Dateline Sunday. Brighton are in the way. Bring it on.
And so we arrive at the final afternoon of the season. It’s the only time that every match kicks off at the same time, although there’s no chance that they’ll finish together. It comes down to one simple fact – win and we’re in Europe. Anything else and we’ll be relying on some horrible chain of events that might see Leeds staying up, and that just won’t do. Expect at least half a dozen spontaneous outbreaks of cheering as someone spreads the, invariably false, news that there’s been a goal elsewhere.
We’re playing Brighton. They’re doing well, so fair play to them on that but they’re still not particularly likeable because they’re not the Villa. They’re also the sort of club who had a few thousand supporters, all who got told by acquaintances in red football shirts to support a proper club. Then they got into the Premier League and those acquaintances realised that they supported Brighton after all. Their manager sounds like the Second Villain in a Tarantino film and could play the younger version of the lead in a Rafa Benitez biopic. Their players are annoyingly good and even more annoyingly cheap.
They’ve got six players out and with any luck another six will go down with something short-lived but nasty on Sunday morning. Just for a change we’ve got another player out.
Everyone knows what’s riding on this. You can say it’s a minor competition or that we’re not ready for Europe. You can also say that getting into Europe by whichever means is tangible proof of improvement and it’s never too early for success. That, and if we finish the day where we start it we’ll be £4 million better off than if we drop a couple of places – which might mean the difference between signing a first-choice target and missing out.
Brighton have done well this season, no question, but they haven’t witnessed one of those Villa Park occasions where the old ghosts rouse themselves to roar on the team. It doesn’t happen very often but when it does, we’re unbeatable.