I never noticed that the socks say "Villa" on them. That's neat! (Image by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
We've been raving all week about the Manchester United match at Villa Park last Saturday. And we've been going crazy over the youth movement that the Villans seem to be on the verge of undertaking. But if you'll indulge me, I'd like to talk about one series of events from the match that has been on constant loop in my mind all week.
Of course, I'm talking about Villa's second goal. The first was marvelous. Ashley's run was a thing of glory and the joy I felt with the ball hitting the net was immense. But it was a penalty. You don't get to watch those unfold. One minute you're watching a run, then a card, and then about 30-60 seconds of waiting for it all to be set up. And then it's done. Penalties can be fantastic, but there is the feeling that so much is reliant on luck.
But that second goal? That wasn't luck. It was pure, unadulterated skill. After the jump, you'll see an image. Before you read any further, click on that image and watch the gif I put together for this. It's not the greatest quality (in fact, after having undergone a screengrab, and change into pictures, and then a change into a gif, it looks a bit like a Monet version of events). But really, I imagine for many of us it just prompts the highlight reel in our brains to give us the crystal-clear HD version of the goal.
(Click for animation)
We were still ecstatic at the joy of Ashley Young's penalty three or so minutes earlier. If you're anything like me, at this point you were just begging Villa to hold on. We've got a team that has shown an inability to score goals this season, but if we could just lock down for about twenty more minutes, we'd have a win against the mighty United.
And it seemed as if that's exactly what we were doing. Manchester United pressed forward, and had a seemingly innocuous mis-played pass in the Villa defensive third. Then Barry Bannan gathered the ball and fired a perfect pass to Ash, who seemed to realize what was happening before anyone else did.
As Ash got his legs under him, you can almost read Stewart Downing's mind as realizes that it's time to sprint like a mad man. I can't remember ever seeing anyone cover so much ground with so much ease. But it was here that the drama really unfolded for me. He was running so quickly that Ash had to pass quickly, lest Villa be flagged offside. But then Barry held back for a smidgen of a second to give Ash the time he needed. As soon as the ball was in motion, Stewie kicked it into ludicrous speed.
At this point, I was going to be happy with whatever happened. But Marc certainly wasn't. Elf-boy, on the right side, made his run into the box keeping his eye on the man in front of him the whole time, stayed onside, and hammered it home.
What made this turn-of-events something special was a combination of everything. You had an unexpected attempt at a counter when Villa should be parking the bus. There was the tension of begging (as much as one can do from across an ocean) Stewie to hold up just a tiny bit. The sheer athleticism of the whole event was jaw-dropping. And it came in a game we had no right to be in.
I just got done reading Fever Pitch, and at one point Nick Hornby talks about the idea that there are certain plays you'll be able to see in your head forever. I've got my first one, here. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it all week, it's been going through my head non-stop. Every night as I've tried to fall asleep, it's been one of the last things I thought about. I was obviously a Villa fan before Saturday. My girlfriend doesn't understand why I follow soccer, but I think she's given up a bit. But this goal... this marvelous feat of a goal; it's turned it into an obsession. If anyone asks why I love soccer now, I'm just going to point to this moment. It's everything that's great about the beautiful game.