Express & Star

Matt Maher analysis: Villa’s best season in years book-ended by big defeats

A match between a team who did not want the season to end and another who had already realised a dream turned out precisely the way you might imagine.

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Aston Villa shows dejection after Crystal Palace's Jean-Philippe Mateta (not pictured) scores

Crystal Palace 5 Villa 0 was, from the latter’s perspective, mercifully no more than a scruffy footnote to an epic and triumphant story, the 56th and comfortably most meaningless match of a campaign in which Unai Emery’s team overcame the odds and hit heights few thought possible.

No-one likes losing, not least in this manner. A 10th league defeat of the season, courtesy of Jean-Philippe Mateta’s hat-trick and a double from Eberichi Eze, was Villa’s heaviest in the Premier League for more than four years and bookended a season which began with them conceding five at Newcastle.

And yet just like that result, it will be quickly forgotten in the minds of most, thanks to everything which happened in between.

Maybe the most meaningless 5-0 defeat of all-time was the consequence of a fearsomely in-form team facing one which had finally run out of gas and most crucially, incentive, after that precious Champions League qualification was secured in midweek.

When Eze scored Palace’s fifth with still 20 minutes remaining, things threatened to get a little embarrassing but those travelling supporters, many of whom will have followed this team from Newcastle to south London via Poland, Bosnia and Amsterdam in between, not to mention watching their predecessors at Barnsley and Burton before it, did not seem to care. There is no better judge of the mood than them.

If nothing else, this experience will have only reinforced in Emery’s mind what Villa must do next. Their most important meeting of the week was not at Selhurst Park but Bodymoor Heath, where Emery will sit down with owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens to thrash out plans for a summer where the club must first negotiate profit and sustainability rules but also strengthen if they are to stand any chance of continuing upward momentum.