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.
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
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.