Relief as Villa secure survival
In the end, it was all rather less dramatic than originally feared. The 3-1 victory over Hull City on Saturday finally killed off any worries of relegation, as Villa enjoyed a far more comfortable afternoon than anyone of a claret and blue persuasion had dared dream. It could have been a tortuous 90 minutes for fans but those who have suffered for much of the season finally had some pleasure at Villa Park.
That support has hardly wavered, however, in spite of everything and Saturday's victory was a well deserved reward. Paul Lambert was right to acknowledge the positive influence of the Holte End -- and indeed the passion and encouragement all around the stadium. The fans helped to drag a team of players in the midst of a crisis of confidence over the line.
This was also a victory for Lambert. The Villa manager has a stubborn streak to his character, that's for sure. In two seasons in charge, he has frequently made decisions which have gone against the grain and he's certainly gone about the job in his own way. Few would have deployed three central defenders against Hull (Lambert has used the system several times before with limited success) and fewer still would have kept faith with Nathan Baker. The Scot did both and would have been delighted to see Baker out jump the Tigers defence twice in a matter of seconds to win headers which eventually led to Andreas Weimann putting Villa 2-1 up.
Similarly, Jordan Bowery would have been nobody's No.1 choice to come off the bench to replace the injured Gabby Agbonlahor a little after 20 minutes in. That was a setback which could have seriously derailed Villa after the side had made an excellent start, scoring through Ashley Westwood inside the first minute.
Agbonlahor had created the goal. With him injured, the best option would appear to have been Callum Robinson, who looked sharp enough when on as a sub at Swansea the previous weekend or Grant Holt, Lambert's former Mr. Reliable and a player with the experience to steady the nerves of younger colleagues in such a crucial match.
But Bowery? The bargain basement signing from Chesterfield in the summer of 2012, with just one appearance (that as an 89th-minute sub) for the club in 2014 and still without a goal for Villa? Him? No!
Actually, yes. It seemed a mix of sheer bloody-mindedness from Lambert but credit where it's due: after the bad luck of getting the final touch on the ball as Hull drew level, Bowery settled into the game, was unfortunate not to score a couple of times and created Villa's third. It was his best performance in a Villa shirt -- not that he has many previous examples for comparison, mind.
It was also a satisfying afternoon for Weimann, who must be more disappointed than most with his personal contribution in recent months. The Austrian hadn't scored since the 4-3 win over West Brom, so he'd been on stuck on three league goals for some time. His double against Hull should at least allow him to conclude the season on a high note, though it has to be said that it's not his fault he has rarely been afforded the opportunity to play in his favoured role as centre-forward. Lambert has not made the most of his goalscoring instinct this season.
With results condemning Fulham and Cardiff to relegation, Norwich all but there and West Brom losing to Arsenal, Villa have reached 14th position, on 38 points. Safety, but still adrift of last season's total of 41. The club can still surpass that, though the prospects of getting anything from Wednesday night's trip to Manchester City look slim to nothing. Encouragement could be drawn from last day opponents Tottenham's lacklustre defeat at West Ham, though.
Still, with another season of Premier League football secured, thoughts won't be so much on Villa's results in the final two matches of the 2013-14 campaign as what lies beyond that. The division Villa will be in has been confirmed, but who will own the club continues to be a matter of speculation, as does the fate of Lambert and half the playing squad.
The fun has yet to start. It could be an eventful close season in Birmingham.