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2004 Away Match Reports


blandy

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Saturday, December 18, 2004

Waiting for the great leap forwards - Middlesborough match report

 

A somewhat under the weather match report from the north.

So, here we are again. Another visit to Teesside, this time in winter.
Last season, when I drove up and across the penines it was spring, the fields and hills were covered in lush green grass and fluffy white lambs. Today, the journey was every bit as beautiful, but the scenery had changed. Snow topped the hills, the lambs, those that had survived the pot, were fully grown and wearing their thick winter coats. The sun shone intermittently down and illuminated the dry brown scrub and frozen looking lakes and streams.

I sneezed and coughed and my car wheezed along more happily, whilst the the skies turned grey and cold once the north east came into view.

The stadium was cold and empty too, until just before kick off, the masses huddled in the concourses, though in truth they were little warmer.

Villa made a tactical change, playing 5 in midfield, with Whitts coming in for the ineffective Carlton Cole. JPA was up front on his own.

After the first 10 minutes, in which Boro had dominated, Villa settled nicely and began to start creating chances. Gareth Barry was doing well, and he first put across a great ball to the far post with his right foot, from which Steve Davies really should have scored, but scooped over, then Barry himself, put through well managed to beat Schwarzer, but a defender headed off the line. JPA grazed the bar from a Barry corner.

Immediately after the goalline clearance Boro broke, Olly played JFH onside and his run turned Delaney and he shot hard and low into the net past a helpless Tommy. Olly and Tommy had already had one bust up after the keeper came rushing out to a ball that was Olly's, fell over and left the net unguarded only for Downing (I think) to mis-queue his shot.

Still, going forward we were doing okay, although Whitts was a passenger - giving the ball away and being by-passed in midfield. He looked lost. The only thing he did "right" was foul a breaking JFH, for which he rightly got booked.

Half time and 1-0 down.

After a half time shiver the game restarted with Villa dominating totally. Unfortunately for all the great football we played at times - Davies (he reminds me more and more of Gordon Strachan) Barry, JPA, Nobby, Uli, and Berson (on for Whitts) were linking really well together - chances came and were missed. JPA at the end of a lovely move missed a sitter. Barry dived in and knocked the ball just wide. Surely we would score?

But no. A mistake by Olly - heading the ball straight to Nehmet ( I think it was) left Boro 3 on 2 and Job scored easily after some good passing.

2-0 down, yet having played well. You can't go missing chances at one end and gifting goals at the other, though, and expect to get anything.

We continued to attack, but the ball just wouldn't go in - crosses into the box were cleared or missed altogether, the post was hit by Barry. Cole came on for Gav, and did nothing. Schwarzer saved from JPA from a shot and also from a header from a good Barry corner.

Late on another break, down Boro's left and their full back, Reiziger lashed a shot at Tommy. He dived out of the way of it, and a very harsh 3-0 score resulted.

I don't quite know what to make of it - It was a mixed bag, not all bad. 3 mistakes cost 3 goals, misses meant we failed to score. Yet there was promise there too. JPA played better on his own than with Cole - the goals will come. Barry played much better, Davies was alert and alive. And the 45 minutes of Matieu Berson was very promising. Sure he did one daft back-heel which lead to a Boro break, but that apart his passing was good, he was available all the time, had a good touch and passed well. he also put in a great tackle wide on the touchline.

Boro are a pretty good side, full of confidence and with forwards who are in form (or more so than ours) and defenders who know to do the simple things.

Villa are, at the moment, in that typical Villa state of neither this nor that.
We make too many defensive errors to be tight at the back, we miss too many chances to be prolific scorers. The manager changes the formation to try to re-jig things in the search for something that isn't there.

We won't go down - too many other sides are just too bad for that to be a worry. We won't qualify for Europe - too many other sides have more solidity and quality in depth for that.

So maybe we'll win the FA Cup? Not unless we start tightening up at the back and taking our chances.

Some marks:
TS 4 - One great save from a Southgate header, but should have stopped the third and what on earth was he doing with Olly, and later Delaney on the edge of his box? Maybe Stefan Postma deserves a place?

Uli - 6.5 - excellent going forwards, as we have come to expect. Went wandering once or twice at the back (well he should have been at the back, but wasn't)
Mark Delaney - 7. Solid as ever.
Olly 4. Not good, again.
JLloyd 6.5 - Decent.

Nobby - 6 - some great touches, drifted a bit too much inside at times
Gav - does what it says on the tin. 6
Whitts - shocking. 3
Davies - 7 - I like him. Hendrie will not get his place back from Stevie just yet.
Barry - 7. Pretty good from Gareth today, I thought.

JPA, Hmmm. Missed a sitter, but otherwise did well. 6

Subs
Berson (HT) 7 - looked the part - composed and elegant.
Cole - 4. I would have preferred Luke to come on. At some point surely DO'L will see that CC and JPA don't play well together and will give Luke a run?

We're half a decent team. Trouble is the half that is missing is not likely to come cheap, so it's not likely to come at all for the forseeable future. Which means we are too reliant on 4 or 5 players and if they have a dip then we're fodder for those who make the effort - either like small heath, with endeavour, or Boro who picked us off with quality.

Meanwhile a good sized away following catch a cold and wait and wait.....tick, tock, tick.

Someone toll that bell for you know who.

 

Saturday, November 27, 2004

In the Evening - Man City match report

 

The run of lancastrian games comes is over, and so from now on it’s the North East and South East for the forseeable future, plus of course a whole host of heavyweight home games, and one against small heath alliance.

The references to gravy, pies, peas and the north west’s lamentable train operator therefore come to an end for a few months, blessfully...
When you go past the COMS on the train, as i frequently seem to have done, you see the super-modern stadium tastefully illuminated in that Electric Blue light they also use in the dashboards of the Mk 4 VW Golf. I’m not sure what time will make of this, but suspect that it will look a bit dated within a year or two - not quite at ease with it’s surroundings, not quite in tune with the times. 

In contrast, the roof, when viewed from the air (on approach to Manchester airport) already looks 10 years old - slightly weatherbeaten, bombarded by the Manchester rain, and all the other entirely predictable unpredictable, seasonally unseasonal weather which seems not so much to happen to Manchester, as to pervade the place.

That’s the COMS then. It’s not actually City’s of course, they just pay the rent. Somehow it is a suitable setting for City, with their dreams of class, though in truth they are happy and proud to be what they are - all fur coat and no knickers. The fur coat is usually worn with a haughty gallic Distain (yes I know) by Monsieur Anelka, while their modesty is left “protected” by the Nicholas (yes, sorry again) combination of the other frenchman and a good ol’ Catholic Irishman called Dunne, who likes a pint or two.

Yesterday Anelka, out injured didn’t play, instead there was to be the combination of Fowler and Macken up front for City. My good friend Ian, a City fan had explained how City were more of a team with Anelka out, and that the defence was mean and organised, courtesy of Stuart Pearce.

I had learnt this in the pre-match discussion which had commenced around 2 O’clock and meandered happily along, until being interrupted by the inconvenience of actually having a game to go to. But top marks to all concerned for their fine company.

After an interminably long bus ride up to the ground, there was just time for a tasty-georgeous meat and potato pie, avec brown sauce. Not HP, but you can’t win ‘em all. Which brings me on to the game.

It wasn’t very good. Particularly the first half, in which Villa were frankly crap. Perhaps the ground with it’s towering sides and small ends disorientated the players, or perhaps they remembered last years shambles. What mainly happened either way, was that City were able to fashion maybe 4 decentish attacks 2 of which they scored from. The first saw Olly cought out of position, then deflect the ball into the path of Macken who managed to turn Delany before rolling the ball into the net past a slightly wrong footed Sorenson. The second goal came out of the Blue a loose ball on the edge of the box hitz’ed left footed by SWP past 2 players who were blocking Sorenson’s view of the shot (and mine). Neither of us managed to save it, but we were both blameless, I feel.

Just before half time Hendrie almost managed to sneak a shot into the bottom corner, but David James diverted the shot for a corner. Good save.

The second half was better, certainly from Villa’s point of view. We had much more of the ball, used it well, but with both forwards having pretty poor days it didn’t come to much. More shots, from Gav, Hendrie, Hitz, on for Barry, and some good little runs from Luke Moore, on for Coley.

City defended reasonably well, although some of the tackling from Mills should have brought a booking, Dunne was booked too for chopping down Hitz.

Rain was drawn towards the stadium from Manchester’s ever willing, obliging clouds and time ticked by.

Another run from Luke after a good turn and he was chopped down by Dunne, a yard outside the box. Referee Riley, officiating in a hollywood style for the cameras decided not to book Dunne (and send him off for 2 yellows) but to give a penalty instead. Wrong decision twice. Still, JPA hurrying a bit hit the ball where I and David james thought he would. And James saved. The rebound looped up waiting for JPA to nod it down into the now open goal, but he headed over. Justice was sort of done, except for Dunne.

Still having missed that chance to send someone off, Hollywood Riley decided to create his own chance, and with a couple of minutes left he saw Mills react to a shoulder charge by Hendrie, leap up from the floor and “confront” Hendrie in that charming way of his. Hendrie stood his ground, the pair of them bickered at each other, face to face. red card for Lee. I don’t think it was right, they could both have got a telling off, or maybe a booking each.

The whistle went, and so did we.

Some marks
TS 6 Not at fault for either goal. 2 good saves

Uli 6.5 Quite good from Uli, no mistakes, solid
Olly 5.5 Average
MD 5.5 OK
JLloyd 5 some poor passing.

Nobby 5 Did he touch the ball
Gav 6.5 - Decent game again
Lee - 7 nice touches, wrongly sent off, but i don’t suppose that’ll be rescinded.
Barry 6 (Hitz 6)

JPA 5
Cole 5 (luke 6.5)

Company - 9/10. Thanks.

 

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Match Report: Funny Time Of Year - Bolton Away

 

Yep, it's another match report from deepest, darkest, chilly, Lancashire.

I seem to go to the Reebok every few months, though in fact it's just the once or twice a season when the Villa play there.

The ground seems familiar now, as does the unreliability of North West Trains "service".

After a couple of pleasing pre match scoops with Risso and young Callum in his local, we caught the 2 pm train (at 2.26) and arrived at the spaceship Reebok. A pie was essential, both because they are good there, and because I was starving. Oh and the warmth of the pastry encrusted comestible was definitely needed, as it was well nippy. Everton two weeks ago had been balmy and sunny. Horwich though, chilled the bones.

I settled into a gentle shiver in the lower tier and was somewhat bemused to see that our opponents weren't "The one, the only Wanderers", but in fact 1980's Wimbledon, only with much better players. Their game is all about long throws, and long balls into the box. Maybe the absent genius of JJ Okocha explained this. Nevertheless they have got some very decent players, and play to a plan and their own strengths - Notably Kevin "I'm not fat - I'm big boned" Davies and the tricky El Hadji Diouf.

We had the same side out as last week, but for a while we were struggling to get to grips with Bolton's style. Olly was losing just about every header against "Inf- Ibb" Davies and Bolton, like the wind, were prevailing from the North.

Then they scored - a ball down the middle, knocked wide, and a Bolton shot diverted by the leg of Diouf past TS.

Villa from time to time were playing some football, and after 15 minutes further straining, a good cross by Hendrie was (mis)headed in by Gav, who was having a good game. Confidence flowed and Villa went off for their half time rest perhaps a bit fortunate to be level.

Playing towards us lot in the second half, naturally most of the action was down the far end, where the long throws reigned, players fell over, sorry were fouled I should say, and a general air of last ditchness pervaded the Villa defensive actions.

Gav was doing a sterling job breaking up play, winning the ball and trying to get us going forwards all the time. Carlton Cole had another good game and the 3 amigos linked well. No one was playing badly, except perhaps for Whitts who was "quiet". Again we did that "no left midfield" formation which leaves JLloyd with a big workload.

Hendrie should have scored for us, after another good build up, but chose to stop the ball rather than hit it first time from 6 yards out. It was then inevitable that he would get himself booked, and he later did. A ban follows. It's that time of year.

The intermittent sieges of our area continued, though in truth it was often hit and hope as much as genuine moves. They hit the post and had a succession of corners. We played on the break, Hitz on for Whitts and Luke for Nobby. Both did well. Luke with some great little runs with the ball and Hitz was a bit more "there" than Whitts.

The game bounced and thudded it's way to what looked like a good point for Villa, as the atmosphere heated up the cold steel stadium. Then with perhaps 3 minutes of normal time left a stunning goal from nothing much. The ball was half cleared from a decent Villa attack, and Der Hammer was on the corner of the area to hit a sweet, powerful Howitzer volley into the top corner. Fortunately the net held it, or there could have been casualties. Still I'm sure a few bruises were gained from the exuberant celebrations, upstairs and down, in the away end.

While playing out the remaining 6 minutes we could have scored again, JPA's shot just tipped round the post by their goalie.

The game ended and we all started to troop off home to live happily ever after (for another week at least).

Outside the ground I danced a small and inelegant jig on the little patch of ground where I had sat angry and disconsolately in the sun when we lost here 1-0 under GT. That told 'em!

We've won away, perhaps luckily - is it the time of year again, like last season, for Villa to move on up? I think it might be.

The support was good (again) - a decent turnout. The stewarding was, however, not (downstairs).

 

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Do You Believe In the Westworld?

 

Everton 1 Aston Villa 1,
Barclays Premiership,
Saturday 30 October.

Another in an ever growing sequence of Lancastrian Match Reports.

Everton have made something of a name for themselves for scurrying about a lot, working hard for the collective good - "the Dogs of War" and "the people's team" are some of the names they seem to have given themselves, as if they're a bit insecure in their own identity and need to big themselves up. Perhaps they're a sort of latter day communist outfit? They lack any flair and must all conform, they're skint and their home is a bit tattered, with none of the trappings of the capitalist outfits. Their major asset has “defected” to the home of imperialism. They have a history and tradition too, but who was it who said again the other day that their future is behind them?

So we know what we would get from Everton, but not what we would get from Villa, though we hoped for better than the gruel of Tuesday night.

Before the feast though, a couple of aperitifs with Pimpernel and two of his Everton supporting mates in the excellent Dr Duncan's. A taxi ride from the centre and into the away end for a steak and boddingtons pie. Most agreeable.

As I mentioned, the game wasn't too hot. Frenzied, sure, but lacking in quality. The pace was too fast, and Everton mostly dictated it. They had the better of the opening 25 minutes, and then from nowhere, again, a quick interchange of passing between Nobby, JPA and Hendrie ended up with L'il Lee sending in another in a recent series of unstoppable bending, dipping shots which swerved past Martyn and into the top right hand corner of the net. Strewth! great goal.

But we couldn't hold on to the lead. 7 minutes later Bent beat the offside trap as Jlloyd just played him on and Everton were level. they'd already had a header cleared off the line by Delaney, and in the second half they again came close a 3 of times - all from Osman I think - a dipping Volley onto the roof of the net, and turn and shot over the bar and a shot that whacked against the post from the angle that stayed out, amazingly. But he went off, Ferguson came on, and our youthful subs settled to hold the game safe for us. Carlton Cole had a chance, but missed like Osman, on the turn.

That's it really. Routine Premier League stew, none of your imperialist running dog fayre for the likes of us.

 

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Shot by Both Sides

 

A Burnley away rant this time.

I feel entitled to have a bit of a rant, and here’s as good a place as any.

I will get on to the match, but the first target for some scorn is the state of the railway. I live approximately 34 miles from Burnley, so why the hell did it take 3 hours to get there on the train? Well the first one broke down. They tried to fix the train, and eventually claimed they had. Then a small and deeply unattractive brat threw up on it. I would maybe have changed trains at this point, but all the TVs with the train info on were out of order, so it was impossible to size up my options. I sat on the train “waiting for a cleaner” before we could leave. Then they said “This service is cancelled”. They hadn’t actually fixed it at all.
I got on the next train, an hour late. There were signalling problems, also at Preston Station. I was now an hour and a half late, and at this rate going to miss the match. I set off by the way at 4 O’Clock from home. I tried to remain unworried by the loss of my beer time. After all, many worse things happen than a train breaking. John Peel had sadly passed away, the local paper said “Woman finds Son dead”. Perspective.

Eventually the slow train reached “Burnley Central”. Could have fooled me. A deserted tiny station at the back of a “shopping complex” with not a soul in site. Too late for the pub, I headed towards the distant floodlights, past, well, nothing much. Just deserted streets, shops and bars. No people, no cars, just the sound of my footsteps in a strange town. I eventually found people and followed them to arrive on’ t Turf 7:20 pm. 2 hoovered scoops in the dingy concourse with a pal I should have met in a pub and then into the stand, clearly signposted “Only sit in your designated seat” Asking a steward where AA 62 was I got the reply “sit where you like mate”. Just as well as with a (startlingly) full away end, I would have taken forever to find it.

So to the game. It kicked off in front of about 9000 Burnley fans and 4000 in the Villa end. Actually before the game, a question. Why on earth did 4000 of us decide to turn up on a Tuesday night at a low key cup game in Lancashire? Was it the 17 quid ticket price? what? Beats me, but there’s something to be learnt there if anyone can fathom it.

Anyway, the game. Ah, yes, well. Burnley deservedly won, and could have won by more. It wouldn’t have been unfair. I don’t know how they usually play, but they were good tonight. Villa were dreadful.

Ulises was rested, with Mark Delaney restored to full back and Ridgewell in the middle alongside Olly. Cole in for the crocked Darius.

We started OK’ ish for 10 minutes, with Burnley looking wary of something that would never come. Perhaps they thought that if 4000 noisy fans go all this way, Villa must be good. They were wrong. After maybe 12 minutes, Delaney fell over, and the Left midfielder crossed for a Burnley player to nod in - beating Ridge to the ball right in front of us. Burnley’s quiet fans roused to cheer and two blokes with flags ran along the longside to loud music. Oh dear.

The rest of the half followed a pattern. Villa looking like a team of strangers kept trying to do the hard thing instead of simple pass and move. We were awful. Only Olly and Gav were looking OK. JPA had little service and the rest, notably Nobby and Whitts were dreadfully poor.

Half time came and went, only notable for an ill matching expensive suit and coat/naff training shoe combo worn by DO’L as he walked down the tunnel and a rousing round of applause for Tony Morley and some raffle thingy. Get your boots Tone.

Villa came out early and we roared at them to give us something to, er, roar, about.
Obviously, things continued to be poor. JLloyd gave away a penalty. And lo and behold a touch of quality from Villa. Tommy saved very well.

Revitalised Villa, um, stayed poor. Passes going astray, hopeful balls up to no-one in particular, offside flags (many very dubious). Disconnected drivel.

Burnley scored a second. A cross-come-shot lashed in from their left again, maybe glanced in by Camara? hard to see.

Jlloyd off injured (sore arm) and Hitz on with Whitts to LB. Luke Moore on for a dire Nobby.

Finally some drive from Villa. Luke skinned their left back looked up and crossed for JPA to head into the net. Easy. Why had it taken 78 minutes and a young sub to show them what should be done?

Villa put pressure on, but still we were poor. Burnley got a late breakaway third, another good goal, by I think, Blake.

Mass exodus from away end.

A sprint back to the Train station. The train was late.

What to make of the day? Were Villa tired? were they complacent? under confident away from home? Were the tactics a bit awry?

Yes to all of these, I think, though I know little about tactics really. Some amateur analysis from my viewpoint says that our shape was all wrong. Whitts either under instruction or “initiative” didn’t stay wide left but played in the middle. No width, Jlloyd asked to defend and attack on his own.
Cole and Angel. We know JPA. He needs quick balls into the area, or to feet. But Cole was making the same runs, wanting to peel off and run at people. He does it well at times, but there’s zero understanding between them. I doubt they exchanged a pass all night.
Nobby was awful, Whitts mostly poor, Hendrie invisible - starved of ball. Gav put in a huge effort, but a lack of response from the rest meant he was trying to do 4 men's work. He failed. But not through his own fault.
Ridge looked rusty, and is forgiven as it’s his first game back after injury.
Delaney used now to Centre-half, wasn’t at all solid, but was not helped by Nobby’s poor form.
Pluses? Well Luke did well for the 12 minutes that he was on, Olly was Olly and JPA showed that he can score in a flash.

So that’s it.

RIP John Peel and that Lady’s son.

 

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Please Don't Throw Confetti

 

I went to the Arsenal game yesterday, so I thought I'd jot down some wildly inaccurate observations on the day.

Geography students amongst the readership (I wish!) may know that London is technically located "bloody miles away" from the North. You'll understand then that to get to Arsenal is a fair old trek, and one that I hadn't made for a few years 'till yesterday. Still with them shortly to relocate to a new ground (in association with the airline of choice of their Arabian fan-base, or something) I thought I'd better nip down to see the old place before it's gone. Oh and their team are something special too.

Anyway, after an Oh-F**k hundred hours departure from home and a couple of train journeys through the rainy english landscape, I arrived in that there London and made it to the pub in good time (time lost from a late departure had seemingly been made up somewhere between the towns of Strewth and Gorblimey in the dull part of the journey - that bit to the north of London that must be hell to live in).

The pub had gone downhill a bit since the last visit and the beer was either off or toxic, so Guinness was the order of the day with some fine folks from the mailing list.

Suddenly it was 20 to 3 and time to leg it to the match. Highbury is hidden amongst the streets and houses and fits in nicely. It doesn't match the modern steel and wriggly tin structures (fortunately) of much of today's premiership, so they must move. I just made it into the ground in time for kick off.

Villa were attacking the far end, and the trend was set within seconds. A perfect tackle from Olly on an Arsenal was rewarded by the otherwise inert Lino by a free kick to them. The ball was crossed in and Campbell headed against the bar. Postma then did that "bar of soap thing", but luckily we escaped what would have been a very unfair start.

Within a minute or so though we were a goal up. A long ball down the line by Barry was aimed for Coley to run on to, in the left channel and his ball across reached L'il Lee on the far side. With a bit of space he took a couple of touches and curled a left footer into the far corner for a stunning 1-0 lead. Arsenal moaned.
Barry got injured by a late tackle from Lauren and Whitts came on.

The game continued at some pace with Arsenal and Bergkamp in particular dazzling Villa, perhaps like a mongoose with a snake. There were at least 20 Arsenal players on the pitch, but they were moving around so fast that I couldn't count them all properly and lodge an official complaint. Not that it would have been heeded, as the Referee, a Mr Graham Cockney was clearly a big admirer of the Arse.

Reyes and Hendrie seemed to spark up an immediate rapport - they understood that they didn't like each other - and they spent a fair amount of time chuntering away to each other, with all the warmth of like recently separated lovers. (What would their offspring be like?)

Getting back to the plot, Arsenal were fantastic, they were making merry down our right hand side, with some fellow called Henry tormenting Uli the jet lagged. I hope for the sake of feline rights that he doesn't have a cat.

The moves would happen like this - Arsenal would get the ball, pass it around, usually through Bergkamp, pull Villa out of position and then an Arsenal would appear unmarked in front of goal and Postma would do a useful impression of Pat Jennings, Villa would hack the ball away and so it would start again. Occasionally though, Villa would threaten to score themselves. We almost went 2 up when either Hendrie or Whittingham nearly repeated the first goal, but from the other side of the pitch. (one of the disadvantages of the trip back from London was getting back just after MoTD had showed the game). Cole was troubling their defenders and the side was working their socks off trying to keep pace with Arsenal.

It was quite inevitable that eventually Arsenal would score, but with them struggling to beat the Postman from normal play, Mark Delaney helpfully brought down Henry for a cast Iron penalty. Daft tackle, but understandable in the circs. Reyes scored.

The chants of "have you ever won the European cup?" we had been singing seemed to irk Henry and when he score their second, from their Eleventeenth attack, he "celebrated" in front of us. Fair do's - give it and you have to expect it back.

There was still time for another spat between L'il Lee and Reyes, where after a "fall" in the box, and with the ball cleared away, Reyes appeared to nut Hendrie, who went down rather easily. He was though, definitely, nutted by the likeable spaniard. With our mate "Lino the inert" looking on from all of 20 feet away, nothing, quite naturally, was done. Reyes should have been sent off.

Half time, 2-1 down, could have been about 5 or 6 -2, but it was a cracking spectacle.

The second half didn't match the first. Arsenal mostly cruised, lots of subs were made by both sides, but the pattern of Arsenal dominating remained the same. Henry scored again and both teams settled for 3-1 I guess. Graham Poll made some strange decisions -the worst of which was when having been following the ball (i.e. looking in the opposite direction) he booked Hendrie after Reyes had thrown himself to the floor and the crowd roared. Still one rule for them and one for us, eh?

There's a lot to admire about Arsenal, their football is fantastic, - it really is a level above anything seen before. Two of the stands at their ground retain the links back to football when it used to everybody's game and used to have style off the pitch, too.

Equally there are a number of things that don't impress - the away end compares less favourably with other grounds with each visit, the "skills" learnt in all those (unsuccessful) European games - the dives, basically - don't do them any favours, though to be fair they are by far from the worst offenders and we're not totally innocent either.

Their fans too, are witnessing the best side ever to have played english league football (probably), yet they seem peculiarly passionless given what is in front of them each week. Perhaps it's the prices - Arsenal used to be very reasonably priced, but 33 quid is not cheap.

One last thought - while we were singing that we'd won the European Cup and they haven't - on looking at the two clubs, the gulf between us, you have to say that they are more likely to win it than we are to even qualify for it. Which is a shame. Clubs like Villa, I feel, should be "up there". Not because we have any right to be, but because we have the capability to be. That we choose to lock this capability in a cupboard in the cellar of the Doug Ellis stand, the door hidden behind a picture of the old scrote is a criminal offence in my book.

I just hope that DO'L is given the tools he needs to break into the safe where our capability is being held hostage to one mans fortune.

 

Saturday, October 02, 2004

The Ordinary boys

 

Blackburn Rovers v Aston Villa,
Barclays Premiership,
Ewood Park,
2nd October 2004

Another "match day experience".....

So, another match at t'rovers. How time flies.

I’ve lived in lancashire for almost 14 years now and have become accustomed to their strange northern ways. I should say at this point that Lytham, where I live, is clearly a class above Blackburn (which is just down t’road) because a pint of Greene King IPA cost £1.95, in my local on the way back, whereas a pint of Black Sheep in the Adelphi in Blackburn cost only £1.85 - the 10p difference makes all the difference don't you know.

Anyway, in those 14 years, I’ve seen us win at Ewood twice - and I’ve been to every game we’ve played there - so it’s a bit of a bogey ground. Nevertheless, though I was a tad worried because of our record there, I felt we could, just maybe, you know, win again there today. But we didn’t. Again.

It was a decent game. 2-2 draws usually are, what with the goals and all that. It was made more decent, in that along with an ever growing band of exiled Villan friends I had a fine time before and after the match drinking beer, chatting about life and getting home before sometime next week.

So to the details - 2-2 it was. Villa started off with the expected team. Hendrie started instead of an up till now underwhelming Hitz, Carlton Cole in for another “up till now underwhelming” Darius and Barry retaining his place despite a few below par performances. There's no one to come in though is there?

The game kicked off under unfamiliarly dry skies (though it had of course previously pelted it down - it always does in Blackburn).

Without Thor throwing down his bolts of thunder we had to concentrate on the on pitch pyrotechnics. Except there weren’t any. It was ordinary stuff. A million miles from the beautifully oiled, flowing, football now available on ITV 7 by subscription. What we had was two teams, both lacking a bit in confidence trying their meat and potato pie best to serve up a feast.

Villa were the less under confident and while not exactly dominating did look the better side, albeit with the gravy of coherency missing. Still after half an hour or so of gnawing through the crust of t’rovers efforts Villa did take the lead. A through ball (at the far end) from, er, someone (maybe Gav?) found JPA’s run into the box and he was able to whip it into the net before the defenders could say “Oh. sh*t” or Friedel could move.

Nice. A good reward for the sizeable and upstanding away support. Perhaps now we could up it a gear and take over the game. But no. All of 2 minutes later t’ rovers equalised. With Olly drawn out wide to track Dickov, who managed to squeeze in a cross to the near post, Ferguson was left unmarked 2 yards out to angle the ball past a stationary Sorenson. Delany wasn’t tracking him tightly enough, Olly was where JLS should have been. Sloppy teamwork, and a wasted advantage.

Half time came and went and Rovers returned to the field a re-invigorated side. They were much less lethargic at the start of the second, and had us unconvincingly defending for 10 minutes or so. Disastrously they scored from a mistake of sorts by Uli. A long ball was miscontrolled, nicked away from him and Emerton scored from the angle, with the rest of our midfield looking to break forwards.

But they were still not much cop, and we could easily equalise, and maybe go on to win, couldn’t we?

JPA was playing as he did last season. He was our best player, and despite a disorganised and sometimes panicky defence we still had the quality to score. Hitz and Vasell came on for Hendrie (who had unluckily hit the post with a similar effort to last week) and Barry who had been better than of late, but still didn’t look right - he too had come close with one piledriver when picked out by Hendrie, but he probably had time to control and place rather than blast it.

We did equalise though. A corner kick after a period of pressure was nodded in, slightly fortunately by the goal machine Olof Mellberg. Just desserts. JPA had “scored” from a free kick seconds before Blackburn had gone 2-1 up and but some rule about being offside meant that his header didn’t count. Pah! Linesmen!

The game sauntered on at 2-2 with Villa getting the bigger spoonful of peas before the unfamiliar ref (who was he?), having wafted a few cards around, blew his whistle. Nobby must have wondered what he did to get booked, in particular.

So another big day in the north, for me at least, goes by. Two ordinary teams doing ordinary things in a league that is not about ordinariness.

Still, there’s something to be said for pie peas and gravy. Good honest food. Sometimes the fans on their day out can be taken for granted , but football needs us. We all stood up (how dare we) and will probably get some kind of authoritarian rebuke for just enjoying an afternoon out.

Do you know what, if we do, they can shove it up their.....

Maybe 2500 villa fans, perhaps more, at 24 quid a time -what’s that nearly 60 grand. We might not be paying the same as Sky, but Sky wouldn’t want to pay if we weren’t there.

I suggest they replace fox hunting with jobsworth hunting.

Marks:
TS 6
Uli 6
JLS 6.5
Olly 7
Mark D 6
Nobby 6
Lee 6 (DV 6)
Gav 6
GB 6 (Hitz 6)
JPA 7.5
Coley 6

Me I had a chicken Kebab for tea - pie and peas - Gah! who wants that?

 

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Valley Goals: Charlton Eyewitness Match Report

 

Charlton Athletic vs Aston Villa,
Barclays Premiership,
Wednesday 25th August 2004,
Match #3

At long last I made it to Charlton, from my soggy northern outpost. It's taken a few years, but was it worth it?

Ever since Charlton have been up, I've been intending to go there, but a combination of Monday night sky games, my northern location and, last year, railway engineering works, prevented me from going. Not this year though. 2 days holiday, 60 quid on train tickets, a ticket for the match plus one for LV in exchange for a place to kip for the night, plus about 40 quid on beer and food. SO that's about £140 quid, then.

So was it worth it? Er, yes probably, despite the scoreline.

There's the culture shock of going to London - mainly centred around the price of beer - about £2.50 a pint, compared to maybe 1.60 oop north, (for better stuff) and the ubiquity of the umbrella. When it rains in the north-west (and boy does it rain in the north-west) people get wet, the less hardy folk donning a flat cap to keep their head dry. In london everyone walks round with a brolly, it seems. A veritable hazard.

After some beer, and food it was time to get changed and get off to the game. Crossing from central London out to Charlton was a strange experience in itself - you transit a fair distance of barren ground, with nothing but the odd white elephant, giant skyscraper and huge supermarket to look at.

The Valley though is back in the real world, like Blackburn or Sheffield, it's hidden amongst the houses in a hilly area.

The first thing to say is the pre match music is fantastic. "london Calling" and "into the Valley" is just my kind of music. More Clash and Skids and less "urban bin lids" gets my vote every time.

The ground too is not bad. The away end being the only separate stand, the rest rolls round nicely.

And so to the game. With the away end making a right din, Villa were well on top for the first half an hour, several chances going begging, notably Darius hitting the bar early on from close range, and Cole on a couple of occasions defying the jeers of the home fans.

But we didn't score. Charlton in pretty much their first decent move, did. A cross from their left found Jeffers unmarked to nod in easily. Bugger. But it got worse. 5 minutes later, a long punt upfield caught Mellberg underneath the ball, and in his desperate attempt to do, I don't know quite what, he succeeded only in lifting the ball up in the air, for Jeffers, again, to have an easy task to score.

Further calamities ensued, with Tommy S nearly gifting them a goal with a daft attempt to keep the ball in - I get the feeling that he will make one ricket per game. Less than David James, but not good. He did redeem himself just before the break though, with a brave and excellent save after Charlton again got through the defence too easily.

Half time, and having been the better side for most of it, we went in 2 - 0 down.

Unfortunately it got worse. Postma came on for TS, but within 10 minutes we were 3 down, a deflection of Hitz fell to their right back to find himself with time and space to score easily.

One of those days. Things wouldn't run for us, Darius was causing mayhem, and looking to me like the DV we see for England. One run and cross Cole could neither convert not knock back accurately for Hitz, another piece of endeavour robbed defender and keeper, but when a calmer head would have rolled the ball across for JPA (on for CC) or Nobby, or placed home from the angle, he lashed it just over.

It was noticeable that Gareth Barry has inherited the dubious "fans scapegoat" mantle. It's true again he didn't have a great game, but with the rest of the midfield also being poor, to single him out was daft, in my view. I felt a bit for Nobby, as apart from some dodgy crossing, he was given poor service for much of the game.

No one was awful, JPA (as sub)and Darius were very good throughout the game, and the rest played in spells, both good and bad.

Tommy and Gav in the centre isn't working. Both went missing in my eyes, for a spell, and Barry is in a poor run of form. Cole and DV up front look like they are not quite right. The sooner JPA and L'il Lee can get back fit and playing the better.

For Saturday I'd like to see Hendrie come in to the middle, and hitz go out wide left, for Barry. He needs a metaphorical boot up the arse, or some pressure on him to perform. He's not the sole problem, the whole midfield balance is not working after about 30 minutes when all 3 opponents so far have sussed us out.

All that said, we WERE very unlucky, but you have to take your chances, and we need to be less stretched at the back - it's too much last ditch, caused by the midfield being over run and bypassed.

Still I enjoyed the 2 days, and like Charlton as a club. You can't fail to like a club with such taste in music, and one that seems to be thriving despite the number of Glory hunters in London.

Oh, some marks, I suppose
TS 6 (SP 5 - one horrendous dropped catch)
MD 6
JLS 7
OM 5
ML 5
NS 5
TH 5
GM 5
GB 5
DV 8
CC 6 (JPA 7)

 

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Sunday Sun at The Baggies

 

Been to the match today. not a great game or performance, but I thought I'd write a few observations down

I've just got back from the Hawthorns, after an "interesting" game this afternoon.

You sort of know what you'll get with a local derby, especially away from home. You'll get a lot of noise, a lot of chasing around, the odd temper tantrum, plenty of hurry-scurry football, a lack of composure at times and the odd moment of excellence somewhere in there too.

The one thing you can never be sure of is how the ref will interpret the whole thing, or how he'll do.

Today we had Mark "Arsenal" Halsey. Oh dear! We also had one of those Villa performances that drives you mad. And then when you throw in a big Albion side, keen to "compete" you end up with a very frustrating afternoon.

What you hope will happen is that in the face of all this the Villa will use their heads, play good passing football and triumph by using skill. Not a chance. Several of our team today were pretty poor, as was the ref.

It all started so well though, after about 3 minutes a free kick from the right, as i looked, was played into the box by Hitz, and Olly pretty much unchallenged smacked a header into the net.
Albion were stunned, and we had a chance to get right on top, but we didn't really take it. About 10 minutes later an identical move again saw Olly head goalwards, the keeper got a hand to it, but from 130 yards away It looked like it may well have been in the goal, but it wasn't given.

Albion rallied and as Villa persisted in giving the ball away, the pressing of Albion got them right back into the game. Eventually, after a series of free kicks were given against Laursen, a really soft one. Horsfield threw himself to the ground, and the bloody ref gave it. Greening crossed and Clement unchallenged headed an equaliser.

The approach of Horsfield was working with the ref, who was a definite homer - he was allowed to foul and dive with not so much as a telling off, and was given a lot of dubious free kicks.

Laursen looked to be struggling a bit with the challenge - they don't let donkeys like Horsfield on the grass in Italy do they? - and after being booked, as was Olly later on, had to be careful.

That we were under threat was due to inability to retain the ball. Both wide men were passengers, Barry particularly so, and there were alarming gaps in the centre of the park. Both Hitz and Gav were working hard, but something was not right in there. I think it was the lack of help they were getting, although Nobby did do one fine bit of covering for Delaney second half.

Albion huffed and puffed, had plenty of shots well wide and a lot of corners and free kicks, which we mostly withstood well, although given the game the ref was having he might have given them a penalty, when the ball was lashed at Gav and seemed to hit his hand.

It was good to see JPA come on and look fit. There didn't seem to be the same understanding between DV and CC as there was last week, and I was surprised Darius was the one subbed for JPA, rather than Cole - I felt the familiarity of DV and JPA was more likely to lead to to chances for us. Cole though did almost score at the end with a glanced header from a late Villa flurry of corners

The ineffective Barry and Solano were both subbed for Whitts and Ulisses - Ulises looked good, but Whitts was as poor as Barry - he needs to do an awful lot better, does Gareth. Shame there's no one to take his place and put pressure on him. He played like the rest of the team were complete strangers to him.

I suppose the result was right, but the performance was not to good at all in terms of intelligent midfield play. The defenders defended well, Sorenson, aside from one poor kick was excellent and the forwards did what they could with little service really.

Some Marks
TS 7
Delaney 6
Olly 7.5
Laursen 6
Jlloyd 7
Nobby 5
Gav 6
Hitz 6
Barry 4
Darius 7
Carlton 6

Subs JPA 6, Ulises 6, Whitts 5

Ref - poor.

26,601 people shouted a lot, and got stuck in traffic. Grrrrrr. Still, the Sunday Sun shone.

 

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Maps and Legends - Boro Match report

 

Just got back from the match. What a day out that turned out to be.

I started out this morning, in my little red car on a lovely early spring day. I'm not overly keen on Middlesboro' and it has always seemed a bit of a trek, even though from my house it's only 132 miles. But today in the sun, I really enjoyed the drive up the M6 past Lancaster, past the War of the Worlds-a-like wind turbines and then across the Pennines. The tapestry mapped fields bounded by dry stone walls, lambs in the fields and a Kite hovering over a copse, along with a less than successful paraglider were just some of the sights on the way. If I hadn't got somewhere to go, I could have happily stopped off at one of the pubs along the way, and just sat in the sun and watched the world walk by.

Eventually though, Cleveland loomed, past Darlo's White Elephant Stadium and into Middlesborough. You can see the smoke, and the weird towers and Chemicals, the docks and industry. Some people slag the place off for that, but today at least it looked like a proper destination, a town with something about it.

After a couple of drinks with 2 pals, I settled into my seat to watch the match. It had everything you could want really.

Boro' started off brightly and alert. They've come on a bit over the years and looked a fairly decent side, playing with the confidence of their egg cup win, and a freedom from worries about league placing.

Mendieta, Junhino, George the self proclaimed coulda-been Legend Boateng too were all doing well for Boro, with Olly looking immaculate for us, Darius using his pace well - he started brightly against Ego, and had the first real effort on goal, saved by Shwarzer. After half an hour or so of good football from both sides, DV seemed to fade and Boro' came again. A quick and accurate kick from Shwarzer led to a break away, down our left, and with the defence in a bit of a "gone missing" situation, they scored. 5 mins before HT. Nothing Tommy could do. poor collective defending, and RJ I think it was gave the attacker too much space to turn in the build up. Something we did a lot in midfield throughout the first hour I felt.

Anyway, just before the half time whistle Gareth Barry glanced a header in off the post, unmarked from a free kick out on our right, and it was 1-1.

Second half, I thought was going to be a real good test, as well as a continued entertaining game. I was right about the test, but wrong about the entertainment.

I don't know exactly what happened, but with Villa attacking our end 10 minutes in to the second half, a cross was retrieved by Nobby, closely tracked by "Legend" Boateng. A ricochet and a throw. I glanced away. Then next thing "legend" has been killed - lifeless, dead, on the pitch. Strangely the smoggies in the seats right next to the incident didn't howl and roar. Cue confusion, Nobby sent off, protesting innocence. Luckily before the funeral arrangements were too far advanced, a resurrection, just after the red card.
And like the lambs in the field, Georgie Bo was off and gambolling around.

With Darius and Barry both off injured now - Barry with an achilles problem it seemed, and DV hamstring, maybe, we had Delaney on at RB as sub, with UDLC going to wide right and JPA up front on his own. Whitts came on for Barry. 35 minutes, 10 men.

It was all Boro' basically. Corners, possession, and pressing forwards. JPA tired and was replaced with 15 left by Rodders.

While Boro were, with their 11 men, the better team, we had 3 of the 4 best players on the day, in Tommy Sorenson who made a string of saves, catches and punches away. 2 or 3 of the saves were excellent. Olly did not put a foot wrong all game. Best I've seen him play. And Gavin McCann got better and better. He was everywhere, tackling, chasing, organising, breaking through, shooting from the half was line.

Time didn't move on at much of a rate, and was, it turned out, being added on too by Mr Barber at a fair pace - 4 minutes extra was played in the end.

With maybe a minute of the 90 left, a breakaway by Villa, who had by now let Boro' use up all their ideas. Ulises cut inside from the right and hit a decent shot to the side of Shwarzer. He neither held it, nor knocked it far away enough, and Rodders Trotted in to tap in the rebound.

What had been a very lively and vocal away corner went absolutely mental, Rodders was booked for his celebration right in front of us and the four minutes ebbed away for Boro' along with their fans.

What a game. Only football can do that.

The players joined the celebrations at the end, clearly absolutely delighted (and knackered).

 

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Hardy Souls and megabowls - Bolton Stylee

 

You used to know what you got went you went to Bolton. You got grey skies, rain, a dodgy view from a half obscured terrace and a "hostile" welcome and atmosphere.

Now of course, you travel to an out of town retail park, complete with Tennis centre and (probably) bowling alley. And it didn't rain.

The ground is still the best of the new build stadia. Some care and attention was put into it's construction and design. The view is excellent, the family audience can shop happily before and after.

Anyway, this was one of those games where it was just a game. They ain't going down, we ain't going into Europe, end of season games seem quite often to end 2-2, so that was my pre-match prediction.

As for the game itself, I quite enjoyed it, in a "it (the result) doesn't matter" kind of way.
I was pleased to see Liam Ridgewell start alongside Olly (RJ won't play twice in 3 days), and he had a very good game.
I was even pleasder to see Lee Hendrie and Peter Crouch score. We went 1-0 up after a fairly low key 20 minutes or so from a Barry cross from the left, right onto Crouchy's noggin at the far post.

The game then reverted to end of season-ness up until half time. I munched a pie to soak up a few amiable pre match scoops. Why do they have to come in plastic wrappers? No need.

Bolton started with a bit more intent second half, Villa didn't quite seem on the mental pace, and after a short period of pressure, a howler by Ulllises gifted them a goal. He dummied to clear, fooling the blocker, but then dawdled and whacked the clearance straight at the northern monkey's rump and the ball fell kindly to a trotter to lash in past Sorenson.

Immediately though, Villa through Barry, (who had been switched to the right at Half time, with Hitz going to the Left and Hendrie into the middle) scored again. Barry chipped a pass over the Bolton defence, and Hendrie's perfect run left him clear. He just lobbed it over Jaskaaleinen and into the net. Lovely goal. Lee was very pleased, as were the Villa fans filling the upper tier, and those in the lower tier, below.

Bolton continued to do what they do, which is rely on JJ Okacha, switch play a lot, and hurl long throws into the box.
The game looked set to trundle to a victory for Villa, but you just can't tell, or at least you can - that Villa are able to conjure up "moments" at any time.

From a breakaway, Hitz was suddenly clean through on goal, but his shot was straight at their keeper, who saved well. Can't Blame Hitz for shooting, but there were a couple of well placed men - Luke (on for DV) and Dion (on for PC) at the far post.
Immediately from the save, Bolton countered, McCann who struggled all game didn't manage to hold up the Trotter, and they scored. Feck.

There was an average refereeing performance from Matt Matthias, Crouch being particularly unlucky to be booked, the ref never saw anything, and the linesman gave nowt, but with a Trotter prone in the box, a minor scuffle broke out. Hendrie was also booked for, well what he does too much, yapping and chuntering during the incident.

Bolton have a fair few players who fall over very easily, and I felt that they conned the ref a number of times.

The good things to take from the game were the performances of Ridgewell and Barry (MoM by a distance for Villa), the goals for Lee and Rodney and the fact that at no point did we look like losing.

The bad side of it was mistakes leading to their 2 goals. The small squad also suffered, with Vassel injured, McCann poor and looking unfit/injured.

Some Marks
TS 7 Solid.
UDLC 6 (would have been 7 but for the howler)
JLS 7 much better than last week.
Olly 6 - the medium Olly today.
Ridgewell 7- impressive.
Hendrie 6.5 - nothing flash, lovely goal, stupidly booked.
Gav 5 - poor.
Hitz 6 Did OK.
Barry 8 - made 2, our best player by some way. Can still do better though
Rodney 7 - confident, which is nice.
Darius 5 Hmm.
Subs
Luke Moore 5
Dion 6

 

Monday, March 15, 2004

Impressions after Wolves

 

It's a bit late for a match report, although all the ones I've read today have been most enjoyable.

Pete Bland was at Wolves on Sunday, and looks back at the performance...

Going to Wolves yesterday was very enjoyable for me. I used to live in dingle land and on the way back I wandered past the places I used to go in 20 odd years ago and was happy to see that all the pubs are still there, and every one of them still has the same name. Sadly I went on my tod, so didn't nip into any for a quick pint before going home (one in the Bush?). Didn't spoil the mood though.

There's been change on the pitch for Villa over the last 2 years, since JG walked out and into semi obscurity. In a way you wouldn't know it though. JPA up front has improved, and his second goal was that of a quality striker in form. He received the ball right in front of me, controlled it in one touch, took it on with Craddock trailing in his wake and without so much as giving a hint of setting himself the ball was suddenly past Jones and in the back of the Wolves net.

JPA played up front with Vassell, and there there has been a change for the worse. Although they remain the best front two, DV is far from at his best. He works hard, worries defenders with his pace, but too often lacks the confidence to drive at the goal and with his ability to pick out another player in the Villa shirt not his strongest point he ends up frustrating, mainly due to a lack of belief in himself.

At the back, Olly continues to excel, despite giving away a penalty yesterday, and with Ronnie Johnsen alongside him DO'L is picking the best partnership and it's working well. I've always liked RJ, even when he was at man u, and as long as he stays fit, he's a real asset. and allows Olly to play in the way at which he excels. This isn't the case with Dion alongside Olly.

Another regular from JG's team, Lee Hendrie had a blinding game in the centre. His movement and quick feet and quick mind were a menace to Wolves all game. If he played like that every week then he'd have a lot more than just the one cap for England.

Hitz played in the centre with Lee, and he's the first of the younger players to make a big step forward this season. it didn't happen quickly, but he has now lost the annoying habit of going missing for long periods. He's realised that he has to MAKE himself involved. He now looks a very good young player and his shooting and corners are a real threat. It was GT really who brought Hitz back into things and another who benefited from GT's good work with young players is Jlloyd. He's perhaps been my player of the season so far. He looks a quality full back, has pace and skill and his defending and concentration, as well as confidence have come on a bundle.

Jlloyd links so well with Gareth Barry that the two of them together, in an unconventional way make perhaps one of the best left sides in the prem (the other being Pires and whoever for Arsenal). Barry lacks any real pace, but he is pretty strong, has a fantastic touch and generally knows where to put the ball. In the second half, with him attacking right in front of my viewing position it was easy to appreciate what GT and DO'L see in him as a midfielder.

Nobby Solano is still settling in, but he has the ability to make some space for himself, pass well, and although some of his crossing was woeful in the first half he had the intelligence to adjust to the windy conditions, change his game and put through a peach of a pass for JPA's second.

Another excellent DO'L signing was Tommy Sorenson. He saved a penalty (his second pen save of the season) made a couple of other very good saves, and generally looks solid and capable at the back. He also seems to appreciate the fans, which is something I like in any player.

Ulises at right back has his weaknesses as a defender, but nevertheless does his best, benefits from not being booed (No! really!) and didn't let us down. A useful GT squad signing.

With most of our squad being fit we had Crouchy, Luke Moore and Peter Whittingham come off the bench once the game was safe. While they are all young players and all have talent the full strength bench is an area where the criticisms of Ellis' penny pinching are brought into stark view (the other 2 subs were Dion and Stefan Postma) - had we needed to replace JPA, Olly/RJ Nobby or Hitz/Hendrie the replacements would have been, at this stage of their careers a drop down in class. This is the difference between us being REAL contenders and a quite good side, that can play some lovely stuff, tear teams apart on occasion and get run ragged on other occasions.

It's important that we start games well, as there is not the quality to change the personnel if things go a bit wonky. DO'L and Roy Aitken have excelled here and the players have responded brilliantly. They give of their all, seem a "tight" group and play for each other. The style of play is no doubt hard work to keep up, but it's lovely to watch and must be great to play in too. Something that has not been the case for a good few years.

Let's be blunt. Wolves are a poor side and we're a decent side. That's what yesterday proved.

Looking forward, if we are to keep DO'L, keep JPA, Barry, Olly et al and build on what has happened so far this season then something has got to change at our club. Something with the initials HDE. He and Villa have so often failed to take the opportunities available to the club, shrinking back from the big choices, preferring to do nothing and hope instead for the best, that the omens are not good.

The board consists of Ellis who said he would step down but hasn't done so, an NED on a 3 month "trial" whose trial period has expired and 2 time servers in Steve Stride and Tony Hales - Ellis yes men to their cores.

When things go awry, many people will look at the way the club is run at the top and rightly get pretty angry with the nepotism, the mediocrity and the disregard for both the supporters and the history of the club.

When we are doing alright, we are doing so despite the ball and chain, not because of it. How much better could we be doing, and could we be run if only professionalism and the best people were in place?

Yes be happy that the miseries of last season on the pitch seem to be banished, be happy with the improvement in our fortunes as a team, but don't forget that it only takes Ellis and chums a short time to mess things up, and they can usually be found hiding away counting their huge wages and doing very little to take the club onwards and upwards, when they should be helping the manager and players and supporters. look back a year and we were cacking it about relegation, which we eventually missed by 3 points - some poor Sunderland finishing at VP kept us up. Look back 2 years and we were roughly where we are now - comfortably going to stay up, harbouring hopes of Europe.

Like Barry Hole, we're up, we're down, but I didn't go in the Rose and Crown.

 

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Rewind 3 months and that's what it was like.

 

I've been to the game today and seen what seems like a return to the away form we have grown familiar with. Was it just a hangover from Sunday? How much are we missing Gavin? And what's all that about Gary Neville?

I went off to tired old Goodison Park again today, replete with hangover developed with great care and attention in Manchester last night. (Gary Neville was in the one pub, as was Tony Wilson, still I didn't let it spoil my night, but I digress.)

In the cold conditions, and on a dry pitch we didn't get to see a great game today. Everton did what Everton do, which is try hard, hope that Rooney does something special, or Duncan Disorderly can trouble his way to a goal. Villa did what Villa do too often, which is not much away from home.

The ref, a Mr Messias, did what he is apparently known for doing too, made a load of bemusing and inconsistent decisions, baffling players and fans on both sides alike.

Anyway, Villa had less of the ball in the first half, partly because Darius was invisible and JPA too was unable to hold the ball up. Nevertheless we had certainly the better chances to score, and ended the half on top. Barry headed just wide after losing his marker, Hendrie, Nobby and a couple of others had shots saved well by Nigel Martin, and someone, Barry or Hitz or Hendrie ( I couldn't see clearly down to the far end from my position behind the opposite corner flag) hit an absolute screamer which just whistled over. Oh and JPA could perhaps have scored with an instinctive shot saved by Martin. Everton had a couple of Rooney break aways, one stopped by Mellberg and one by UDLC, and JLloyd also did well to stamp out a dangerous attack.

There were touches of class in patches from JLloyd in particular, Barry on a couple of occasions and by Rooney, but really the game was being controlled to the greatest degree by Gravesen - a big sturdy lad, up against Hendrie and Hitz was always going to prosper in today's conditions, and so he did.

Second half we started very brightly, with a sustained period of attacking in which Vassel held off two defenders but then shot straight at Martin from 5 yards, it wasn't an easy chance, but he should have scored.

Gradually Everton got the upper hand and it was I felt inevitable they would score. Having taken off Steve Watson for Radzinsky, it was the little guy who got the goal, losing Mellberg and beating Sorenson to a Rooney cross with 12 minutes left. They got another shortly afterwards when Gravesen ran into the box and beat TS from an angle with a low shot into the corner.

We lost because we didn't take our chances and Everton did, because our recent passing game broke down too often, and because too many players seemed lackadaisical compared to the Everton effort.

Crouch came on for Vassel, to no avail for 15 minutes, by the way

Some Marks
TS 6
UDLC 5.5 - patchy, both good and bad
JLloyd 7.5 - Our best player by some distance
Olly 6 - solid, but lost his man for the first goal
RJ 6 Perhaps might have done better for their second. Handled Ferguson as well as possible.
Nobby 5 - Class but it didn't tell today.
Hendrie 5 - ineffective today from Lee
Hitz 6 - OK from Hitz.
Barry 6.5 - his linking with Jlloyd continues to be a major strong point for Villa
DV 4.5 - Frankly poor first half, better second, but he's capable of much much better.
JPA 4.5 - As with Darius, worked hard, but no real threat to Everton. Both forwards did need better service, but both have to hold the ball up for us to create pressure, and relieve it on ourselves
Crouchy not on for long enough

Ref 4 - baffling. No shockers, just a poor general performance.

Crowd - Theirs - quiet
Ours - rubbish, frankly. Noisy, but Tracey Andrews, various songs about jobs, stealing, etc. - Pathetic. Or perhaps it was just the inadequates around by me, but I wish the Coppers would have thrown more of them out. That's not support, children, it's pathetic.

 

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Thoughts from the North; Bolton Report

 

Here's my report from last night's Reebok event

This isn't so much a match report as some general bemused ramblings about last night's game. I haven't seen any TV, or read any papers so a few facts may be wrong.

The first thing to say that it was a damn good game in terms of attacking football, if not from the Villa defence point of view.

Following a pre-match drink or 5 we found ourselves in the top tier of the South Stand at the Reebok. One of the best views you get at away games, I was in row UU which meant I could see the pattern of play, but too far away to tell whether free kicks really were fouls. I could also see vast expanses of empty seats in the other 3 stands - I think the attendance was about 17000 in a ground that holds 28000.

The first 16 minutes of the game were a disaster defensively for Villa. 3 minutes in and JJ Okacha curled a free kick over the wall with Sorenson rooted to the spot. - He seems to let a lot of free kicks in - is it just bad luck/good execution or a weakness?

With their next couple of attacks Bolton scored 2 more goals, one of which saw Kevin Nolan run through a fairly open defence, easily slip past Olly and finish well. The other I think was a header from Davies, although I may be wrong.

Villa looked shocked. I certainly was. But despite being 3-0 down I felt we could get back into the game. I guess the players did to. JPA and Hendrie for me were the two that were really driving the effort to recover. JPA it was who scored, some nifty footwork followed by what looked like a cross which went straight in. Of all the players on the pitch, JJ Okacha, Djorkiev etc. it was JPA who looked the classiest. Bolton couldn't get the ball off him, he was everywhere.

Half time and we were 3-1 down. Not as bad as it could have been given the start we had, and going forward we looked good, yet at the back shaky. Next goal for us and we would be right back in it, we were saying.

We did get the next one - I'm not sure if it was Vassel who got the final touch, but a text from my Bro said the goal was well offside. 2 lucky goals for us then.

The game was an end to end attacking match, Villa on the up and Bolton still dangerous. Especially when you leave big Centre halfs unmarked at corners. Ngotti 4-2. Damn. It was around this time that Olly was injured, he had to be replaced by RJ - I guess it was concussion. And if that wasn't bad enough a free kick by JJ Okacha from the angle was blistered into the net, leaving burnt air in it's wake. Unstoppable.

At this point heads dropped in the Villa side, and amongst the fans too. 5-2 down and Bolton back on top.

The last part of the game saw Villa make errors further up the pitch. passes went astray as the search for a 3rd goal and a chance in the tie proved fruitless.

Villa had earlier made some strange substitutions - Vassel was taken off for Allback and Barry for Hitz, with Peter Whittingham moved out wide.

I have a hangover and a sore throat.

Can we still do it?

Blandy

 

Saturday, January 17, 2004

How Not to Sell Tickets - a post script

 

Yesterday I spoke to Bolton's ticket office manager, Graham Holiday. I did this following Villa's explanation as to why we didn't take a full allocation for Bolton - which they claimed was because if we did, then Bolton would have insisted on 6300 tickets for VP for the second leg, and that by taking 3400 Bolton agreed to take only 3000.

What Mr Holiday had to say was both good and bad.

He praised Villa as a good club to deal with from his point of view, and talked about the help they had given him regarding showing him our ticketing system, which is a more modern version than theirs - they are upgrading. He had been to VP this week for half a day, with that purpose.

He mentioned various other clubs which he also thought were good, and one particular club down south who were not at all helpful (he did say who, but I see no need to pass that on - it's not relevant to this issue). It is I think reassuring to find out that (most) clubs work well together and that therefore us lot, the fans will, as a result, get a better level of service.

Regarding the Semi final, he expressed complete shock at the explanation given by Steve Stride regarding a deal, although he did say "we'd probably say that too - blame the other side"

There is a caveat in that he said (warily) perhaps the secretary knows something about it. I have tried to talk to their Secretary, Simon Marlden, but have so far been unable to catch him. I was told he'd call me back, but they have a game on, and I'm not exactly top priority!

Bolton DO have a fair number of restricted view tickets, as our ticket office have said - I suspect they are low down directly behind the goal - where the net/posts get in the way, and perhaps where police/stewards also obscure the view - I forgot to ask.

The initial allocation Villa took was exactly the same as available for league games 10% of capacity - he believed that both club were just trying their best to be fair to each other and all the fans from both sides - ie not take more for either game than they thought they could sell, thus letting the home team have the unwanted seats.

He explained that they had done their best to help Villa, who they clearly like and get on well with, when the request for extra tickets came in.

From talking to him it seems to me that it's just a case of Villa (Steve Stride) underestimating demand, being swamped and then our ticket office staff doing their best, with Bolton's assistance, to rectify the situation.

The explanation from Steve Stride didn't seem right when he gave it, and it seems much more unlikely having spoken to Bolton and heard what they have said.

Graham also said that Bolton don't take their full allocation for most grounds - because they know they won't sell the tickets, and whether they are sale or return, or pay up front it's not fair to their opponents. He did say though that although he thought there was no way they'd sell 6300 tickets for VP, perhaps if they won the first leg 4-0 or 10-0 they might!

Finally he said he liked Doug Ellis as he "tells it straight" - but then all through the chat he was a bit cagey "as you could be anyone". He seemed like a nice bloke who didn't want to drop Villa in it, or say anything "controversial"

I conclude that our ticket office staff and the fans were the ones dropped in it by Steve Stride making a(nother) misjudgement about ticket demand. I also conclude that excuse given by the club is bunkum. And that the reason they didn't put out the promised formal announcement is for exactly that reason.

Shame.

(note: if the BWFC secretary does call me back and tells me more/differently, I will update this article - I can only write based on what I am told)

 

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

How Not to Sell Tickets to People Who Want to Buy Them (Part 2)

 

Following on from the problems we had with the Manchester City away game early in the season, comes another contentious issue regarding ticket sales to our own fans by the club.

This time it's the Carling Cup semi final first leg at the Reebok next wednesday.

Rule 21 of the Competition rules says

"In all Cup Ties, the Visiting Club shall have the right to claim 15 per cent of all tickets reserved or otherwise sold in advance subject to the consent of the Management Committee and on the following conditions:-
(a) The request for tickets shall be made within three days of the draw...
(b) The tickets allotted to the Visiting Club, if numbered and reserved must be equal in value to those retained by the Home Club.
(c) Unless otherwise mutually agreed in writing, all tickets shall be on a sale or return basis....
(d) A Visiting Club shall be entitled to one third of the seats usually reserved and known as "Home and Visiting Directors Seats" up to a maximum of 24 seats.
(e) At every home match, a minimum of 15 per cent of the total disabled spectator accommodation must be made available to disabled supporters of the Visiting Club.

The Capacity of the Reebok is 28,700 meaning that Villa is entitled to ask for over 4200 seats, for perhaps the most important away game for 3 years.

Strangely though it soon emerged that we had in fact only asked Bolton for 2760 tickets. Unsurprisingly these tickets were very quickly sold out, with regular season-ticket holding fans being guaranteed first dibs.

Seeing the demand, Villa then asked Bolton for additional tickets and 600 were forthcoming, which also sold out to season ticket holders yesterday morning. Telephone callers were refused tickets due to the large number of people in the queue and around 50 of these poor souls were unlucky along, obviously, with all the people refused on the telephone. These unhappy would be customers are ALL season ticket holders. Villa it seems will not be able to get any more tickets, as having declined them originally, Bolton are now selling them to their own fans.

The decision on what allocation to take is made by Steve Stride.

The "stick" from frustrated and disappointed season ticket holders is taken by the ticket office staff.

The tickets obviously never got to the stage of going on general sale.

That's one side of the story.

The other side, as explained by the excellent ticket office manager, Nicky Keye is that a deal has been done with Bolton, such that they will also not take the full allocation to which they are entitled, leaving and extra 3000 plus seats at VP for our supporters in the second leg. A similar deal was done with Arsenal for the '96 semi.

It is also the case that for the league games in which we have taken the full allocation (e.g. Man Utd) selling out has been a close thing, so the Club perhaps finds it difficult to gauge demand for what is a televised game in midweek. Even though it is a semi final.

I understand that the club will be making an announcement/statement on the official web site later today, as a result of the furore and disgruntlement, but a number of questions and comments spring to my mind at least. I hope they are answered.

1. Did the Club realise initially that the Bolton Tickets are Sale or Return - ie no financial risk to the club of taking the full allocation and then not selling all of them? I suspect that they didn't. Certainly the ticket office staff didn't as it was (wrongly) explained to me on friday by one of their number that if we didn't sell all the tickets, we'd have to pay for the unsold seats.

2. Did the Club underestimate demand for the game from Villa fans - I suspect that they did, massively so.

3. Was the arrangement made with Bolton based around convenience for the two Clubs at the expense of the supporters - selling away tickets is a bit of a pain, and less away fans means less police, less costs and less hassle.

4. Does the Club realise that they have disappointed a large number of their most loyal customers - season ticket holders, as well as a further number of non-season ticket holders. I suspect that they do, hence the unprecedented statement to be given later today.

5. The ticket office has an excellent Manager in Nicky Keye. That she took the time to explain and discuss the situation.

6. The deal done favours Bolton - Given the relative size of support of the two Clubs, it is Villa fans who end up the losers - it is more than likely that all the Bolton fans who want a ticket will get one for both games, the same is not true for Villa fans.

7. Is it right that a decision on how many "no risk" sale or return tickets is taken at such a high level as the boardroom? Should staff not be empowered to take decisions at the working level? This applies throughout the club.

8. Will the club stop shooting itself in the foot?

 

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Stereotype - Anfield Match Report

 

Just got back from the match, and I have to say it was probably just about a fair result, given that Liverpool carried more threat than us. The goal was a tad lucky, in that Heskey's header certainly wasn't going in, but it bounced up and hit a combination of Danny Murphy and Mark Delaney, and with Tommy Sorenson wrong footed, trundled gently into the net from about 2 yards out.

Owen had earlier missed from about 2 yards, hitting the crossbar on about 12 minutes.

As Villa came back into the game, Vassell had a good chance after Angel had beaten Henchoz in the air down the far end, but Jones saved well. The goal came about 10 minutes from half time, just after McCann had been booked and off injured after a tackle in midfield. The booking was harsh, but the ref, Graham Barber was consistent in that he booked 4 others for similar offences - 3 redscouse and Hitz, who came on for the injured McCann (who will now be banned for a match - Bolton at home I think).

HT 0-1 was perhaps a bit harsh on Villa.

Second half, with Stefan Moore on for Vassell (don't know why) the game was more end to end. Diouf, although "unsteady on his feet" was skinning JLloyd every time and creating problems for us as a result. Otherwise there wasn't a great deal of creativity in the game, but plenty of endeavour from both sides.

Dion who had played very well at the back was moved up front, Hendrie went off and RJ came on at the back as we went 3 up front in an attempt to equalise. There were still 25 minutes to go. A Barry header, a Moore break away and shot wide (he did have 3 defenders to go at) were our best efforts and JPA might have had what would have been an unlikely pen after being held by Hyppia on the turn in the box.

As the game closed Villa were putting pressure on through balls into Dion and Liverpool were playing on the break. Mellberg and Delaney though defended very well.

In truth a great deal of our attacking play lacked imagination and Liverpool held on reasonably easily, if a little nervously.

Before the marks, a couple of comments. Liverpool remains a sort of tourist attraction with coaches from all over the place, from Bristol, Germany and Essex. They hang on to the scarves and flags, and sing YNWA before the match.

The fans conformed to my Stereotype before the game in the pub by being friendly and knowledgeable.

Neither side looks like winning anything this season, and Liverpool look the better of the two, but not massively so.

Our support was good in Volume and numbers, but surely "You'll Never Work Again" is a bit past it's outdated stereotype now lads?

Liverpool fans could do with perking up a bit, they were pretty quiet to say the least until they scored, and the place isn't like the old days is it? They'd struggle to scare a nervous cat on a hot tin roof

Oh and to the Traffic Warden who gave me a ticket, for I dunno what - Thanks a bunch

 
 
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