Once again, a match against Tottenham Hotspur brought last minute anguish for Aston Villa as Son Heung-min capitalised on Björn Engels’ mistake in stoppage time. Villa fans were ready to cheer a point when that last minute goal secured a 3–2 victory for Spurs. The Villans, after a rare week off, seemed determined to wipe the smirk off José Mourinho’s face. The home side have only earned one point against teams currently in the top half; still, the squad went into the match with one of the top six teams ready to cause an upset.
Yet on paper, Spurs’ energetic front line certainly posed a large threat to Aston Villa’s back line given the inexperienced defenders who would need to be absolute stalwarts to prevent their side from conceding. When that proved impossible, Pepe Reina needed to remain self-aware and attempt to manage his defence while still keeping balls out of the net. Despite the disappointing ending, Reina was brilliant, continually keeping his side in the game. The Spaniard was arguably the home side’s men of the match, exquisitely diving across his goal on numerous occasions to prevent Spurs from scoring.
For a quarter of an hour, Reina remained untested in the net, savouring Villa’s early lead, courtesy of Toby Alderweireld. However, he could not prevent the defender’s redemption; Alderweireld powerfully struck the ball into the top right hand corner, an intricate finish from the centre half. Reina, meanwhile, remained isolated despite his best efforts to save Son’s penalty, pouncing off his line to parry the ball away only for the forward to tap the ball into the net. Given the limited help from his back line, an increasingly frustrated Reina tried to reign them in with impassioned pleas. The keeper continued to thwart the visitors from increasing their lead, expertly saving dangerous strikes from Steven Bergwijn, Dele Alli and Son, all the while instructing his defenders to get into some sort of position to prevent Spurs from capitalising on the space provided. Reina’s illustrious footballing career means he can provide the experience for the younger footballers amongst the Villa’s first team to improve and excel . . . although it appears this will take some time.
After Martin Atkinson blew for full time, Reina’s disappointment was evident. He made it clear after the match with a single tweet:
Pepe Reina is a true professional who will continue to be a driving force in Aston Villa’s battle against relegation. Tottenham may have scored three, yet the keeper managed to be exemplary for 90 minutes, making outstanding saves and executing perfect passes. Now it’s up to the rest of the team to follow Reina’s lead and secure three points against Southampton next Saturday.