Grealish provides magic moment to
West Ham United 1
Yarmolenko 85 1 Aston Villa
It had to be Jack Grealish. The Aston Villa captain’s first goal since January may not have been the winner, but it effectively ensured his boyhood club’s stay in the Premier League.
Villa had been waiting since the restart for Grealish to produce something special and he left it until Dean Smith’s side needed it most.
With Bournemouth winning at Everton, Villa knew that a single goal for West Ham would relegate them as they entered the final stages at the London Stadium.
Grealish had been quiet for much of the game, but he finally came to life to give Villa some much-needed breathing space by smashing in an 84th-minute shot that West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski failed to stop.
The 24-year-old ran straight for his Villa-supporting manager Smith and the visiting bench, and, although Andriy Yarmolenko equalised a minute later with a shot that unfortunately deflected off Grealish’s boot, the Midlands club were soon celebrating again.
Smith’s players huddled inside the empty London Stadium as they waited for confirmation that Watford had failed to better their result at Arsenal and when it came they bounced in jubilation.
Just over a couple of weeks ago, Villa had looked doomed but eight points from their final four games saved them on the final day.
The midweek victory over Arsenal had pulled Grealish and co out of the relegation zone and not once on “Survival Sunday” did they drop below the dotted line despite some tense moments. Attention will soon turn to whether Grealish’s goal proves to be his last in Villa colours, but all that is for another day. With their Premier League status secure, the club can finally look forwards, instead of over their shoulder.
That will surely include entrusting another Premier League season to Smith, who managed his team brilliantly through lockdown and the restart after they had appeared to be in freefall.
Overnight stays and 1am debriefs with his players paid off and the camaraderie and team spirit he developed was again on show in London, the city in which Villa had lost nine successive Premier League games going into their vital clash.
Tyrone Mings never stopped screaming instructions at his teammates and it was the Villa defender who shouted “there’s still a long way to go” as West Ham kicked-off after Grealish’s goal.
Those words proved to be spot on, as Yarmolenko set up a tense finish, but Mings then guided Villa through the final five minutes of normal time and four more minutes of stoppage time in which the visitors managed to keep West Ham away from their goal.
This was a result owing as much to determination and desire as it did to skill, as Villa proved to be the club who kept their heads during the final few games as Watford lost theirs. Michail Antonio’s early miss, after Issa Diop’s long ball was misjudged by Ezri Konsa, had been the closest West Ham had got to scoring before the late drama.
Antonio had to be substituted at half-time after being booked for a foul on John McGinn and looking like he might earn a second yellow card.
Grealish had spent part of the first half arguing with Ryan Fredericks, who had got away with a stamp on Villa’s captain two years ago while playing in the play-off final for Fulham. The pair clearly still held a grudge and Grealish had the chance to exact some revenge shortly before half-time with Villa’s best chance of the opening period. McGinn’s pass was touched into the midfielder’s path by Conor Hourihane, but his shot was curled far too close to Fabianski.
Bournemouth’s half-time lead at Everton meant Villa could drop into the relegation zone if they conceded a goal, but they restarted the second half quickly. As the half wore on, Villa started to look in