Do or Die – Moment of 2020

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Grealish involved with both goals at West Ham

Sunday morning, it felt like it could have been Monday or Tuesday as I’d been awake the previous two nights and couldn’t sleep.

In any other year, I would be fast asleep before waking up and heading off to the final game of the season, usually a game with nothing riding on it. Often in fancy dress when away from home, ready for a prolonged day with the lads if at home.

This was different.

That feeling you get the night before a derby game or a cup final couldn’t come close to the levels of nervousness and anticipation of West Ham United away.

It had already been the longest of years due to our livelihoods being changed beyond all recognition but the football season had taken just shy of a full calendar year.

I have always been a fairly balanced fan, I try not to let the claret and blue blood in my veins allow me to make rash and bold claims and I can remember the whole night thinking about the repercussions of all the potential outcomes.

I had probably accepted we were going down a few months before and I remember being interviewed by BBC H&W the morning before we played Sheffield United. I explained that I thought it would be incredibly difficult to turn things around having lost our previous four league games.

Two points from the next six had us clinging on to any hopes of survival by our fingernails and they had been chewed away too.

THIS IS ASTON VILLA

However, as we all know more than most, this is Aston Villa.

A team that never do things the easy way and can be the most unpredictable of teams at any given time.

A Win against Crystal Palace and a point at Everton gave us renewed hope and remember they say it’s the hope that kills you.

Five days before West Ham came Arsenal at home. They had lost just one of their previous eight games in all competitions and had beaten Liverpool and Man City in the week leading up to our fixture.

But Villa won again thanks to a Trezeguet strike and remarkably we were in pole position to stay up.

I remember the few days leading up to West Ham and the nights of no sleep thinking how painful relegation would be after the success of promotion under Dean Smith, the celebrations after beating Derby County, the impending loss of Jack Grealish, our local hero and other players that had battled on.

This was going to be a horrible day regardless until we knew the end result.

The day itself seemed to race by until the teams were announced at 3 pm.

We adhered to guidelines at the time with our usual crop of lads from the front row of the Holte End split between my house and my brother’s house up the road.

We are the group Alan Hutton ran to when we beat Blues 4-2, we go to all the games as one so even this omen of being apart for such a big game felt like a bad superstition!

West Ham away – Do or Die!

The game kicked off and every pass, tackle, set-piece and second were horrendous to watch.

It didn’t help that Bournemouth made a quick start too putting more pressure on us to do our job.

Aston Villa secure their Premier League status

Watford, however, looked gone.

A long ball over top, beat Ezri Konsa and an in from Michail Antonio raced on to a find himself in a one on one with Pepe Reina.

His form and the goals he had scored meant this was going to be an obvious opening goal.

But remember this is Aston Villa.

Somehow the shot was hooked wide and the sense of relief was palpable yet short-lived and the nerves soon took back over.

A cagey first half dragged on without any more real clear cut chances, both keepers were relatively comfortable.

Half time we barely said a word, each of us knowing the mental torture one another was going through and the lads at my brother’s house on video call were all pretty quiet too, nothing like our usual selves!

Second half we had a bit more of the ball and I distinctly remember John McGinn getting a clear chance at goal and as he tried to send the ball back in the direction of a low cross he completely mishit the ball.

That was our moment. Surely.

Still clawing on to safety, step up the only man that was really going to take the game by the scruff of the neck.

Jack Grealish

Grealish dropped the shoulder on the edge of the box and shifted left before rifling a shot down the centre of the goal and straight through Lukasz Fabianski.

The noise in our close was class, the silence of lockdowns and the lack of socialising was interrupted by a collective roar of several households in unison.

We were safe, a final day escape and the nerves had lifted, even a draw was enough!

But as the celebrations stopped we witnessed a Yarmalenko shot hit Grealish and loop up in the air viciously dipping over Pepe Reina and into the back of the net.

Back to the nerves, the dread and the fear.

The last few minutes slowed even more but the final whistle went and the strangest thing was despite us knowing we were safe thanks to the media/TV channels as the players still huddled together waiting for confirmation it still didn’t feel real until Elmo and John McGinn heard the news and the whole team and backroom staff went mad.

At the time it was an enormous relief and we all felt exhausted.

It was a few days later with a quick turnaround to the new season that I started to realise the sheer scale of the achievement.

An improbable escape which flipped the form book and a team with ambitious owners and a dedicated coach that want the best for the club.

Despite the stress, despite the worry and the lack of sleep, this was my moment of 2020.

From the lowest of lows came the highest of highs.

But hey, this is Aston Villa.

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