There is to be no return to Wembley for us this season and we are now free to concentrate on the league. The earliest we can again lift this trophy for the eighth time will be a long 60 years of hurt since we proudly lifted it for a then record seventh time in 1957. We are now left with 15 Cup Finals in which to save our season!
Nine seasons ago we finished sixth in the table with Manchester City ending the season below us. We finished sixth again in the next two seasons and yesterday’s opponents were again below us each time. In the following year things changed. Their new owner threw oodles of money at it and our “custodian” decided to pull the purse strings as tight as they could possibly be pulled. In the seasons since Manchester City have qualified each year for the Champions League and we have never looked like finishing above them again. This season they will again qualify for the Champions League and still have a very outside chance of a quadruple whilst we face the bleak prospect of relegation.
The results of blank cheque investment in the playing squad and of a penny-pinching lack of it were there for all to see yesterday. The game was over as a contest (if it ever actually was one) after just 4 minutes and it was put beyond any doubt from the penalty spot 20 minutes later thanks to the referee. We then gifted them two late goals to give the score a truer reflection of how the game had really gone. Although we had more possession than they did they were very comfortable about that because we seldom if ever looked like doing anything with it.
Our opponents ran out comfortable winners yesterday. Had they wanted to they looked capable of making the score look even more embarrassing than it eventually ended up. Once they went ahead the game had the look of a pre-season friendly about it and our goal became one of damage limitation if it was ever anything else.
My player ratings from a game that left me wondering whether we might try a cheeky loan offer to give their hat-trick scorer Kelechi Iheanacho a run of games with us this season that he will not get with them are:
Brad Guzan – 5 – The slithery snake’s 4th minute corner was headed on by an unchallenged Sagna to Fernando whose far post header got a wafer thin touch off Guzan’s outstretched hand before Veretout cleared it off the line with his chest but Iheanacho was quickest to react to the loose ball and turned it in for their opener. He gathered a low shot from Navas on 15 minutes. He was then sent the wrong way for their penalty having committed himself to the left before it had actually been hit to his right. He used to save the odd penalty once upon a time! Blocked a 33rd minute shot from inside the 6-yard box by Fernandinho and got down well to make a save from Sterling on 56 minutes. Blocked a Fernandinho shot at his near post on 74 minutes but to no avail as the loose ball eventually ran to Sterling for their fourth.
Leandro Bacuna – 5 – Headed a cross over the bar in the 10th minute. Leo was very unlucky to have conceded the penalty that led to their second when Sterling went to ground having slipped and lost his footing when trying to get in front of him to get onto a Navas cross. He lost his head with Sterling after that as he is prone to do a little too often in games. Leo was booked on 26 minutes and might have seen red when he fouled the same player only 2 minutes later. Moving into the middle for the second half did little for us but it probably helped him stay on the field and avoid a suspension we can do without.
Michah Richards – 5 – We rested our first choice central defensive pairing for this one and I guess our captain will be filling in again at full back for the West Ham game after this one.
Ciaran Clark – 5 – His strong challenge on the edge of the box on Iheanacho prevented what could have been an opportunity for a third on 31 minutes. Had a header from a Westwood cross that he was trying to work across the goal gathered by Caballero on 42 minutes.
Aly Cissokho – 5 – Whilst solid enough at the back he does not offer a great deal up front but nor do we as a team.
Jordan Veretout – 4 – This game passed him by and this was a noticeable drop in his standards of late.
Ashley Westwood - 5 – Ash was also not at his best in the 45 minutes that he played.
Idrissa Gueye – 2 – Needs to put this surprisingly desperate performance behind him quickly as we will need him at his best next week. His 44th minute shot from outside of the box took a deflection off a defender before being gathered by Caballero. He had lost the ball more than once early in the game and appeared to have learned from that until near the end of the game when two dreadful errors doubled their lead. He got an unwanted assist for their third on 74 minutes when he played the ball back from inside their half into open space for Iheanacho to run onto and slot past Guzan. He then let a pass run past him to Sterling in the build up to their fourth only 2 minutes later and the scorer ran behind him to hit the ball home.
Carles Gil – 6 – MOTM – Forced a decent save from Caballero with a free-kick from the edge of the box which was on its way to the top corner on 68 minutes after Ayew had been brought down. Did well enough given those around him did not and was our most creative player by some distance yesterday although that is not saying that much really.
Scott Sinclair – 4 – Did very little against his former club yesterday when he could reasonably have been expected to have wanted to have raised his game against them with a view to making his case for a starting place during what is left of the season rather than a continued spell on the sidelines.
Jordan Ayew – 5 – Showed less strong running and spark than we have come to expect from him in this one. Without him at or near his best we have very, very little to worry opposition defences. Jordan was another player who was below par yesterday.
Jores Okore – 6 - Replaced Westwood at half time and was the best of our defenders in the second half.
Gabriel Agbonlahor – 4 – Replaced Sinclair on 65 minutes. If Gabby was the answer yesterday I’m not sure what the question was. Made little to no impression on the game and showed little to suggest he is aching for a regular opportunity to save our season.
Jack Grealish – Replaced Gil on 80 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating and did nothing in the time he had available to press his claim for a starting place.
Stay Up Villa!