There aren’t usually a great deal of positives to be taken from relegation campaigns, but Aston Villa’s 2015-16 was uninspiring even by those standards.
Their three league wins averages out at 0.75 per manager, and they ended the season with one point and seven goals from their final 13 games, including an especially painful defeat at Watford after they led the game going into the 90th minute.
And yet… and yet, the season produced one of Villa’s best Premier League goals in recent memory. Well, we say memory – anyone who cared at the time has probably blanked out that season in its entirety, and so it’s up to us to prevent the strike from being lost forever.
Cast your mind back to January 2016. The Revenant had just been released at US cinemas, Justin Bieber was top of the charts with ‘Love Yourself’, and Aston Villa were bottom of the Premier League, as was the case in 28 of the 38 gameweeks that season.
Rémi Garde, a man who you don’t remember managing in the Premier League and whose face you couldn’t pick out of a line-up of one face labelled ‘Rémi Garde’, was in the dugout. And for nine fleeting minutes, there was hope.
That’s the time it took between Carles Gil equalising at Sunderland and Jermain Defoe putting the hosts back in front, but what a nine minutes it was.
After all, Gil’s goal was the kind of strike we should never be allowed to forget.
It’s one of those moments where everything goes right, yet it all seems accidental at the same time.
Anyone who has watched Adama Traoré play football will appreciate the Spaniard can fluctuate from best in the world to worst on the pitch in the same game, and at times the mere suggestion of unpredictability was enough to elevate him above the mediocrity of his team-mates.
So it proved with his run for Gil’s goal, a devastating burst past, through and just generally near several Sunderland defenders, followed by a cross which we’ll generously describe as the perfect angle to make his compatriot look better. Yes, let’s go with that.
Gil’s stretch-finish-fall combo is pure art; the execution of a man who has taken the turn of the year as an opportunity to make a fresh start and ignore everything which has happened in the preceding months.
He decides to give himself a panoramic view of the ball hitting the back of the net, sliding in unison with Lee Cattermole and turning his head to watch the ball flash past Vito Mannone.
It’s the measured acrobatics of a man who knows he can pull off this sort of move at any time but wants to save it for the perfect moment. And he couldn’t have got it more right.
Of course, nine minutes later Villa were behind, and they would need to wait until October for their next away victory.
By that time, they had cycled through yet another manager, with Roberto Di Matteo arriving in the summer and being replaced by Steve Bruce a week before Jordan Ayew’s penalty earned the Villans a win at Reading.
Gil himself would drop out of the team after Garde’s sacking, playing just once under Eric Black and waiting until May of the following year for his next goal, during a loan spell with Deportivo La Coruña.
There aren’t a lot of positives to take from that 2015-16 season, and plenty would rather wipe it from the record altogether, but to do so would do a disservice to one of the great forgotten Premier League goals.
By Tom Victor