Aston Villa will play Premier League football next season after a draw at West Ham was enough to ensure they escaped relegation on the final day of the campaign.
Hometown hero and captain Jack Grealish looked to have sealed a win for Villa with a powerful strike in the 84th minute, but Andriy Yarmolenko’s deflected leveller soon after made it a nervy finale for the visitors.
They hung on though and the point, coupled with a defeat for Watford at Arsenal, ensured Villa’s survival and consigned the Hornets to the Championship next season along with Bournemouth, whose win at Everton was not enough.
It caps an impressive end to the season for Dean Smith’s side, who were seven points from safety two weeks ago but then put together their first four-game unbeaten run of 2019-20 to survive.
It was a game of few chances at the London Stadium, although the in-form Michail Antonio would have made Villa’s afternoon a lot more tense had he not blazed a shot wide with just the keeper to beat in the first half.
West Ham secured their own Premier League place for 2020-21 with a draw at Manchester United on Wednesday and end the season in 16th.
Grealish is Villa’s talisman to the end
Possessing only a goal difference advantage of one over Watford, Villa came into this tense final day with all possibilities on the table – even the prospect that they might lose and stay up, or win and go down.
That this situation even existed in the first place is a feather in the cap of Smith’s side, who fought hard despite seemingly looking doomed to the drop.
A long way from safety and on a three-game losing streak heading into their game against Crystal Palace on 12 July, they beat the Eagles, drew at Everton and then recorded a win over Arsenal to edge ahead of the faltering Hornets.
This final point sealed a second-successive season in the top-flight and to some extent justified the lavish spending they undertook last summer.
In the end, though, it was one of their own who stood head and shoulders above the rest to earn them the point they needed.
Grealish was neat and energetic without being spectacular for much of the game but came alive when he was needed.
Soon after dancing through the Hammers defence and seeing a shot deflected wide, he went one better, finding space on the edge of the box before firing in.
That should have been the end of it, but West Ham provided one final scare for Villa at the end of what has been a dramatic, rollercoaster season.
Inevitably, Villa will have to spend a portion of the upcoming truncated off-season dealing with rumours linking Grealish with a move away from the club.
But at least they will now be able to negotiate from a relative position of strength as a top-flight club.
Hammers earn their bit of luck
Having already secured their place in the Premier League next season, there was a risk that West Ham’s players might have played within themselves on Sunday.
Villa boss Smith asserted beforehand that his opposite number David Moyes would not allow this from his players and he was proven right.
The Hammers were not at the level that has seen them take seven points from their last three games, but they certainly weren’t already on the beach.
The biggest testament to this is the manner in which they rallied after conceding so late, when they could have been excused just allowing the clock to run down on a slim defeat.
Their equaliser – coming just a minute or so after Villa’s opener – owed plenty to fortune, with Yarmolenko’s effort from range looping up off Grealish, over Pepe Reina and in.
But it was a moment of luck to cap what has been an impressive last four games of a campaign that has lurched between crises but has set them up a stable off-season and a fresh start to 2020-21.
Man of the match – Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)
Villa fail to collect a clean sheet on the road
- Aston Villa’s point means they have survived relegation from the Premier League, despite failing to keep a clean sheet away from home all season – only the 10th time this has happened in a Premier League campaign.
- West Ham have finished this Premier League season with 39 points – their lowest in a top-flight campaign since 2010-11 (33) when they finished bottom of the table.
- In 19 games under David Moyes, West Ham recorded one more Premier League point (20) than they managed in their 19 previous games this season under Manuel Pellegrini (19).
- Jack Grealish’s opener was his 10th goal of the season for Aston Villa; the club’s outright top scorer in all competitions in 2019-20.
- West Ham midfielder Declan Rice has become the fourth player to play every minute of a Premier League season aged 21 or younger – along with Gary Kelly (1993/94), Frank Lampard (1998/99) and Wayne Bridge (2001/01 and 2001/02).
- Exactly 100 seconds separated Jack Grealish’s opener for Aston Villa and Andriy Yarmolenko’s equaliser for West Ham.