My Favourite Villan: Statistician Frank Holt on Chris Nicholl
I have seen many fine players over the past 50 years but the game against Everton at Old Trafford on the night of April 13,1977 encapsulates why I have chosen Chris Nicholl as My Favourite Villan.
Less than 10 minutes remained in the second replay of the League Cup final and Ron Saunders' men were trailing to a 38th minute Bob Latchford goal.
Despite heavy pressure it seemed an equaliser just would not come.
Nicholl had the ball on the right touchline and, cutting in, he delivered an amazing, powerful, 35-yard swerving shot that flew just inside Dave Lawson's post.
That goal brought Villa back into the match, leading to a grandstand finish and a dramatic 3-2 extra time triumph.
It was easy to sense the sheer determination when Nicholl delivered his shot and also the sense of pride when, as captain, he held the cup aloft at the end of one of the greatest games in the club's history.
This sense of determination had also been evident at Leicester in March 1976 when he scored all four goals in a 2-2 draw, the only player to do so in top-flight football.
Nicholl twice headed the Foxes ahead with own goals but responded with equalisers each time.
Nicholl was also set to score in the League Cup final at Wembley in 1975, directing a header from Chico Hamilton's flag kick towards the top corner of the net. Norwich full-back Mel Machin pushed the ball from under the bar with his hands for a penalty which led to Ray Graydon's winner.
Although Nicholl is well remembered for his scoring exploits, he was also an excellent defender.
The centre-half made his debut in a 2-0 win at Rotherham in March 1972.
A modest man, his performance was rated by manager Vic Crowe as effective, efficient and impressive in difficult conditions.
Supporters chanted his name throughout the match but Nicholl declared that he expected to play much better, adding that his judgment in the air was not right.
Reporter Dennis Shaw declared that clearly Nicholl was a perfectionist.
Often referred to by journalists as "the towering centre-half" Nicholl certainly appeared to grow six inches in his Villa kit.
He was a dominant figure at the heart of the defence for five seasons as the club took the Third Division title, promotion from Division Two and won the League Cup twice.
In May 1977 Nicholl opened the scoring at The Hawthorns in the final game of the season and Villa went on to beat the Baggies 4-0 to finish fourth.
No-one in the 42,532 crowd could have forecast that this would be the centre-half's last Villa game.
A month later it was announced that he had been sold to Southampton for a reported fee of £90,000.
To say that the Villa faithful were shocked would be a gross understatement.
Clearly Ron Saunders had his reasons for selling his skipper but Villa Park would never be quite the same again.
In September 2011 Nicholl was manager of Aston Villa Old Stars when I went to see them play a charity game.
Even when his team were leading 5-2 he was still driving them on with that same determination and his frustration with any misplaced pass was abundantly clear.
The perfectionist still!
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