LONDON (Reuters) - Aston Villa were finally put out of their misery on Saturday when one shot from Manchester United’s teenage striker Marcus Rashford killed off any lingering hopes they had of surviving in the Premier League.
Former European champions Villa, seven-times champions of England, have been heading out of the top flight for months after winning only three and losing 23 of their 33 league matches before the visit to Old Trafford.
Villa have beaten United only once in the league in the last 20 years and there was never much doubt that the final nail in their long-prepared coffin would be drilled in.
Rashford, who was not born the last time Villa played outside the top flight in 1988, found their defence gaping again in the 32nd minute and although Villa hit the woodwork in the second half, the last rites had been delivered.
The only crumb of comfort for Villa and their angry fans is that they are not, statistically at least, the worst team since the Premier League replaced the old first division in 1992. Derby County secured just one win and 11 points in 2008.
Villa are bottom of the standings with 16 points and three wins.
Caretaker manager Eric Black said he was proud of the way his team played on Saturday.
“Today I thought we were outstanding,” he said, “We stuck to the game plan and apart from a little bit of misfortune I thought we could have come away with a draw.
“I know there has been an awful lot of criticism about them this season and some of it deserved, but today they made a step forwards in trying to win back the Villa supporters and showing them there was a little bit of desire there in representing the shirt.”
Villa’s players are going to have to do much more than that to win back the fans, who have regularly walked out of matches in the 74th minute — in recognition of the club’s founding in 1874 — to protest against the way American Randy Lerner has allowed the club to drift.
This time last year Villa were fighting relegation but manager Tim Sherwood kept them up and led his team into the FA Cup final which the seven-times winners lost 4-0 to Arsenal.
Sherwood was sacked in October and replaced by Frenchman Remi Garde who took over with Villa bottom of the table and he left the club last month with just two league wins to his name.
Black became the third man to take charge this season and has fared little better, unable to halt Villa’s losing league streak of nine matches, the second worst in their history.
While the hierarchy and management have come under fire from the fans, so have the players.
Promising youngsters like Jack Grealish have been poor while one-time fan favourite Gabriel Agbonlahor was dropped from the squad this week because Black thought he was not fit enough.
There was at least gallows humour from the Villa fans at Old Trafford at least.
“Let’s pretend we’ve scored a goal,” they sang. “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when.”
Editing by Ed Osmond