Back in October before our 0-0 draw with Birmingham City, I wrote an article on my top five games against our fierce rivals.
I’ve decided to produce a ‘My Top 5’ theme which will crop up once a month to spark some discussion and for a bit of fun as everyone will have a different set of answers to the topic chosen. As I wrote about the Second City Derby in the previous Top 5 article, I have decided to leave out games against them and focus on every other opponent as I’m sure the 5-1 would appear several times!
This week I am going for my top 5 games that I have attended. These have been chosen for numerous reasons, taking into account the opponents, the competition, the game itself and other elements such as importance to me and the venue.
Get involved and let us know what your favourite games were and why, remember we are all different ages too! (As for myself, I was born in 1988 and have been a season ticket holder since 1994-1995 so my choices are from that season onwards).
Firstly, trying to choose 5 games is incredibly difficult. I have changed some of the options on the list several times over the weekend. Notable mentions are the 1-0 win away at Old Trafford when Gabriel Agbonlahor secured our first win away against Manchester United in over two decades. Also the 1996 League Cup Final victory against Leeds United, the 2-1 win against Liverpool which marked the end of the Holte End terrace, the 2-2 draw at home to Arsenal under Martin O’Neill and numerous away days including trips abroad.
However, my final choice of games are as follows:
5 – Aston Villa 3-2 Coventry City (Premier League – Villa Park, 5th May 2001)
At 12 years old I didn’t know much other than how much I loved Villa and due to the league positions of the other Midlands teams, how much I disliked Coventry City. This was instilled in me through my dad who would treat games with them like we do now whenever Blues are our opponents.
I also didn’t understand the immense pressure and feeling of relegation, especially going into the last few games of the season. So to take on our local rivals at the time and have a chance to relegate them built for an incredible atmosphere.
The first half could easily have been one of my top five hated halves of football.
Paul Telfer crossed in for the Moroccan, Mustapha Hadji to head home in front of the Holte End which sensed the chance of relegating Coventry was slipping away.
What happened next was the moment I perhaps remember most from this game, Hadji ran on to a long ball over the top and from the corner of the box, looped a half volley into the far right hand corner.
All the hype and anticipation had faded away and the Coventry City fans were in party mode.
The second half was simply ridiculous. Whatever was said by John Gregory to his players at half time must have been special as all of a sudden the whole team were sparked into life.
On the hour mark Coventry keeper, Chris Kirkland palmed a poor cross straight to the feet of Darius Vassell and the deficit was halved.
Then came a moment that everyone had waited for. Juan Pablo Angel got his first goal for Villa, firing in from a Gareth Southgate cross. A few people spilled out of the Doug Ellis stand and ran on to the pitch in celebration.
But if anything, that was tame in comparison to what happened next. Paul Merson picked up the ball and from a long way out he curled a shot that seemed to take for ever to reach the goal. It curled into the top right hand corner to spark wild celebrations both on and off the pitch and Coventry City were relegated.
4 – Aston Villa 2-1 Liverpool (F.A. Cup Semi-Final – Wembley, 19th April 2015)
It had been a largely forgettable season in regards to the league campaign but in the F.A. Cup, Villa found themselves involved in a rare and much appreciated cup run. The Quarter Final at home to West Bromwich Albion was already a massive positive. A local derby that would see the winners go to Wembley.
Strikes from Fabian Delph and Scott Sinclair led to a pitch invasion at full time and Tim Sherwood orchestrated the celebrations on the touchline.
Under Sherwood the tactics weren’t necessarily the best to say the least but he had instilled some belief and fight in the squad that he had.
The trip to Wembley was another great day out. The nerves when the alarm clock went off, the train down with thousands of other fans and then the first glimpse of Wembley. It doesn’t matter how many times you go to a stadium like that it always hits you the moment you first see it.
The weather was surprisingly good for April and the bars outside the ground were doing a roaring trade.
We were already written off by most media fronts and supporters as it was all about Steven Gerrard. He was due to retire at the end of the season and he was supposed to win this match and he was supposed to finish with his final game at Wembley, lifting the F.A. Cup.
Liverpool took the lead with a well taken goal by Philippe Coutinho after some shaky Villa defending.
Prepared for the worst the Villa faithful were stunned as the ever reliable Christian Benteke fired us level not long after. The noise and elation were huge. I remember TV cameras in front of me near the corner flag as I was near the front and they were filming for a documentary for BBC Three. The camera was grabbed and shaken by a group of lads who made the most of the moment!
In the second half Villa fought hard, Sherwood heading and kicking every single ball in the technical area along with the fans who were nervous, yet ever growing in confidence.
Fabian Delph twisted and turned in the box and drilled in the winner that nearly took the roof off. I also remember the final ten minutes being the longest ten minutes ever. Mario Balotelli with a disallowed goal and a header that flicked the bar.
The final whistle went and Sherwood along with Benteke and company, were all revelling in the huge upset by celebrating with the fans.
We won’t mention the final!
3 – Aston Villa 2-1 Atletico Madrid (UEFA Cup Quarter Final – Villa Park, 17th March 1998)
This was probably my favourite season as a Villa fan. I couldn’t wait for the European games and nights under the lights. Nine at the time, I was in my first year of Middle School and would spend the whole day counting down to going to the football.
We did incredibly well in the UEFA Cup that year, having seen off Bordeaux, Athletic Bilbao and Steaua Bucharest before facing Atletico Madrid in the Quarter Finals.
Going into the second leg, we trailed 1-0 after a controversial penalty. With the away goals rule, an early Atletico goal would spell major trouble.
The noise on the Holte End that night is the loudest I’ve heard to this day. The chance to reach the semi-final of a European competition was on the line.
The worst possible nightmare struck, Atletico Madrid scored to take a 2-0 lead on aggregate with the all important away goal too. This meant Villa would need to score 3 times.
At half time the odds were slim but at home, under the lights with a raucous crowd, we didn’t fear anyone. Holte End hero Ian Taylor pulled one back on 72 minutes. Chances were still incredibly slim with only 18 minutes to find two more goals.
However, just two minutes later came a goal that is still probably my favourite Villa goal. Stan Collymore, Villa fan, big price tag but had failed to capture his best form, received the ball on the left hand corner of the box. After taking a touch to kill the ball and then shifting it onto his right foot, Collymore hit a screamer of a shot into the top right hand corner and the volume of Villa Park was immeasurable. Collymore frantically running back to his own half gesturing to the crowd to get louder is one of the images of my childhood as a Villa fan.
Despite tireless work and endeavour, the third goal didn’t come and we were out. It was the first time I had felt a true heartbreak in terms of football and I can still picture the drive home. Almost in tears.
The final ended up being Lazio against Inter Milan and my favourite player, Ronaldo (the Brazilian one for youngsters) would have been playing to make it worse for me!
2 – Everton 2-3 Aston Villa (Premier League – Goodison Park, 7th December 2008)
The second of the infamous 3-2 results came away to Everton in perhaps the most dramatic of my five games chosen.
The game started off in incredible fashion, Steve Sidwell hitting a bullet of a shot into the top left hand corner in under a minute.
A true pantomime villain/villan (both applicable) in Joleon Lescott scored an equaliser, glancing on from a free kick. He always had an incredibly frustrating habit of scoring against us and I remember one of my mates saying ‘Lescott will score here’ on every single set piece they had.
In the second half, Phil Jagielka played a blindsided back pass, not even looking around to see Ashley Young anticipating the move and he simply ran onto the pass before calmly lifting the ball in over the Everton keeper.
On the brink of yet another great result, Lescott scored an equaliser in added time with an acrobatic volley before running right up to us and he pretended to throw his Everton shirt into the crowd of Villa fans.
Due to the nature of the late equaliser, we all wanted to leave, we felt sick. We moved onto the stair well ready to leave as we were parked near a school and there was no chance of getting away quickly if we were late.
However, quicker than Joleon Lescott can upload a tweet of his car from inside his trousers, whilst driving, Villa remarkably won with the final kick of an exhilarating game. Agbonlahor flicked the ball beyond Lescott and Ashley Young ran on to bend the ball around the keeper before sprinting the length of the pitch to the jubilant Villa fans. Martin Laursen and Brad Friedel were going mad, we were all going mad.
On top of the last gasp victory, I will always remember that game on a daily basis. I fell on the stairwell as we ran down in celebration and now wear a lovely looking scar down my left arm. Cheers Ashley!
1 – Aston Villa 3-2 Arsenal (Premier League – Villa Park, 13th December 1998)
The current Manchester City team may go on to be touted as the best side to have graced the Premier League but for me it was all about the Arsenal team during Arsene Wenger’s successful years. A side with the class and intelligence of Dennis Bergkamp, the strength and athleticism of Patrick Vieira and a solid, English core that consisted of David Seaman, Martin Keown, Lee Dixon, Steve Bould, Tony Adams and Ray Parlour.
They were the first team to win and play breath-taking football week in week out in the Premier League and we looked to be close to being added to their latest victims as we trailed 2-0 at half time thanks to the ever impressive Bergkamp.
Then what happened at half time was one of the most bizarre, shocking and upsetting moments at any live event. To this day I still can’t believe what I, along with everyone else in that ground saw that day.
The RAF were doing a display at half time which involved people parachuting into Villa Park and landing in the centre circle. With Christmas fast approaching, the lead member of the group was dressed as Father Christmas and everyone was making noise as he entered our view high above the stadium. As he closed down the wind appeared to blow him out of the ground and he caught the advertising boards fixed to the roof of the old Trinity Road stand. The parachute deflated and everyone watched in horror as he fell from the roof and onto the edging around the pitch. You could hear his body hit the ground from the Holte End.
The stadium fell silent, we were all convinced he had lost his life and the game would be off as a result.
Remarkably, the man survived but we wouldn’t find that out until weeks after the incident. Needless to say half time was incredibly long as paramedics and other people tended to the victim and worked to save his life.
The second half to this day is the best half of football I have seen a Villa team play. In today’s betting market the odds would’ve been ridiculous for a Villa win.
In the 65th minute, still 2-0 down, Lee Hendrie squared a pass to Julian Joachim who curled in Villa’s first.
Three minutes later Dion Dublin managed to stretch out a leg to a seemingly poor ball and redirect the ball into the top left corner to cause pandemonium inside Villa Park.
Then with just seven minutes to go and the game set for a draw, Dublin controlled a corner that fell to him favourably and smashed the ball into the roof of the net to give Villa the lead. A lead which would return Villa to the top of the table.
One other amazing thing about that game was that the side selected by John Gregory was an all English eleven.
On a side note, the last time an all English eleven was fielded in the Premier League was also Aston Villa under John Gregory in February 1999 against Coventry City.
Oakes, Watson, Southgate, Scimeca, Wright, Merson, Taylor, Grayson, Hendrie, Dublin, Joachim.
Subs: Barry, Collymore, Draper