Friday 27 April 2018

Black insists Villa must rebuild immediately as relegation finally confirmed

Manchester United 1 Aston Villa 0

Joleon Lescott leaves the pitch after Aston Villa were relegated from the Premier League yesterday. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
Joleon Lescott leaves the pitch after Aston Villa were relegated from the Premier League yesterday. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
Manchester United's Anthony Martial tries to hold off Aston Villa's Joleon Lescott. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Aston Villa's Aly Cissokho. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

Tim Rich

Along the bottom of the Sky Sports screen ran the tag: "Breaking News: Aston Villa relegated from the Premier League."

True it might have been, but it hardly carried the sense of shock of the Kennedy assassination. Aston Villa have looked certainties for the drop since November. This was the day they finally went.

Sunderland's win at Norwich earlier in the day had meant Villa might avoid relegation if they could beat Manchester United, although since they had managed one league victory at Old Trafford since 1983, this was like giving a drowning man a thread from a spider's web to cling on to.

Only in the final eight minutes, when the Aston Villa caretaker, Eric Black, put on Rudy Gestede did they look as if they might force a breakthrough. Gestede struck the post and caused several flurries of panic in Manchester United's defence, but it was never likely to be enough.

The only highlight was the travelling support, who were loud, passionate and very funny. They had not seen Aston Villa win an away point since January and they unfurled a banner that proclaimed: "From Rotterdam to Rotherham. Lerner Out." Rotterdam was where they beat Bayern Munich to win the European Cup, Rotherham is where they will be playing next season. When Villa won a corner, they greeted it with a standing ovation. Poignantly, towards the end, they began singing: "We'll Meet Again".

It seemed that only one Aston Villa, player, Jordan Ayew, would acknowledge their support at the end, but Alan Hutton called a few of the team over to say their goodbyes.

"It's been coming for some time, but the realisation when it hits is devastating," said Black, who is the third man to have taken charge of Aston Villa in this long, miserable campaign. "It's horrible and I can understand the disconnect between the supporters and the players. I am humbled by the support we have had from fans who have seen something like 18 home wins in the last 80 matches at Villa Park."

Relegation, he said, "is a massive transformation you have to make".

Black added: "You will need to move some players on and find you are unable to, and you will lose some of the players you want to keep as well. The rebuild has to start right now, we have to dust ourselves down and begin taking steps now that it is official. We all knew what was likely to happen, but the realisation still hits you hard, and at the moment we have a sad, sad dressing room."

The pattern of Louis van Gaal's time as Manchester United manager is that they have always played better against the tougher teams. In the FA Cup quarter-final at West Ham on Wednesday night, United had been in compelling form. The only similarity with the game at Upton Park was that Marcus Rashford scored.

There were some flashy touches and one fabulous low cross from Memphis Depay, who since he has developed a reputation as a flat-track bully, ought to have shone against this opposition, but not much more.

This was Rashford's seventh goal in a dozen matches and was beautifully constructed. It began with a long diagonal ball from Wayne Rooney, who was starting his first game since February, to Antonio Valencia, who went to the bye-line and pulled the ball back for Rashford. What impressed his manager was that Valencia had noticed the teenager had checked his run and adjusted his pass accordingly.

Van Gaal had made five changes from the side that had fought its way to an FA Cup semi-final and he had wanted to rest Rashford, only to be dissuaded by the striker's determination to play. "I knew I could take him off in the last 15 minutes," said Van Gaal. "It was the same with Rooney. He was angry when he came off because he wanted to play the full 90 minutes, but he was losing balls in the second half. I was surprised we could not lift ourselves, but we played at too slow a tempo. We want to give more entertainment to the fans, but the most important thing was to win."

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