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2005 Away match Reports





Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Means To An End - A Trip to The Reebok


Well, that was interesting, in a kind of run o't'mill way.

You'll know by now that we got a draw at the Trotter-dome, home of the Über-dons and the world's wingeingest manager (I realise "wingeingest" is a sort of Americanism, but it seems appropriate given the tendency towards razzmatazz at the out of town shopping mall experience that is a trip to the Reebok), and home now too, to a new statue, just near the aforementioned splendid ground. It's a sort of cross between a sculpture of the European Cup, and, as Allan pointed out, "a Lava lamp".

You'll also know that Villa have been, well, a bit pants lately (i.e for about a year), so would we buckle under the high flying, long-throwing, Global trotters assault, or would the spirit and defence survive intact from a testing trip?

It turned out to be the latter. It wasn't, truth be told, a great game. Not much, you know, actually, well, happened, really.

There were, as the score-line rather gives away, a couple of goals - one for each side. Which seemed about right. And there were some dives (no need to detail who was guilty, but suffice to say he won't be driving home tonight, back to his Lordships residence, within spitting distance of his former club). At least the cheating git got booked for it. As did another unidentifiable tripe merchant in a white shirt.

But getting back to the legal action on the pitch, there were few incidents to linger long in the memory, or long enough to recount accurately in a match report. I remember after 23 minutes that Bolton had a header from one of their succession of corners, as they kicked towards the Villa fans in the first half. And a bit later they had another header, tipped on to the post by Tommy Sorenson. Mostly though, the first half consisted of Bolton, not perhaps at their most effective, failing to break down a Villa side which was rigidly determined and committed to thwarting their rather rudimentary ploys.

We had set out with Lee Hendrie surprisingly, but welcomed by me, supporting a lone striker - Baros, with Eirik Bakke alongside Gav in the middle. Stevie Davis rested on the bench. We didn't threaten, despite the odd outbreak of some decent football. I didn't mind. I was just pleased to see that the the team looked organised and together. Lee's invention is something I think we've missed badly.

At half time I went in search of some sustenance to soak up the pre-match beers and bought possibly the hottest item of food I've ever had - an Ashworth's meat and potato pie. This pie would probably have registered on the US governments spy satellite equipment, looking for all those "terrist" supporting regimes developing weapons of mass destruction with which they intend, apparently, to do down the freedoms of the Western Oil companies and their directors.

As it obviously took about half an hour before the glowing comestible cooled to munching temperature, I spent a fair while fussing around looking for more sachets of brown sauce with which to cool it's inner core, and paid not that much attention to what was only a slightly brighter (than the red glow from the very centre of the pie) game going on down below.

Bolton were perhaps looking a bit more lively, in their big boned way, but Olly, for once, was not being given the run around by Kevin Davies, and the rest of the defence too were solid.

Our problem was that with Milan up front alone, we didn't look like scoring, or threatening ourselves, despite matching Bolton generally.

The ref got his cards out after about an hour, and as a succession of miscreants went into his book the atmosphere hotted up. With the better noise in the ground, the players efforts started to edge closer towards the goals.

Eventually Bolton scored. A turn and shot at the far end, from a break, inside the box by, er, God knows who. A bit of a sickener with 10 minutes left.
With Baros having been taken off 5 minutes before that, to be replaced by Luke Moore, I felt at the time that conceding the goal was harsh, but was the sort of thing that happens when the manager settles for a point, rather than tries for the win. A braver substitution would have been to bring on a second striker to try to win the game. Still, the manager can't win I suppose. (Maybe that's the problem).

Anyway, Immediately they scored JPA was brought on for Lee Hendrie and Steven Davis for Milner.

With about 3 minutes of normal time left, Luke Moore managed to hold off a Bolton defender in the box, get up off the floor, send the defender the wrong way with a lovely turn and roll the ball across to JPA. With his back to goal JPA took a touch and from maybe 4 yards just managed to get enough power on the ball, on the half turn, to knock it past Jaaskelinen and over the swinging boot of a Boltonian galoot on the line.

It was then just a case of holding on, fairly comfortably till the whistle, though there was one alarm when Bolton broke into the box, but Tommy and Aaron Hughes managed to save the day.

Like I said at the start, it wasn't a great game, but it was a good day out and the resolve and organisation of the players was much improved from one or two recent games.

It was clear that a lot of time had been spent on plotting how to deal with Bolton's unique approach, and credit to the manager for that.

I'd have liked O'Leary to have been more positive with his first substitution, but would have settled I suppose for the result we got, before the start. The performance can best be summed up as "solid". 

Some marks.

Pre match beers - 8 - good company from Chris, Risso, Al and Aston, Clive, David others in the pub.

Tommy 7
Hughes 7
Bouma 7
Olly 7
Ridge 7
Milner 6 (Davis - not on long enough for a mark)
Gav 7.5 Motm
Bakke 6
Barry 6.5
Hendrie 6.5 (JPA a goal inside a minute, but not on long enough for a mark)
Baros 5 (Luke 6.5)


Saturday, November 26, 2005

Help Yourself - Sunderland Away Report


I wrote this last week, it's not my best report, but it'll do as a starter for 9

With my fingers having thawed out during the trek back home from the North East, I felt obliged to tap out a few words about todays "Main Event".

Football fans are a strangely unpredictable lot. Maybe it's something to do with football teams behaving in unpredictable manner.

Take today for example, I set out for Sunderland on a cold bright morning, expecting to go to a relatively poorly attended game between two struggling sides, a game in which not much decent football would be played, a game to be played out in front of a largely dispirited and "quick to grumble" crowd.

I got most of it wrong, frankly.

But who could have predicted that Sunderland would get their biggest crowd of the season, that the away end would be full? A better man than me, that's for sure.

Still the first half at least, turned out as predicted. It was frankly awful. The passing and control from most of the players most of the time was appalling. There were no gales, no ruts in the pitch, no other physical reason why they should all play so poorly. The mental reason - lack of confidence from recent results for both sides positively (or should I say negatively?) incapacitated them all. or almost all. James Milner most notably, was looking good.

Sunderland started reasonably enthusiastically, and had some half chances, Villa too, had a few half chances but neither team looked like scoring really - they couldn't keep the ball long enough - and the chances that were created came as a result of poor defending and lack of doing the simple thing. I think the best thing to do is maybe just say no more about the first 45 minutes.

Somewhere in the away dressing room, at half time, someone said something, I would imagine. It would have been to the effect of "This lot are absolutely dire, if you just move for each other, pass the ball like you actually want to get it to your team mates and if you up the pace a bit, we'll murder them."

I mean let's be honest about it. Sunderland are not any good at all. They're the worst side I've seen for a fair old while. And they know they're rubbish with it. Their fans deserve better.

Anyway, the second half started with Villa kicking off and attacking the shivering Claret and Blue masses gathered behind the goal. And attack they did, with at last, some real pace and purpose. Milner who had been the best of the attacking players in the first half was working hard and always looking to take on the full back. Baros started to look a bit more interested and Phillips was continuing to play solidly and intelligently.

Sunderland were playing mostly on the break, though the game metamorphosised from the slumbering caterpillar of the first half into a frenetic moth around the candle of the 3 points there for the taking home. End to end it fluttered, often at a fair old lick.

After 14 minutes or so in which about 10 times as much happened as in the first half put together, we finally took the lead we deserved. Baros rather than take the simple option of crossing the ball into the box for Phillips, took on two defenders on the right hand edge of the box, and appeared to have run down another blind alley, but just before the ball could take a rest by rolling out of play, he back heeled it whereupon it was fizzed across the box by the supporting Aaron Hughes and onto the waiting noggin of, inevitably, Phillips 4 yards out by the far post.

Properly he didn't "celebrate" the goal - the Sunderland fans had applauded all 3 of their former players, but the vocal thousand or so in the corner by us had also been chanting his name. He did great for them, after all. We celebrated to make up for his decorum.

The goal brought about a change in our confidence level, and Sunderland upped their efforts a gear too. Their crowd started to get behind their team for a while. Sunderland almost equalised within 4 minutes, but a powerful shot bounced down and away off the bar.

Their keeper was doing very well, and compared to Tommy in our goal was a lot, lot busier. He made several excellent one on one saves. 

Villa were on top, and our defence looked reasonably solid against their attackers - partly because Mellberg was having a very good game and partly because they were not good enough to take advantage of the times when our disorganisation let them in.

Just at the point where I was starting to think that we would be likely to end up trying to hang on at the end, that thought was banished by a second goal. Milner, again, did well on right wing after being picked out by a good pass from Barry, breaking down the left. Milner returned the favour and Barry had the easy task of scoring from the same spot as Phillips, but with his feet.

Game over. Exodus of Sunderland fans, along with their teams spirit. The fans who did stay kept singing away in the corner, mind.

Phillips, off after being clattered was replaced by Luke Moore and a neat back-heel from Moore put Baros through for a third, welted past the keeper from 15 yards.

We should have had a penalty when Luke had his shirt well tugged in the box after duping their full-back, but the ref, who saw it, bottled the decision.

He did though give them a pen right at the end, when Ridge and their forward were vying for the ball, It looked harsh, but I was a long way away to be able to tell, really.

By this time there were probably more Villa fans in the ground than Sunderland fans.

3 minutes of added time and the game was over. Olly looked very pleased.

One final thought - the win was vital, and I hope it brings back our confidence, but we're a long way from out of the woods yet. Sunderland, sadly for them, are very, very poor - but they're an honest bunch o' lads.

3-1 didn't flatter us, it flattered them.

Some player marks

Tommy - sound 7

Aaron Hughes - sound 7
Mellberg - excellent 7.5
Ridge - Decent-ish, 6 but gave away ANOTHER goal (via the penalty)
Bouma - mixed 5

Milner - Man of the match 8.5
Gav - terrible first half, OK second - 5
Davis - quiet first half, better second - 6.5
Barry - Excellent at times, average at others 6.5

Phillips - a decent game, some good work and hold up play and a goal 7.5
Baros - looked injured and unhappy first half. but did much better second, 7 and a goal.

Subs - Luke for Phillips - 7. Some top touches.
Other subs - Bakke and Hendrie for Baros and Davis with about 3 minutes left.

Credit to all who turned up, whoever they support. There must have been 40,000 there for a "relegation battle on a freezing cold day. Mad, really.


Electric Cupboard


I set up this account to post a comment on Ditchmonkey's blog (linked on the right), but since then I've retrieved a load of old match reports and other stuff I've written over the past few years for the most excellent  
VillaTalk site, and stuck them on here, really just to keep them all somewhere.

Hopefully all the old reports n'that will appear in the archive bit on the right - arranged by month and year.

I'm quite pleased that I've joined the ranks of all these folk who can work the internet properly (touch wood)


Saturday, August 20, 2005

Continental Drift - Manchester United Away


I went to Old Trafford today for our early o’clock, Pay TV, Barclays Premier Game against Manchester United.

Due to the early kick off time and a few amenable post match beers in the August sunshine, I’ve been contemplating a few things.

Firstly it’s been in the papers all week, but Villa haven’t won at what used to be "Old Trafford" but now is apparently just “The theatre of dreams” (according to the tickets, at least) since 1983.

I was actually there that day. One of maybe 1000 or so Villa fans who were. From memory, I think the trip up from Brum cost around 4 quid on the travellers club coach, and it was maybe £2.50 to get in - call it a tenner for the day out. From hazy memory, we were lucky to get the win there. We were under pressure for a lot of the game, but Peter Withe, twice, and Bryan Robson, late on, made it a memorable game - well they and the hostile United fans who threw stones at our Bowens coaches, did.

What’s the relevance to today?

Almost none. 

In today’ phase 3 of the premiership, fans are asked to pay the best part of 40 quid, to get up early for the journey up from the midlands and beyond, plus probably another 20 quid or so at least travel costs. And that's just the United fans (boom, boom). The game is broadcast on Sky + TV for the armchair, or pub, viewer and the TV audience comes first, of course.

No-one throws stones, and instead of 48,000 vociferous Mancs, we get 64,000 meek tourists and 3000 unexpectant Villans, some of us, no doubt, tourists too. Digital cameras were all the range in block E230. 

The flags are gone from the Stretford end, the soul from both clubs. Only some of us remain, retaining the link to the games of the past .

It’s not all bad. Fans mingled happily in the warm sunshine and talked of test matches and Americans, old men and parsimony. Even the odd conversation about football.

Phase 1 of the prem saw a bright new dawn. “A whole new ball game” Sky called it. Shackles were cast off, the game re-born as family entertainment. The prem was won by Man U that first year, Villa were worthy runners up. Both games between the sides were drawn.

The second phase of the Prem. saw the suits and smart operators rake in the cash, share flotations and ticket price inflation. But the fans enthusiasm was buoyant. Rightly so.

I for one enjoyed the reduced hostility, the gradual general recognition that liking football didn’t mean you were a thug. I enjoyed too, Villa’s challenge for trophies in those early years. Before the gap got too big.

Now we’re into phase 3. And it's not nearly so appealing.

Chelsea, thanks to billions of Russian roubles, rule the roost. Arsenal and Man U have £100,000 a week players and mid-week Euro-telly cup commitments. Villa have a sick old pensioner refusing to let go and 17 fit players at the start of the season. Not a hope.

It’s even gone wrong for Man United, for so long the “cock” of the North” (indeed). From multi-million pound money machine, to multi-million dollar debt. Silent Tourist hordes inhabit their impressive stadium, witnessing, not participating.

Their soul has gone to FCUM, along with those Stretford end banners proclaiming the "Repubik of Mancunia" and City's ineptitude.
The only time I associate “Our Soul” with Villa is when I think of what Ellis has done, but that’s just phonetics for you. 

Anyway, as for the match itself, United won 1-0. They scored with maybe 15 or 20 minutes left, after Whittingham gave the ball away criminally and United broke with speed. A deflected cross falling for Horse Face to score past a previously impassable Tommy Sorenson.

In truth neither the Villans in the crowd, nor anyone else can have been surprised or disappointed. We set out, 4-5-1 to hold the game to 0-0, and thanks to a solid defensive effort we did OK at holding them at bay. United aren’t the great side they were 6 years ago, but they’re still a lot better than we are. A goal was inevitable, despite our diligence at defending.

United’s subs were Ronaldo and Heinze. Ours were mostly kids - Luke and Gary Cahill. Though Nobby Solano came on once we were behind.

I imagine most people will have, or soon will, see the TV highlights, so there’s not much point going over the details. Save for mentioning good performances from Liam Ridgewell, Gareth Barry, Tommy - our man of the match, and an improvement by Gav after last week. The ref, P. O’Dowd was not too hot, but didn’t change the result, so that’s some consolation, I suppose.

For the sake of a link with last season, I feel obliged to mention the continuing appalling state of the rail network. Emergency Engineering works and an “incident on the line” meant more travel turmoil for Risso and myself.

Oh and we did have a shot. Just the one, but like 1983, I can say “I was there”

Some player mark/comment thingies

Tommy S - 8.5 MoTM - safe and secure. Unlucky to be on the losing side. Extra browny points for being the only player to wander over to the travelling Villans at the end of the game. Nice one Tom.

Aaron Hughes - 6.5 - solid.
Jlloyd - 5 (Eric Djemba Djemba 1st half sub - 6) Jlloyd was injured by a bad and unpunished Keane tackle.
Olly - 6 Hmmm
Ridge 7.5 - he’s has some deserved and some undesrved stick, but he was the business today.

Barry 7.5 (moved to LB when JLS - 6) got injured - good game, as usual at O.T. for Gareth. In a game where our passing was often careless and wasteful he was an exception, and he defended well, too

Gav - 6. Better, less careless passes, but still some way short of his best. He needs games, I guess.
Stevie D - 5.5 - a mixture of his usual good touch, but some wasteful passing. Some good runs off the ball, but not seen by...
Whitts - 5 - worked hard, did well for 50 minutes apart from some poor use of the ball. 3 times wasted dangerous possession. His sloppy pass led to their break for the goal. Concentrate. Peter. (Luke on for the last 15 mins - 5) 
Ulisses - 5 - anonymous. (Nobby - 6. The guile is there. Wonder why he didn’t start?) 

JPA - 5 alone up front for most of the game. Spent his time in Rio Ferdinand’s pocket.

I thought we’d get gubbed, before the game, so I guess the result was less bad than predicted. But it was still a nailed on cert. we’d lose.

That needs to change, but it’ll be a while till that happens.

USA 1, England nil. And I really don’t care.


Monday, June 20, 2005

He Who Would Valium Take


This little missive is not a result of any deep thinking on my part, and in many ways I am going slightly against my own intuition, but something’s just sort of bugging me, so I thought I’d write this to scratch the itch as much as anything.

Right then, here’s some random thoughts .

Firstly, We’ve been wanting Ellis out of the club for, well, since he came back in the early 80’s basically. So why do so many of the people who recognise his negaitive impact on the club seem to be muttering that things are “even worse” at a time when the old scrote is absent ill? On this one I don’t agree. I think we’re better off with Steve Stride doing the admin on transfers than Ellis, for the time being. Longer term we need a properly professional CEO (we did have one, but he resigned).

But for just now who would you rather represent Villa alongside the manager when talking to prospective signings? - Ellis or Stride? It’s a walk over for the administrator over the egotist every day isn’t it?

Second niggle is the concentration on “so and so have been linked with player X”

Yeah, and?

I know it’s the summer and we have to talk about something (we’re told by the papers who of course have an interest in selling copies)

A newspaper reporter fills half a page with a rumour that would get short shrift if one of us posted the same story on the messageboard and yet we work ourselves into a ferment because another club were “said” to be ahead of us in the queue.

Silly season? Well named.

Third thought - The good is getting swamped by the gloom. I’m not doing a sales pitch here, but nevertheless there’s something worth quietly pointing out. It’s this. Customer service. 

Each year for the past 2 or 3 closed seasons the club has been getting a few things more right (less wrong?) in terms of looking after the matchgoing “customer”

Season ticket prices are, for England, “competitive” and appropriate for the circumstances and aims of the club (and fans). We have a big, not quite full ground. We have a very large, but reticent, and sceptical fanbase. The prices and schemes available are in my view pretty much spot on.
The cost of a season ticket is reasonable, there are deals for various groups such as children, students, post-students, and so on. The facilities for disabled people are apparently excellent. All this is not “headline” stuff, But it’s all important. Aston Villa is a leader I feel in this field.

The website thingy for season ticket renewal is however a disgrace - it seems to be inoperative for a start. Big black mark there. What’s the point on offering internet extras for renewing on-line when the flipping on-line site is duff and renewal therefore impossible this way?

Another further evolved innovation is the away ticket scheme. It started off as a service for regular away travellers, whereby the club would post you a ticket for every away game if you (at no cost) registered (you had to be a season ticket holder).

Then last year they introduced a “5 returns and you’re out” policy. Sensible I suppose.

This next season we have to pay 25 quid for the first time to join the scheme. No-one likes paying for something that used to be free, BUT, you will be able to tell the club up front which games not to send you tickets for (once the fixtures are announced). So for the price of postage
plus a quid a game to cover admin costs the regular away fans will be able to get their tickets for the away games they want, and only the games they want, automatically sent. There will be mishaps due to Sky and the Police no doubt, but the combination of service to the fans and covering costs is good, Very good, Ahead of the game again.

One of the big improvements to my mind last season was the away ticketing. The club seemed more attuned to the demand from supporters, and anecdotally ( I haven’t collected figures) the away allocations we took and sold out seemed bigger and better. There’s nothing winds me up more than Villa taking reduced allocations for matches and loads of fans who want to go being unable to. It used to happen a lot. Now I think it’s not so much of a problem.

Anyway, enough about ticketing.

What about the stuff we all talk about? Players.

Here the news is less encouraging, given the eagerness of the club to tell us all about “substantial funds” a couple of months ago.
What we’ve seen so far is business as usual for Villa in recent years. A couple of low price players in and a couple of players out for no fee.
We haven’t as yet shown any sign of landing any of the “quality players” we were led by the club to expect. But there’s time yet. I expect the next couple of weeks to be the sign of whether the talk was just that, or whether there really is an intent to return to putting improving the football team first and foremost as the objective of the board.

I quite like the notion of Newcastle paying over the odds for the “hyped” players like Scott Parker, potentially excellent as he may become, while we seek out and add quality away from the press’s recycled whirl of the same old names.

Mellberg, Laursen, even JPA - almost none of us where aware they were available until seemed certain to sign them. They hadn’t been endlessly “linked” with Liverpool Newcastle Everton and Spurs in the cosy agent-paper rumour generating round.

So for now, I’ll wait and see, and hope to be pleasantly surprised.


Monday, May 16, 2005

TPA - Liverpool Away Match Report


Mercifully the last of these rambles for at least a month or 3 

So the last day of the season and with all left to play for (for other teams), off I went to Theme Park Anfield, with 3000 other Villans to see whether it would be Three Points Away, or Throw Points Away for our patched up team. When the team was announced over The PA, it turned out that Eric Djemba Djemba had kept his place after his second half last week, Jlloyd had lost his unsurprisingly, and Mark Delaney was again a makeshift left centre half. There was no Three pronged Attack, just JPA and Darius.

The game started brightly for Villa, with the team looking lively, as Anfield settled into quietness. Gradually Liverpool worked their way on top and with Villa looking disorganised at the back, something was bound to give, It did. After 19 minutes, a fairly needless lunge by Delaney on Cisse gave them a penalty. Cisse scored easily enough. 10 minutes later, more poor defending left Cisse again to score from just inside the box, with the defenders not doing their job well enough. Barry was beaten for pace on their right and the cross found Cisse unmarked.

Vassel had not been in the game at all, and JPA was not doing much on his own.

Still, second half, we'd be attacking our own support - many conga-ing in fancy dress or taking the mickey out of a fat redscouse in the main stand.

Luke came on for Darius at HT, and the other 2 subs - Cole for JPA and JLloyd for Hendrie also didn't have to wait long to get on.

Anyway, the result of this changing around was that after a period of meandering nowhere the game came to life a bit, Villa started putting pressure on the Liverpool defence, and with Nobby and Davis both alert lively and clever, we scored from a nice move. Barry lashing in from Nobby's headed pass. Liverpool his the bar, the ball going behind, and Riise hit a tremendous long range shot which just missed. But Villa were making Liverpool panic at the back, in a way sadly familiar to Villa fans this season.

Luke hit the bar with a header over Carson, Cole shot wide, other moves just failed to be finished off. But we gave it a go.

And the game ended. Liverpool did a lap of honour prior to their Eurotelly Cup final (good luck to them by the way) to more noise than the crowd made while the game was on.

The Villa players too, said their farewells for the summer. Top marks to our 2 Danes for casting their sweaty kit into the away throng.

So that's it. No more grotty North West trains for a few months, no more "why did I bothers", no more unexpected triumphs or defeats.

It's been OK I suppose. 10th place is about where we deserved to finish. The players with a few exceptions in some games, tried their best. We had hardly a team with all the centre backs and forwards fit all season, and there has been much mucking about with the midfield too.

In the warm sun it was good to see Gav on the bench, Steven Davis continue to grow as a real find, and many of the Villans even cheered West Brom's survival, when it was announced.

Some marks for today

Thomas - 7 did well. Not at fault for either goal
Ulises - looked fine 6
Gareth Barry - 7. Plays the Captain's role well.
Martin Laursen - Accomplished - 7.5
Mark Delaney - 5 (but on the left in the centre he's well out of position)
Nobby 7.5 - He's class
Lee - 5 quiet (Jlloyd 6)
Steven Davis - 7 - getting better and better.
Darius 4 invisible (Luke 6 - made a difference. Unlucky on a coule of occasions not to score)
JPA 4 likewise, really (Cole 7 - looked good, played well and caused trouble).


Sunday, April 03, 2005

Don’t Fight It, Feel It - Newcastle Match Report


Yep, an extraordinary day alright. Those present witnessed something not seen for a very long time. I don’t mean of course the sunny weather in Tyneside, or indeed the ascent of the 195 steps to my seat at the back row of the upper tier of L7 at St Zebra’s park. No, the thing that was really quite extra-ordinary was something that happened on the pitch.

Villa absolutely dominated an away game, played the other team off the park. So much so, in fact that three of the opposition decided they wouldn’t actually stay on the field of play. 2 of them for, quite ridiculously, stupidly having a bit of a tantrum and fighting with each other. That the two “combatants” were Lee “rat-boy” Bowyer and Kieron “Diamond Earrings” Dyer will come as no surprise to anyone at all.

But more of that later. First the match, proper. Within 4 minutes of the kick off, Villa had a throw down the right hand side. Delaney to Davis, curling cross swung in towards Vassel, poor clearing header from the centre-back and JPA, back in the side after injury, adjusted his feet and absolutely belted the ball past Given to give the Villans in the upper slopes cause for leaping around and chanting “easy”. So we did.

Newcastle came at Villa quite strongly for a while, with Robert causing problems and our defence being dragged around a bit. Some solid tackling and bodies flung in the way, as well as a good save from Tommy S, held on to our lead. It wasn’t like it normally is though - Villa’s use of the ball, controlled football and quick movement was causing more problems for them, than they were to us.
In the first half we had, apart from the goal, 3 other really good chances. All fell to Barry. He hit the post with one right foot shot after cutting inside, volleyed over after chasing after a lobbed flick on from Darius and had another effort superbly blocked by their defender.
Newcastles main threat was from free kicks by Robert. With Shearer either winning or conceding a free kick just about each time he challenged for the ball, they had a few pot shots, but all were blocked, wide or saved. Dyer, too had a chance which he put wide.

So second half, could we get a second? Ridge was on for Olly at H-T.
Villa played better and better as the game went on, Vassels pace was the difference, but with the whole team playing well, and being well organised it was a joy to watch.
Darius charged down a defender, nicked the ball away, rounded Given, took the ball in on goal and was sticking it in the net when another defender, having got back onto the line then handballed the shot away. Result red card and a penalty.
Barry stepped up and blasted the ball into the net.
5 minutes later, Vassel, again, burst through 2 defenders into the box, was tripped by Carr.
Barry again belted the ball unstoppably into the same corner.
3-0 to us and them with 10 men. We were cruising.

It was about this point that “rat-boy” decided he didn’t like Kieron.
The geordies who had already left would have missed the bout. Unfortunately I half did too, as I was watching the ball about to be thrown in. All I saw was Barry grab hold of the narky midget with anger management problems and haul him away from a ruckus, still swinging and raging.

The ref and both linesmen consulted. Rat boy went off, and Dyer who I hadn’t seen do anything was sent off too, after some consulting.

With only 8 men on the pitch to oppose them, Villa just strolled the rest of the game. Nobby came on for Lee. The whistle went.

A romp in the sun. Amazing.
Some marks, quickly,

Tommy 8 - excellent goalkeeping.
Mark Delaney - 7.5 What a relief to have him back.
JLloyd 6.5 - decent defending, one slip nearly cost us
Olly 7. (Ridge 6)
Martin Laursen - 8.5 Superb MotM (just)
Lee Hendrie. Brilliant second half, OK first. 7.5
Steve Davies - 7
Hitz 6
Barry 8. Very, very good.
JPA 6.5 tired and went off eventually after getting clouted in the fisog by a ball.
Darius 8 - looked fit, fast and committed.

And finally, the manager. Usually the view doesn’t allow you to see much of the tactics, but from on high at Newcastle you could see the way the centre halfs were tracking the forwards way out of the box, Delaney was tracking Robert, and the organisation was splendid. Well done to DO’L and RA.

I still can’t quite believe what I saw.


Saturday, January 29, 2005

Blind Vision


Inspired by something Drat posted, on VillaTalk (see links on right) I trundled through some old results for some quotes to illustrate how the attitude of the board/Ellis has changed in the last 5 years or so.

All quotes are from the Reports to shareholders - no newspaper stuff, just Herberts own words in the Clubs reports to its shareholders.

Herbert wrote:
26th January 1999

I believe that success on the pitch will bring commercial success and that can only be achieved by maintaining and strengthening the playing squad......Changes might be imminent which could see a further polarisation of additional finances to the most successful clubs. I would particularly refer you to the potential changes in European competitions and broadcasting rights, but also to the commercial spin offs that the successful clubs can exploit. Therefore, despite the current inflation in player costs following the Bosman changes, it is even more important that we continue to invest in the squad and have a team who can justify their billing as one of the top English clubs.....The strategy adopted will see salaries increasing for 1998/99 by in excess of 30%. This has been met by increased income in the first half year and the ability to continue to absorb those increases will be dependant on our final league position at the end of this season.

So he used to believe (or at least claim to) that it was necessary to invest in players to do well on and off the pitch

Herbert wrote:
23 January 2002
Much ill informed media comment has been made about our lack of investment in the squad. ....our pockets are not as deep as some other clubs, nor are we prepared to embark on the very high risk strategies employed by others. As a result we have had to mitigate substantial operating losses by profitable player trading,,,In the four and half year period to 30 November 2001 over £28m net transfer fees has been expended....

Change of emphasis there, for sure

Herbert wrote:
1 August 2003
The financial difficulties that I forecast in my previous reports regarding excessive playing costs has hit many clubs hard. Most noticeably affected are, those clubs that have FA Premiership infrastructures but have lost that status, and others who have reached for the stars of the European Champions League but have fallen short and have had to retrench or seek alternative solutions.

The game is increasingly being divided by the financial resources available to clubs. Aston Villa continues to operate within its resources and this has made the challenge of competing regularly for honours but remaining financially stable extremely difficult.

Mark Ansell wrote:
1 August 2003
Aston Villa can no longer rely on profits on players sales to absorb excess player costs and has embarked on a strategy of reducing salary and amortisation costs....Recent and future purchases have and will be made with a strategy of reducing total player costs as soon as is commercially practicable.

More emphasis on cutting costs. Not much about increasing revenue, mind. Nothing at all really. Took it for granted, I guess.

Herbert wrote:
27 January 2004
it is my intention to relinquish the position of Chief Executive as and when a new Chief Executive is appointed.....the new Chief Executive will ....be responsible for developing and implementing the overall business strategy to meet ambitious growth targets which will build on the changes already in place in order to achieve our full commercial potential.

Ah there we go. Appoint someone to do this, er, I mean a new CEO, sorry.

Herbert wrote:
28 January 2005
In order to reduce both the wage bill and future amortisation costs, in 2003/04 the Board terminated the contracts of several players who could not command a first team place. Overall, staff costs are 7.1% lower compared to the same period last year

[Playing] Results have fluctuated considerably during the season with some exciting wins and some very disappointing defeats which saw us in 5th position in the League on 22 November and 11th position now

It has proved difficult to secure the availability of the right players at the right price. The Manager and Board would rather defer purchases until the end of the season unless the opportunity arises which satisfies these criteria. Funds which are not utilised during the current transfer window will be added to those made available during the next close season. However, the Club does not have the level of funding of some of the big spending clubs and must therefore spend its resources prudently and continue to supplement the squad with loan players....

So there you have it in Ellis's own words. We used to try and compete, and now we have a plan to cut costs. We missed the boat, so he's given up (look at the top quote for the comparison)
And strangely we have a small squad and the results have fluctuated (injuries anyone?)

All this is, in his own words, makes another pretty good case to say why he should go, I think.

I used a song title (again) for this article, but I do wonder whether others will ever see past another song title - "The Only One I Know"


Sunday, January 23, 2005

What if we give it away? - Man Utd Away Report & Ratings


Man Utd 3 Aston Villa 1,
FA Barclays Premiership,
Old Trafford.

After a short break for excursions to other parts, the North West match reports return in the form of this offering from Trafford borough.

And they wouldn't be what they were without mention of the shocking train "service".

I walked up to the local train station to get the 11:07 to Manchester, only to find it had broken down and was cancelled. With no chance of another train for at least an hour, my trusty red car was called into action. So off we trundled.. Luckily it's not far to Manchester from Lytham, so I was able to park up and walk to the pub in the centre of town by about 12:20.

Meeting up with Jon, who nipped in from Macc just for a pint or two and a chat (good effort!), and Risso who was also going to the game, we spent an hour or so talking about what we should expect - would it be 4-5-1 (it was) and all things Villa. Most agreeable - and the Robinson's bitter wasn't bad either.

On to the game, and after a short tram ride we found ourselves in the usual away corner and a goal down after only 8 or so minutes.

A simple move by United, defenders not tracking their men and Ronaldo shot from about 12 yards past Tommy. Nice of us to give him all that time and space, but pretty rudimentary bad defending. Delaney got hurt trying to dive across to get a tackle in. He went off shortly afterwards, to be replaced by Uli.

The rest of the first half was failry even. Both sides pushing forwards, Carroll saved well from Solano after a corner, Hendrie powered a shot just wide and Barry landed a peach of a cross on JPA's head, but his header was directed straight at the keeper. United too had several good attacks. Keane was booked for a nasty tackle on Hendrie (who was later booked himself).

Half time, 1-0 to them. One suggestion was to take off Berson (also booked) and put on Hitz, to give us a bit more of a goal threat.

This is what happened. And within 6 or 7 minutes of the restart we were level. Some good passing and Barry cut in from the left and whacked a well hit shot right into the bottom corner. Nice finish, perhaps Carroll might have saved it.

For the next 15 minutes or so, Villa looked the better, more adventurous side. Hendrie was breaking forwards well, JPA was doing well, and was being supported by Barry and L'il Lee, with Nobby and Uli also giving back up. Hitz shot at Carroll.
It was by no means all Villa - United, while being a long way short of their best sides of the past 10 years are still full of quality players and Scholes, Keane and Ronaldo were notably good for them. Ronaldo has a really nasty diving habit, and he and Ridge were both booked after the Winger retaliated against what he saw as a foul.

Unfortunately for Villa, typical of a side with a bad away record, having done so well to fight back into the game, they then made 2 really stuipd errors to give United 2 goals in a minute. First Davis tried a little flicked pass, which was read and intercepted. Not wise just outside your own box. From the run down our left a cross came in and I think an own goal was scored, although the announcer said it was Saha. 2-1

Within seconds, more clown like defending resulting in a shot straight at Tommy, which he pushed straight up into the air for Scholes to nod into the net from about 6 yards.

Game over, Fergie took off Rooney and Ronaldo and brought on Giggs and O'Shea. Nobby (another booked player) went off for us, and Luke Moore came on.

Jlloyd had picked up his 5th booking of the season for chiopping down Ronaldo, and so will miss Fulham away.
Both teams still had chances, although some of the fight had drained from a few Villa players. Another Barry shot was not properly saved by Carroll, and Luke missed the rebound, coming at him quickly, from 6 yards. Not good.

I know everyone mentions how quiet Old Trafford is, but it really is amazing for 64,000 United fans to make so little noise. the 3000 Villans in the away corner were much more vocal, despite our lamentable away record.

Some Marks

TS 4.5 - Goalies are meant to save goals, not gift them. He's a good keeper, tommy, but he does have a habit of letting in stuff he shouldn't from time to time.

Mark Delaney (not on llong enough) subbed by Uli - 6

JLloyd - 6 - hopefully the rest from the suspension will give him time to improve his groin injury.

Liam 6

Olly 7. Risso was right to say he played well, but is not a natural leader

Nobby 5. Away from home he is not the same player. Worked hard defensively, some "almost" passes that would have been brilliant, but didn't quite get there. Might have had a penalty if it had been at VP. subbed by Luke Moore 4.5, poor, to be honest.

Lee 7.5 - played very well. In his best role as the attacking midfielder in the centre he was the main creator and linker of play. Obviously better when we are going forwards than defending.

Berson 6 (OK' ish . Got booked) subbed by Hitz HT sub 6. More adventurous than Berson, but lets people run past him too easily at times.

Gareth Barry 7.5 (MotM, just, for Villa) I think he's playing as well recently as he has ever. His game has changed a bit, he looks to score more, but still created chances and defended well too.

Steven Davis 5. looked a bit over-awed at times, but still put in the effort and has the talent. He's a good little player, alright.

JPA 6 - This lone striker business is a killer for him, but he looked less out of sorts than in some games.

So another visit to OT is done with. There's not much soul to the place, this megalith of marketing and day-trippers. Most peculiar.

Maybe they only really rouse themselves for European games and games against their ore immediate competitors, but I do wonder whether the "Red machine" isn't corroding away a bit.

We could have got a draw today, but for some joke defending, lacking in concentration, but I think some of the red teams of old would have given us a tonking.


Saturday, January 08, 2005

Bluster - Sheffield United Away


A rather windswept report, this one, from Bramall Lane

Right then, this isn't going to be easy.

I went to Sheffield today to watch the Villa away in the FA Cup. I left home at 9 O'Clock this morning, with the wind in the North West not so much tearing the leaves from the trees, as tearing the branches from the trunks. And just for show it was hurling hailstones horizontally at anything still bolted down.

Trepidation about making a journey in these conditions was matched by my trepidation for what I would probably witness.

As it happens part of the trepidation was misplaced - the journey wasn't too bad, as the weather eased off towards the east.

But on the pitch, Oh dearie, dearie me. After a couple of pints of Timothy Taylor Landlord (splendid) with Ian (Drat) from this board, and his son and daughter I was feeling quite relaxed. It didn't last long.
The two teams had taken to the pitch for the early o'clock TV game in front of a half full stadium. It was a shame to see huge expanses of empty seats, as well as a bit of a surprise at just how many there were. What with Sheffield United being on a good run and renowned cup battlers with a number of Premier league club scalps to their name in recent seasons.
Enter the timid and half hearted, out of form, away day pushovers that Aston Villa have become.

Most of the people who read this will, I guess have seen the match either on the box, or at the ground. So I won't bother too much with the details, save to say that by half time we could quite reasonably have been 2 goals down. We had little grip on midfield, the forwards were unable to hold the ball up and the defence was a mixture of lacadaisical defending and confusion.

Tommy saved a number of times from forwards clean through, or unchallenged with good opportunities to score. And one blinding save from a header.

The comedy linesman down our end didn't help, giving Sheffield corners when the ball was still clearly in play and then in the second half he gave a goal kick to them for one of the most obvious corners you'll ever see. Luckily on that occasion even the Ref, who was poor, could see it was a corner. But I digress.

Only Gareth Barry looked to be a threat, attacking wise. Cole was simply dreadful, outjumped and outfought by tiny wee Wrighty (who had a good game and was well recieved by the Villa fans). JPA is no longer a "striker", he's become just a bloke who plays up front and lays the ball off. No goal threat at all.
Nobby might as well not have been on the pitch. Gav was patchy, Lee not involved much. In defence Delaney was wandering about at right back, often out of position.
JLloyd was half asleep and his passing dire. Olly, the Captain got on with his own game, but provided no inspiration.

Still 0-0 at half time. What would DO'L do?

Second half we scored after a minute. Gareth Barry finishing off a quick move with a powerful right foot Volley. Gav went off and Berson came on. But being Villa we immediately let Sheffield United score from a corner. Not great marking. But Villa were better than in the first half at this point and were getting more into the game and pressing for a second. The passing was more on the deck. Nobby went off and Davies came on. Further improvement. Cole off Luke on. Hurrah!

And then a shot by Barry hit the hand of a defender outside the box. "Play on" You're kidding?
United broke down Samuels side the lad shot, the ball went under Tommy I think, and despite looking a tad offside, the goal was allowed.

As Villa pressed Alan Wright clearly handled a JPA pass in the area. Again no hand-ball given. This one was cast iron.
Then another break away by United a minute later and it's 3-1. Was the shot deflected, or did it bounce strangely? I couldn't see clearly, but again I thought it might have been saved.

By now heads had dropped, and Lee's had got a bit hotter.

So what to make of it?
First Well done to Sheffield United- they were deserved winners and showed way more fight and character than did Villa. They created more chances, and despite being helped by the ref, twice, there can be no claims of "we wuz robbed".
Second, the reaction of the players and fans at the end. The fans were singing "you're not fit to wear the shirt" and banging the seats in sheer displeasure at the performance. I joined in with neither, but I could sympathise. It tells you all you need to know about Villa at the moment though. Unhappy and lacking in harmony.

As the players skulked off, only Mark Delaney and Tommy even bothered to acknowledge the Villa fans. I think the rest realised they weren't going to get any thanks back.

The team is out of form, on a bad run. When that happens, as it does to all teams sooner or later, I want to see their character and effort and commitment. In too many it was absent. And probably absent before the start.

So here is the roll call of dishonour:

Tommy - 5 - one good save, tried to keep play going. Should have saved at least one of the last 2 goals, and probably both. Effort & character OK.
Mark Delaney. 5 - still half in Centre half mode. Confused positioning. A mixture of decent defending and offering nothing going forward.
JLloyd. 4. Slack, poor passing, gave up.
Olly - 6. Character was there, defended OK. But as Captain I want to see him doing some sorting out of underperforming colleagues.
Liam - 5 made mistakes. Head dropped. Young lad learning, benefit of the doubt.

Gav. 6. went off after about 50 minutes. Nothing special while he was on, but has the necessary "heart".
Nobby. 4. AWOL most of the game. Doesn't seem to turn it on away from home. Not good enough from someone as good as he can be.
Lee. 5. Got more involved as the game progressed. No problem with his head dropping. Kept trying.
Gareth Barry. 7. Our only threat and only creator. Scored, tried, played well. Let down by his team mates. He's not in the best form of his life, but the will was there, where it was so absent from others. Well done Sir.
JPA - 4. Never remotely looked like scoring or even even a threat really. Seems to be content with "link up play". Little service, mind.
Carlton Cole. 3. If it wasn't for the fact that there is no-one else I'd send him back to Chelsea forthwith. Look interested? No. Hold the ball up? No. Pass to team mates? Once or twice at most. Work back and help? No. Be ashamed, Carlton Cole.

Stevie Davies. Well done. You cared. 7
Berson. Quite good for 15 minutes. Poor for the other 25.
luke 5. Had a half chance, or could have passed to Barry, but mishit an attempted shot on the turn. A bit rabbit in the headlights, I thought. But he's a kid. 18.

And the manager? says he's got an honest bunch of lad's. He's lying. They cheated us and him today, most of them. He did sort out the problems at half time - preventing Sheffield from having as much of the ball in midfield. The tools he has to work with are those of an unambitious mid table club. The lack of strikers is a massive handicap, There's no back up
left back, other than moving someone out of position. We need another centre half.

The deep rooted long term problems of the way the club is run are getting to him as they inevitably would. He's looked after his staff, protects his players in public and has my support. nevertheless I want to see us turn it round. He struggled to do this at Leeds when they went on a bad run, and appears to be having the same problem at Villa.
It's a concern.

It's also true that largely the players are the same ones who were so poor away from home under GT, too. He sorted it out last season, but the meekness has returned.
I don't know the answer, but I pay to watch, I'm not paid to sort it out.

At the end of this bluster what I want to see is improved character and fibre from the players, No strolling about, seemingly uncaring or unwilling to work hard on their own games and to help their team mates. I want to see DO'L make changes earlier when things go wrong. He needs, in my view, to lay the law down to a number of them. Stop talking down those not in the team, make the ones in the team afraid for their places.

And Ellis stand down, appeal for new people to come in take the club forward. You have failed, and failed and failed. Get out.



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