solid in every phase of the game. I'm not especially concerned with doing a lot of analysis of this game; Villa looked marginally the better side but they didn't look especially good and it's tough to imagine that it would have gone the same way had Liverpool had more to play for. By the end both teams looked ready for some poolside cocktails and a bit of golf.
It's pretty amazing to think that just a month ago there were serious relegation concerns and when all was said in done Villa managed a top-half finish. Both of those scenarios are down to an extraordinarily tight Premier League table, and while this season wasn't a great deal of fun for Villa fans I think it's important to reflect on how absolutely mental this season has been. None of the relegated teams would have gone down had they earned the same number of points last season and Birmingham and Blackpool would have finished 14th and 15th respectively with a nine point cushion. The Tangerines face the drop despite managing to score 55 goals. It's easy to envision a scenario where Villa fans could have been watching the scoreboard today with far more nervousness, but this team must be given credit; just one loss in their final eight games and 15 of the 24 points on offer. Over the course of a full season that pace would be good for 71 points and though it's foolish to take too much from such small stretch of the season it's also important to recognize how strong a finish this was. The wins over Arsenal and Liverpool might not have meant much in terms of Villa's safety, but they did a whole lot in terms of helping this season end on a high note.
- Steven Gerrard watched today's game from the away supporters section. Say what you will about the man, that's fantastic. Well done, Stevie G.
- This was almost certainly Kyle Walker's final game with Aston Villa, and he's come a tremendously long way. Always a handful going forward, Walker's ability to get back on defense has improved dramatically over the course of the season and that's been reflected in the overall performance of Villa's back line this past month or so. It will be a shame to see him go.
- Fabian Delph left the game early due to injury. It had the look of being precautionary, and that's a smart decision. Delph has all the potential in the world but the kid is made of glass, and it's made it very tough for him to develop as he should. Let's hope this was just a knock and nothing else.
- Liverpool seem to have an abnormally high number of hideously ugly players. I hadn't really noticed that before; maybe Fernando Torres being gone makes it more apparent.
- When Ashley Young was brought off the pitch just before stoppage time began, his applause to the crowd looked like something a bit more than typical end-of-the-season fare. It's impossible to know for sure and that's 100% speculation on my part of course, but I think it's fair to say that Ashley leaving would be little surprise too anyone. If it comes to pass I doubt I'll be too broken up about it, but Young has been a tremendous player for Villa in his time here. It might be best for all if he moves on, but Ash deserves a lot of praise and recognition.
- Brad Friedel might be on his way out as well, and if so he sure as hell gave Villa fans something to remember him by. Luis Suarez made a fantastic turn and found space to send a cross to Raul Meireles who looked for all the world to have an open net and equalizer, but Friedel somehow managed to get in front of the shot. It was as good a save as you'll ever see and it seemed to take a lot of the wind out of Liverpool's sails.
- Watching Gabriel Agbonlahor these days is incredibly frustrating. He does so much right, but he cannot seem to get the most important bits nailed down. I think he'll get it figured out with an off-season to get back up to speed, but he had several opportunities to make it 2-0 and just wasn't able to do a thing with them.
- The ball movement at times was fantastic. The six points are of course the most important things to take from these past two games, but it's also worth noting that Villa have looked impressive against two very, very good teams to close out the year. This could be a very fun team to watch next season.
There were a few other games today of course, and there was even a bit riding on them. The relegation battle is always a bit tough for me as an American without as much familiarity with tiered systems as are par for the course elsewhere, but they are undeniably fantastic drama. I'd expressed a desire to see Birmingham stay up, and for a few reasons; I enjoy the derbies of course (though not as much this year) and next season will be a bit less exciting without them. But perhaps more importantly, relegation could cause some very, very serious financial problems for Birmingham and I doubt that even the most ardent Bluenose haters wish to see the club vanish entirely. It's a mess largely of their own creation, but it's still unfortunate and I sincerely hope they get their house in order.
With that said, today was likely as close to perfect for most Villa fans and though I would have preferred Blackburn go down in Birmingham's place I'd be lying if I said I was anything close to upset with the way things ended up playing out. My main concerns were Wolves and Wigan staying up and Blackpool going down, and all of those things happened. I'm an outspoken fan of Roberto Martinez and equally outspoken in terms of being sick and tired of hearing Ian Holloway talk. I do feel for Blackpool's fans and players, but that they even managed to get to the Premier League is in and of itself a minor miracle and they should take an enormous amount of pride in their accomplishment. In the end though, they can't be especially surprised with their fate and next season should be a bit less grating without Ian Holloway yammer on about a bunch of garbage all season long. Holloway is by all accounts a good, decent man and I don't doubt it, but good heavens he should keep his trap shut.
So that's that then, three months without Villa. I've got the Sounders to keep me sane (in theory) but it just won't be the same without blurry-eyed 6:00 AM wakeups rewarded with strong coffee, hangover breakfasts and a whole day consumed by football. We'll still be here though; expect a longer-form season wrap-up some time this week and other assorted bits. Silly season starts before you know it, and of course there's the little matter of who will be managing the club come next season.
Thanks to everyone for reading and hanging out. You're all lovely, and we'll look forward to sharing next season with the lot of you. Here's to hoping there's a bit more joy in it.