There seems to be no end to the cruelty inflicted on Aston Villa supporters this season. Long resigned to relegation now, the very least the fans deserve is a final Premier League victory, but this team find new ways to lose matches.
Leading 2-1 at Watford heading into injury time, Villa somehow lost 3-2 -- the same scoreline of the teams' earlier meeting this season. The difference at Vicarage Road was that Villa led twice and a rare win, which would have been only the fourth of a miserable season, appeared within reach. Correction; it was within reach. But Villa capitulated in the final seconds. Troy Deeney, who scored the decider at Villa Park in November, claimed both the equaliser and winner.
Defeat means Villa have now lost 11 league games in a row, equalling a club record dating back to 1963. That could become 12 next Saturday when hosting Newcastle, who are fighting hard to avoid relegation. And if one is honest, this squad deserve to go down bearing the shame of setting a new low in terms of losing streaks.
There were positives. Kevin Toner did well on his first Premier League start, Ciaran Clark, Ashley Westwood, Jordan Ayew and Rudy Gestede all looked determined to do something about halting this poor run of form. Ultimately, though, the season-old weaknesses surfaced: defensive frailty, panic and a losing mentality that has become ingrained at the club.
Not for the first time, the decisions made by caretaker manager Eric Black can be criticised. The interim boss overlooked Jack Grealish and Carles Gil in the starting X1 again, while Adama Traore and Jordan Lyden didn't even make the squad. Function over flair is his obvious preference.
His in-game management was questionable too. When Villa were reduced to 10 men after Aly Cissokho's red card, his tactical reshuffle ended up with Leandro Bacuna as the right-sided centre-back of the defensive three, even though Micah Richards was on the bench. Jordan Veretout might have been a better choice as a late substitute to close up space in midfield rather than winger Scott Sinclair, but Black seems to have a reluctance to play the Frenchman.
Mercifully, Black's tenure in charge only has two games remaining and then this horror of a season is all over. The bigger question for Villa is this: Will 2016-17 be a happier campaign? The answer is uncertain.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Mark Bunn, 6 -- Selected ahead of Brad Guzan and started well, with a good save from Odion Ighalo. Stunned by the two late goals.
DF Alan Hutton, 6 -- Never looked convincing in a wing-back role, and never has in the past, but coped well enough.
DF Kevin Toner, 6 -- Encouraging signs for the future with Toner making his first Premier League start. The 19-year-old Irishman gave a decent display.
DF Joleon Lescott, 6 -- Remains unpopular with supporters but played well enough until the late drama.
DF Ciaran Clark, 7 -- Excellent glancing header put Villa 1-0 up. Could be an important figure next season if he stays at the club.
DF Aly Cissokho, 5 -- Like Hutton, not especially suited to the demands of playing wing-back. Sent off for a last man foul on Ikechi Anya; probably the game's turning point.
MF Ashley Westwood, 7 -- Good, again. After his two goals against Southampton, Westwood seems to have found some forward momentum, setting up Clark for the opener from a corner. Also made a goal-line clearance.
MF Idrissa Gana, 6 -- Worked tirelessly in the middle of midfield. Substituted two minutes from time through injury -- Villa needed him to stay the course.
MF Leandro Bacuna, 5 -- Black's insistence on starting him every week is baffling, and Bacuna contributed little again on Saturday. Found himself filling in at centre-back in the chaos of the final minutes.
FW Rudy Gestede, 6 -- Missed a good chance to make it 3-1 but linked up well with Ayew; a partnership which has never been given proper opportunity to develop.
FW Jordan Ayew, 7 -- Played well, hitting the post with a diving header and then scoring Villa's second with a fine finish. Substituted late on.
MF Carlos Sanchez, NR -- On for Ayew, 79 minutes. Arrival meant Bacuna dropped from midfield to central defensive -- a strange decision. Made little impression.
MF Scott Sinclair, NR -- On for Gana in the 89th minute. Thrown on presumably to provide Villa with an outlet as the late pressure mounted.