Aston Villa are headed back to the Premier League. Had you told that to any of these fans in claret and blue in December they’d have laughed you back onto the train at New Street station. But believe it. Dean Smith almost didn’t, flailing both arms in the air with uncontrollable delight. The local boy is living his childhood dreams of taking his club back to the top table. A goal in each half at Wembley, from Anwar El Ghazi and John McGinn respectively, saw them beat out Derby County in sport’s most lucrative fixture. A late consolation goal from Martyn Waghorn just wasn’t enough.
On a stage of this importance, at the climax of a breath-taking season, the angst is to be expected and it seemed to consume Derby. They’ve possessed a tenacious quality at times this season, but that fight was buried too deep for them to access until too late. Waghorn’s flick after Jack Marriott’s shot did inspire hopeful cheers of a similar comeback to that at Leeds two weeks ago, but it wasn’t to be.
Frank Lampard was growing increasingly despondent on the touchline, his folded arms clasping in the nerves as he paced back and forth. He knew all it took was one moment to flip the game on its head, but the Rams’ chances had faded further with each goal, and his expression said it all: It was just too far out of reach.