It’s a tricky spot to be in, this tenth place. Yet somehow, after everything that’s transpired this season, after the managerial madness, spa punch-ups and generally woeful play, Aston Villa are in tenth place. In the top half of the table, Villa. Somehow.
But maybe, just maybe, the club have hit a vein in the season’s final stretch. Maybe these three games unbeaten – two of them wins – are a sign of hopeful things to come. Maybe it doesn’t matter that if Villa had lost on Saturday, they’d be in 15th spot, behind Birmingham City and Sunderland, and with Blackburn and West Ham breathing down their necks.
The point is, Villa didn’t lost on Saturday. They won. And they won at home to Newcastle as well, and took an important point from Everton before that. Of course, the 2-1 victory at Upton Park was the big one. Had they lost it, morale – which has proved rather fragile this season – would almost certainly have been altogether lost, and with it perhaps a place in the top flight.
Such was the enormity of the stakes, which is why Gabriel Agbonlahor’s stoppage time winner will almost certainly be remembered as Villa’s most important goal of the season when all is said and done. Cometh the hour, cometh the hero everyone wanted.
Agbonlahor’s campaign, much like his team’s, has been a forgettable one to date. Usually a player to burst out of the gates in August and amass a double-digit goal haul before Christmas, the 24-year-old has been plagued by injury and poor form the past few months, and only got himself back in the team in April.
He’s been a breath of fresh air. There’s no other way to put it. No, he didn’t score against Newcastle. But he was a constant menace to the Magpies defence, and forced Steve Harper into a good save just after the break. And while he didn’t start on Saturday, he came good after replacing Emile Heskey in the 78th minute, heading home the winner with only moments to play at the Boleyn Ground.
Maybe it’s too much to ask for Agbonlahor to keep Villa safely above the relegation trouble. After all, Darren Bent is proving himself to be the reliable scorer he showed himself to be at Sunderland, and Ashley Young’s impressive season shows no signs of disintegrating before the 38 matches are played.
But with Villa seemingly unable to keep a clean sheet, a revitalized Agbonlahor is only good news. He won’t keep them up all by himself; none of the Villa players will. But he’ll provide that little bit extra that could be the difference between trouble and comfort. His exploits from the weekend have already improved the mood.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer