After my first game of the year with my daughter I followed it the next day by driving south in rain, again, to meet my son and one of my grandsons in Birmingham. My Grandson thought he was going to see me to give me a Birthday card for an impending Birthday. We met in a local car park and walked through redeveloped streets to Villa Park, where we told him he was going to see Aston Villa. His face beamed.
The rain had stopped luckily and even in the damp gloom of early evening the stadium looked magnificent. A walk around the ground lead us to the Villa shop where we joined a long queue to get in and another one to pay. Here I bought him his first scarf as I had his Dad at a similar age. This end of the ground will be re-developed next year along with a new shop. The shop had at least 10 pay stations and was doing brisk business. Villa like many Premiership clubs have upped their game over recent years and must now generate large incomes from merchandise. We showed him the statue of William McGregor regarded as the founder of the League systems in the UK and probably worldwide.
Tickets for the FA Cup third round game we had come to watch were £20 everywhere and we had chosen to sit high up in the Trinity Road Stand. Villa Park is now so different in that everything shines in its cleanliness, even the toilets. The last time I visited Villa they had no chips but this time they were there and with a Balti Chicken pie were today’s Sunday lunch as I would not be back home till 20.30. The large queue for food was soon dealt with and the pie was hot, full of filling and tasty and the chips were a delight too, hot, golden, thick, soft in the middle and tasty for a score in my chip league of 72. If the centre had been a little harder they would have been the best chips for years.
The grandson had previously been to Milton Keynes, Northampton and Sielby Rangers and complained about the seats at Villa that they were not padded like Milton Keynes, a stadium worth visiting if you get the chance.
Aston Villa have won the FA cup more than many but in recent years they never get beyond this early round. The 29000 Villa fans thought that this year the omens were good as they had been drawn against Stevenage who were second in their league, three divisions lower. They also had their new manager Uni Emery considered to be a cup specialist.and came into the game on the back of beating Spurs two nill only days before.
The game started with supporter enthusiasm but the side to side, crab like football by the home team soon dulled the fans excitement. The missed shots by Phillipe Courtinho, the balls last seen in Sutton Coldfield and the completely off form Leon Bailey were a portent of what was to come. Often Villa players had twenty to thirty yards in front of them that they could have easily run into but chose to knock it sideways to team mate who would knock it sideways again until it came all the way back to where the ball had started. The deadlock was broken on 33 minutes when Morgan Sanson received the ball on the right side of the penalty area and showed some class by coolly slotting the ball past the diving goalkeeper. Sansons goal was good to see as his time a Villa seems to be coming to an end having been overlooked by three managers and it gave Villa the half time lead.
The home side continued their domination of the ball but never came close to adding to their tally as the home crowd became more and more restless. It seemed that simple footballing skills had deserted Villa and this came to haunt them on 85 minutes when Dendonker dallied and failed to clear a ball in the centre of the penalty area and then grasped the shirt of Stevenage’s Campbell to stop him from shooting. After an age, 3 minutes of VAR review, Reid stepped forward to send the Villa goalkeeper the wrong way to level the score and Dendonker was sent off..
Worse was to come within 2 minutes when Stevenage were awarded a corner after the momentum had swung their way and Villa were still reorganising after Dendonker had left the field and their two full backs had been replaced due to injury. The corner on the right was quickly passed along the ground to the totally unmarked Campbell who had all the time in the world to run on and fire the ball past the Villa defenders and under a despairing Olsen. Stevenage lasted out the added time for a famous giant killing and deserved the win. The Villa Park faithful half-heartedly booed their team off but they didn’t have the energy to protest, worn down by a second rate performance.
Stevenage supporters rightfully stayed to savour every second of their magnificent win as the Villa fans streamed out. There was no grumbling as the fans walked away just a resignation as to their defeat brought on by an inept lacklustre performance by those on the pitch and perhaps Unai Emery’s first major mistake in fielding 8 changes from their previous game and not taking the FA Cup and lower positioned teams as serious as they should have been.
When my Grandson made it home he responded to his Mum’s “did you enjoy it” with “I don’t want to go to Villa again”. looks like that was a wasted scarf.
Sunday 8th January 2023 16.30 kick off AstonVilla 1 Stevenage 2