Way back in August, Premier League survival was the ultimate aim for all the sides newly promoted from the Championship. Half way through March and sitting at opposite ends of the table, the Blades’ fortunes were looking starkly contrasted to those of both Norwich and Aston Villa. But your crystal ball would have had to have been pretty damn good to predict a global pandemic temporarily halting the season just as it was about to get interesting…
Here, Shoaib Ahmed from Villans Together gives us a rundown of lockdown and Villa’s run-in as the season restarts:
What were your expectations for the season and how have you found it so far?
I wasn’t expecting miracles to be honest, I knew we’d be in and around the bottom five or six but the aim has always been to ensure survival in the first season and kick on from there. I think we’ve been decent this season just not very consistent, hence our league position.
Having been promoted alongside the Blades, did you expect such a stark contrast between current league positions?
Absolutely not. I think Sheffield United have been the surprise package this season. I don’t think anyone expected them to be up there. Fair play to them – they’ve stuck to their guns and style of play which is why they’re reaping the rewards. I was expecting them to be fighting with us near the bottom.
As an outsider, what is your view on the Blades and their strengths?
I think their team spirit, the togetherness, their never say die attitude. Again, not many big names in there but they’ve proved that names are just names. As long you put a shift in and never give up, you can buy all the talent in the world, but you can’t buy passion. The Blades have it in abundance.
How have you found the lockdown period as a Villa supporter?
I have struggled to be honest. As a season ticket holder and someone who travels to most games, its something I’ve really missed. Getting your shirt ready in the morning, the walk down, getting the match programme, seeing your little group of people you get to know around your seat etc. I’ve been watching re-runs of The Championship Play Off Final! But yeah, I really miss match days and the whole vibe.
Do you agree with the return behind closed doors?
I don’t agree really. I think the season should have been voided (I’m slightly biased because we’re in a relegation battle!) but jokes aside, we’re living amidst a pandemic, so health and safety comes first. Personally, I would have liked to have seen it voided, as I truly believe football is nothing without the fans. Excited to see football and especially Villa back, but also very nervous.
Do you think it will have a positive or negative effect on the remainder of your season?
I think for Villa, it’s in our hands and only we can decide our fate. The game in hand is crucial as it can see us out of the relegation zone. Also, having players back from injury can only be positive – the likes of John McGinn, Wesley etc.
How do you expect your side to go into the return?
I’m hoping we’re firing on all cylinders, similar to the start of the season when we were earning rave reviews from the pundits. Let’s just hope we can show some points for it this time rather than playing really well against Arsenal, Spurs etc. at the start but coming away with nothing. Would love to see another ten game unbeaten run like last season.
Can we expect a different Villa side to the one we saw at Bramall Lane?
I’m hoping we do. I think that was a third defeat in a row losing 2-0 at Bramall Lane. It wasn’t the best of performances, however, Fleck scored a brace, who happened to be in my Dream Team that week, so at least there was a silver lining! I’m hoping for a cracker at Villa Park like last season – just hope we don’t leave it as late as we did on that winter night when Andre Green popped up in injury time. (What a great little comeback that was!)
What should Sheffield United be most wary of?
I think the Blades should be most wary of John McGinn who is back from injury. Although all the talk is always about Jack Grealish – and rightly so – this man McGinn really does pull the strings in midfield and any Villa fan will tell you how much we’ve missed him. He’s literally an engine which doesn’t stop for ninety minutes. I’m hoping his return motivates others and we can ensure survival.
And finally, what are your score predictions for the match?
I’m not expecting an easy game; it’s going to be tough. We all know what Sheffield United are like – a team who gives it their all. But, as I mentioned with some players returning from injury, I’m hoping we can get a result. I’ll take a 1-0 win to be honest with an own goal from Enda Stevens the ex Villa man! Jokes aside, I’m going for a 2-1 home win with McGinn and Grealish to score for Villa, and Lundstram with a consolation for the Blades.
Many thanks to Shoaib for taking the time to talk to us.
Villans Together are an official supporters club for Aston Villa FC established to encourage and promote equality and diversity.