I’ve not caught a home reserve game for some time, not since they were shuttled away to Bodymoor Heath and the indignity of closed doors, so apologies if I’m as rusty as the doors on Alex McLeish’s trophy cupboard; I’ll do my best.
Finding the Holte Pub now closed on weekdays, I settled for a beer, a burger and a raffle ticket in the Trinity Road while I waited for a team sheet – and when it came, it boasted a very strong line up.
Siegrist in goal with a back four from left to right of; Stevens, Baker, Williams and Lichaj - in front of them a midfield bristling with potential in Johnson, Gardner, Bannan and Carruthers and in front of them Andy Weimann and Nathan Delfouneso.
Villa Park is still a beautiful place to watch a game and sometimes seeing it empty at the reserves lets you appreciate it that little bit more. The Real of reserves warmed up in white before trotting off to allow Peter Beardsley a chance to gather all the balls into the big bag – bless him.
We went at them from the off, with the first chance falling to Delfouneso who couldn’t quite find any force to go with his smart near post nod. It signalled good early pressure and a succession of corners from which – brace yourselves – we looked dangerous.
A lovely one-two between Weimann and Johnson saw a shot deflected over as we dominated the early play – Newcastle’s one chance of the first fifteen minutes coming when a ball over the top beat our offside trap and Siegrist hesitated in coming for it – when he eventually got there he did well, and flattened the number nine for good measure.
I was just building up to having a go at Delfouneso for a slightly easy-oasy attitude to the game when he was substituted – an injury meaning Callum Robinson was to get seventy minutes, sorry Nathan – surprisingly Carruthers went in support of Weimann with Robinson despatched to the left wing.
Carruthers slightly misjudged an attempted chip over the keeper shortly afterward as we again began to turn the screw – we were camped in the Newcastle half with our forwards pressing the ball really well.
A Bannan through ball set Robinson away and one-on-one with the keeper who produced a smart save on the half hour mark, before Carruthers had another volleyed effort blocked.
A goal was coming and duly arrived when Carruthers found the ball on the corner of the area and slipped it to Gardner, under pressure from a couple of Newcastle defenders he confidently struck a shot that snapped past Baird for a thoroughly deserved lead.
We were playing some lovely stuff and Carruthers was unlucky to see a shot, volleyed with the outside of his foot from twenty yards cannon off a post - Bannan almost topped that with a forty yard lobbed effort that was ultimately a simple enough save for the keeper.
His next two were anything but; firstly stopping a Gardner drive through a crowd that he must have seen late, then quickly getting across to palm away Johnson’s firmly struck follow up.
Just before half time, Newcastle almost found an unlikely equaliser on the counter but Siegrist pulled off an excellent stop of his own to keep us ahead at the break.
It had been a half of enjoyable, attractive, confident Villa football with no shortage of quality – so good I celebrated with a half time fag with the Bannan family. Colin Calderwood wandered by.
At half time, Newcastle made the dangerous decision to bring on two outfield substitutes – dangerous because they’d only brought the two with them. I can only assume the back up keeper had to listen to forty five minutes of good natured Geordie reminiscence from Mr Beardsley on his own in the dugout for the remainder.
There was no shortage of entertainment on the field either, with Gardner just wide in the opening moments.
Then a lovely little move unfolded for our second, with Carruthers and Johnson finding the most delicate of one-twos in a crowd of black and white stripes before the former rolled a ball across the six yard box for Robinson to bundle home.
Carruthers and Bannan were really enjoying themselves now and tying the team from the Tyne in knots – one particularly special dribble from Bannan seeing him bamboozle his way around five Newcastle defenders in the box, they looked like they were chasing a Jack Russell – at times the two of them were untouchable and a joy to watch.
Carruthers was again unlucky on 53 minutes, curling a lovely shot from outside the box around Baird before clattering a post for the second time.
No matter, a short corner moments later saw Gardner combine with Johnson to find himself free in the box – he laid a ball off to Weimann who placed it nicely into the corner for a well deserved third.
Carruthers headed over as we produced a stream of chances, there were flicks, tricks, dribbles and more crosses than a twilight convention as the team really turned on the style.
Gardner again got free in the area from an incisive Bannan ball and was fouled by the keeper, nothing given by the referee as Robinson had his follow up shot blocked but the ball fell nicely to Carruthers who finally missed the timber – hammering a shot home from the edge of the six yard box – four up and not flattered by it.
A Johnson goal was perhaps harshly ruled offside before Courtney Cameron and his fancy haircut replaced Carruthers on seventy minutes. Johnson was next for the curly finger, a knock leaving him to be replaced by Jack Grealish.
Captain Barry had decided he’d have a bit of rest and let the new boys run for a bit so played the quarterback role for the last twenty minutes, pinging a succession of perfect passes to the flanks and probing down the centre like a tiny boss - Cameron fired just wide from one of the long ones and Robinson almost made hay from one of those down the middle – Newcastle started to look like they wanted to get back on the bus.
A Bannan corner once more produced the unsatisfying clonk of ball on aluminium, Baker’s header this time the instrument of choice before Stevens forced another good save from Baird.
Bannan himself had another go at dismantling the frame with a lovely curled effort that hit the upright in pretty much exactly the same spot as Carruthers had fifteen minutes before – it remained unmoved.
Even in the three minutes added on we might have had another with Weimann forcing Baird into one final fingertip save.
Frankly, I didn’t want the whistle to come.
Four goals, we hit the woodwork four times, and the keeper made a sackful of good saves it could have been seven or eight – more than that though, we played with quality, style, élan, verve and joy – watching the first team I sometimes feel like I’m losing my soul – this was a tonic. As individuals there are a lot of players that can take a lot of credit from this, but as a team performance it was a real treat – sumptuous, sublime and superb.
We’re back the same time next week and we’ve got a home game for the first team before then – if you need a little pick me up after Saturday, I’d recommend Monday night with the reserves.
Siegrist – 7 – Sometimes he looks a little nervous, but he actually does a good job of looking after his area, he takes crosses well, distributes the ball reasonably and is a very good shot stopper – in so far as a nervous looking teen called Benji can do, he looks quite commanding.
Stevens – 7 – First I’ve seen of him and initially he reminded me a bit of a sober Warnock – he’s got a similar gait. He looked reasonable on the ball and got forward to support attacks pretty well – I’d like to see more of him, but he could be all right.
Baker – 8 – He was commanding in the air, quick over the ground, passed the ball well and hit the bar from a set piece. Just all round goodness.
Williams – 7 – Defended doggedly and got forward a lot, I thought he did well with the ball and looked sensible throughout.
Lichaj – 7 – Looked like he enjoyed getting down the flanks and getting at Newcastle, particularly in the first half and linked up well with Carruthers. As a fitness exercise, I reckon this was the most fun he’d had since his injury – looked solid.
Johnson – 7 – I’ve a feeling he prefers to be down the middle but he did a very good job on the left hand side. As part of this four man midfield he looked like he belonged. He’s got energy, a reasonable touch, decent passing and enthusiasm to burn.
Gardner – 8 – Sat behind Bannan and Carruthers for much of the match and managed things from there, he kept everything neat and tidy and recycled the ball for those two to use. He seems to have the ability to just have space, whenever and wherever he wants it – a neat trick that.
Bannan – 9 – there were times in the second half where he looked like Maradona, teasing and twisting the Newcastle defence to distraction – when you see him at this level, you realise just how good he can be – passing, vision, creativity and fun. If he can get even half of this working in the big league he’ll worth keeping for years.
Carruthers – 9 – Oh my. He’s come on a whole lot since I last saw him – he used to want four or five touches and he seems to have learned how to kill a team with one or two – his movement and his lay offs were first class tonight and he looks to have developed into a player with real potential.
Weimann – 7 – Worked his socks off up front but should maybe have scored more than once given the quality we played with and quantity of chances we created. Still, he was full of life and scored again.
Delfouneso – 6 – Unfortunately injured, a shame – he’d have enjoyed this.
Robinson – 7 – positioning was good, he looks like a goalscorer, he’s tall and reasonably quick – still young and maybe needs to develop that bit of power a good striker needs, but he’s a prospect. I like.
Cameron – 7 – Quick, lively and with a good touch, I’d like to see more.
Grealish – 7 – Nice balance, lovely quick feet, I’d like to see if he’s got pace – if he has, then we’re in business.