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2006 Away Match Reports

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Turn On the Bright Lights - Spurs away report


Slightly later than normal, due to the intervention of Christmas "trimmings" here's the match report from the game at Spurs yesterday.

London, you've got to love it, haven't you. I mean there it is bloomin miles away from the chilly north, at the end of a succession of motorways, complete with roadworks and associated queues, and the Police seem to want games there on boxing day to start far too early - certainly not at a convenient time like 3 pm.

Still, I got there in time. And London has got a ferris wheel by the stream, and I think the post office there has a new collection of commemorative stamps - probably celebrating the fact that the ground of a London team called England is now into it's second decade of being built, or something.

Anyway, it's been a while since I've been to Spurs - they've rebuilt the away end of the ground, so no more atmospheric but ancient wooden stand, instead they've done a good job of homogenising the ground into a 2 tiered enclosed affair. It's not bad at all, though no doubt they'd like it to be bigger. Then they could employ more stewards to tell people to sit down every 5 minutes.

The game? - Ah yes, the game. I didn't really fancy Villa to get anything from it, and that's how it turned out. Spurs are good at home, and Villa have found the effects of lack of numbers and quality catching up on us.

For the first half, certainly we matched Spurs. We were competitive in midfield, and neither set of forwards was getting much from their opposing defenders.
Villa despite the announcer initially claiming that Lee Hendrie would playing! had a similar side to the Man U game, except for Baros replacing Sutton.

The action in the frst half mostly centred around midfield. Gav was excellent, accompanid by Craig Gardner in the middle the two of them were winning a lot of ball, and Steve Davis was right on form - energetic, good feet and despite again being played on the left, he looked a classy player. Gareth Barry at Left Back was equally excellent, and the game to and fro'ed with neither keeper being particularly troubled. Gabby got through (almost) a couple of times, but Robinson dashed out and smothered. Kiraly for us had a couple of shots to save from Spurs lively looking forwards. They both impressedme - Berbatov hasa fantastic touch and Defoe was all twists and turns and runs off.

Unfortunatly as H-T approached, Mellberg and Hughes collided in throwing themselves in front of a Berbatov shot, and both were doomed to go off injured - Hughes on a stretcher straight away, and Mellberg at H-T, limping badly. From my view in the lower corner it looked like Olly got hughes studs in his thigh, and Hughes got clattered on his knee. Ridge came on for Hughes, with Olly doing 10 minutes at Right Back, till half time.

So the second half started with Gardner moved to Right Back, Bouma on at Left back, Barry moved to Left mid, Davis to right mid, Petrov (who had played poorly) off, and Baros and Gabby still up front. Oh and Ozzy on (for Stan).

It took maybe 12 minutes for Spurs to score. We lost the ball in midfield, it was knocked back through and Defoe was clean through and scored. Can't blame Kiraly, but the initial pass lost was careless and the defence napping a tad.

Unfortunately Spurs started to create a bit more, with their forwards certainly enlivened. They duly scored a second - another good goal from Defoe, beating Cahill and lashing in.

But Villa didn't give up, despte the 2 goal deficit, despite the injuries and re-organisation.

Gareth Barry wriggled past about 3 defenders, shimmied Robinson and rolled the ball into the bottom corner in front of me.
So the game heated up a notch, Martin O'Neill was waving Villa to get forwards at every opportunity, but the pressure came to nought.

So what to make of it all?

Well, positives and negatives. In no particular order.
Spurs are a decent side, and will do well. Their forwards are good, Ledley King was excellent and they deserved to win, just about.
The ref, Uriah Rennie, had a very good game. When he first started in the Prem, I liked him - he was up with play, explained what was going on, and seemed in control. Then he went pants - I'd fear getting him in a game, because he seemed to make random, "look at me" decisions, and to never make it clear why. Yesterday though, he was very good.
But that's enough about the scenery, what about the Villa picture? - Gareth Barry continues to look a class above, whatever position he's in. Though he does have a habit of making one error a game at L-B that could cost us - a loose header on Saturday, a blocked pass yesterday. He's worth his weight in gold, mind.
I was impressed too by Craig Gardner, he loves a tackle, slotted in well at Right Back and well in midfield. He's beginning to learn from Gav, in terms of passing.
Steven Davis is another huge plus. He's had his rest, and is now back to his best.
Olly, of course, is Olly and Gary Cahill, though still learning, is quality.
But then we get to the problem areas. Everywhere else. Gabby has pace in abundance, but doesn't make the runs. Baros is mostly eager, but runs down blind alleys. Petrov has faded alarmingly - is he carrying an injury?
Ozzy is perhaps in a bit early, and needs to cotton on to passing the ball quickly and accurately. He's got some promise though.
Villa keep going, now. They don't give up, heads don't drop and the effort is exactly what it should be. With luck and with Mr Lerner's money, the quality of the Squad, and depth can be improved. There's a lot to do though.

I'm still a happy Villan, because there's hope things will be improved.

Oh and a word of thanks to the ticket office - we took a bigger allocation of tickets - apparently (so a Spurs steward said) 2900 Villa fans were there, rather than the 1500 minimum allocation. We didn't sell all the seats, but around 1400 more people got to go, than could otherwise have done.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

2+2=5 (the lukewarm) - Sheffield United Away Report


There's a few things that don't quite add up, from tonights game in Sheffield, and I severely doubt that this report will make them any clearer.

Have you ever seen a fat bloke do something that just moments later he'd feel a bit daft about?

Well I have. But we'll come to that later. Best to do things in their proper order.
It's monday night, it's Sky TV monday night football, so that'll be a less than full ground then and a dull game. Er, no actually. You see, Sheffield Utd saw sense. They charged 15 quid a ticket (£10 concessions) for this one. Well done sirs. So the ground and the away end looked pretty full from Row R. Aren't clubs supposed to rip us off? Not this United (though Man U don't seem to have cottoned on. 35 quid for a BBC FA cup game next month! but anyway...).

A slightly later than planned arrival in Sheffield was soon made up for amongst friends in the Red Lion. And good beer always helps, I find. Just the pesky raffle ticket seller to dodge (see numerous threads) though he did buy me a pint :).

Following the chat and drinks, a short walk to the ground, and we emerged into a Bramall Lane ground that has been smartened up a fair bit since the last visit. Best of all they've filled the corners in at the away end, so the chill winter winds don't take your breath away, or at least they wouldn't if it was cold. But it wasn't. It was warm-ish. Wierd.

Villa started with Baros and Sutton up front, Davis in for Gareth Barry.
And they started really well. Straight up and at 'em, and within a couple of minutes we'd scored. One thing that hasn't changed is the view from the way end, so I'm not sure who actually got the goal. It might have been Petrov, or Davis, or, er, Sutton. No one seemed to know. I thought Petrov.
Sutton caused trouble, the ball came out to the edge of the box and a deflected shot (all that could be wrong, I had a crap view). We had further chances and really should have scored at least one more. Sheff U looked well dodgy at the back. Sutton missed the best one.
Late on Sheff U had a chance but the lad whacked it wide. It was noticeable that though he was doing OK, Bouma was having difficulty stopping crosses coming in from his side. At half time I thought perhaps Warnock would be telling his team to make more of that flank.
As it happened, Shefield United started off the second half like we had the first, and after maybe 5 or 6 minutes of action (down the far end again) a huge throw was knocked in by a blade and the ground roared it's approval by singing about maggots and chip butties. There's now't as queer as folk (or sommat, like).

Truth be told the long throws, and they were long, were causing all kinds of problems.
They're not a long ball side, United, but they are direct, and after another 5 or 10 minutes they scored again. Someone hooking a volley in after more head tennis.
It was at this point that the fat bloke a Mr Patrick Kenny decided that he'd do a kind of strutting, giving it large, type of walk in front of us lot. Fair play, he'd been getting some stick about his domestic arrangements and lack of one eybrow, but before anyone could mutter up another chorus of you fat, er, fellow, Steven Davis lobbed a cross in, Sutton knocked it down and Baros lashed in. Kenny turned away and argued with a defender. We grinned.

Stuart Taylor made a couple of excellent saves, the game revolved around free kicks (every one having to be taken from exactly the right place) and no one scored any more goals.

A fair result, a game that would have kept the TV viewers interested, but something was lacking from the excitement. I think they call it football. Villa were again obdurate in the face of the onslaught. Warms the cockles, after so many seasons of meek surrenders.

Some marks.
Taylor - a couple of fine saves, some good catches and a mistake or two. Dodgy kicking. Throw it out sometimes. 7
Olly - 6. Solid
Bouma 6 (Hughes 6)
Gary Cahill - 6. Incredibly harshly booked.
Ridge 6 (went to LB when Boma went off)
Gaby - 5 - didn't get in the game
Steven Davis- 5. He's not a left sided player. He's wasted out there, but did a job.
Gav - 6. Started really well, but as the game went on had less influence.
Stan - 7. Classy touches and turns. Good free kicks. Good game from him.
Sutton 7 - showed all his experience and class. (JPA on late not enough time to mark)
Baros - 7 - crikey. He looked interested and played well.

Thanks to Sheff U for the ticket prices. See you next year. I think they'll stay up, just about.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Cold Wind - Wigan Away Report


Another handily local game, for me, even if the kick off time was handy for no-one, but Sky TV.

As is traditional with these match reports, I can remember more about the build up to the game, than about the game itself. Today perhaps that's no bad thing as the game was, as you'll probably know by now, scoreless.

To make up for the lack of goals perhaps, the pre-match build up started for myself and Paul "the Pants" Johnson on Saturday night. We decided to go for a couple of pints, meeting up at 7 in the (most excellent) Taps, in Lytham. As is often the way with these things "a couple of pints" turned out to be slightly more than a couple, but why not? Good beer, good pub, good company - can't beat it. Having missed my tea, I made do with wolfing down a chicken kebab. During the course of the conversation Paul offered to drive to Wigan, thus saving me from the travails of North West Trains replacement bus service, or of driving myself.

And so to this morning. We made the short trip to Wigan, and "the Anvil" pub for a couple of (excellent again) pints of nourishing ale.

A quick walk up to the "JJB" under clear blue skies, a chat in the ground with Drat, Villain and Chris and to our seats.

Stan Petrov was out, as was Laursen, and Gav, so Whitts came in on the left, with GB in the centre and Ozzy keeping his place. On the right we had the threat of Gabby.

Almost from the kick off, Wigan playing towards us would have scored but for a great save from Tommy, from a header by McCulloch. For the next 30 minutes Wigan were by far the dominant side - our midfield was not getting hold of the ball, and the defence looked shakey. Gary Cahill was, perhaps unsurprisingly looking a bit tentative in his second game back.

Fortunately for Villa, Henri Camara had replaced his shooting boots with a pair of bananas and as a result he lashed several good chances well wide. Tommy also made further saves.

In the last 15 minutes of the half we finally got a grip and the game became more even. Whitts might have scored, and JPA had a volley deflected wide.

The second half was similar to the first in that Wigan had control of the game for the first half hour, and then it evened up. Subs for Villa helped us in that respect - Whitts was replaced by Agathe, who did well, GB moved to the left and Stevie D came on into the middle (replacing JPA) also to good effect. Gabby moved into the middle.

In this second half our best chance fell to Gareth Barry who was put through by a nice "leave" by Sutton, but he lashed over with his right foot, when he should perhaps have gone across the keeper, or found Angel in the middle.

We had a fair bit of pressure late on, in front of the Villa fans, but the sequence of corners came to now't, and shots were blocked.

We shivered through to the end and collected a point, rather than dropping two points.

A result for being obdurate, rather than for any great flair, but a result all the same.

Some marks

Tommy - excellent - 8

Olly - passing not great on occasion - 6
Freddie Bouma - did quite well - 6
Ridge - Solid - 7
Gary Cahill - seemed nervous - 5

Gabby - took a while to get into the game, but got better as it went on -7
Whitts - another looking a bit timid - 5 (Agathe 7)
Ozzy - committed - 6
Gareth Barry - some lovely passes, better when moved left - 7

JPA - 5 (Steve Davis 6)
Sutton - 7

The ref, Steve Bennet, had a decent game - "sensible" I'd call it.

To all the fans who went, top marks and a woolly hat for chrimbo. And thanks to Paul.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Get Up, Stand Up - Everton Match Report


Just back from a proper late autumn's game at Goodison, I thought I'd jot down a few match related musings
You'll know by now, no doubt, that Villa won today. 1-0 courtesy of Chris (not a bluenose anymore) Sutton's neat glancing header from Ozzy's cross, but what you won't perhaps know, unless you were there was the nature of the performance, and what, to me at least it showed.

The day started with the short trek from Lytham to Liverpool on the local train, and a convivial meet up in the pub with fellow north west Villans Bicks, Jon and Jim, Jon's brother. Drinks were taken and chat ensued. We knew that Gary Cahill would be starting, thanks to another friend, Drat from VillaTalk, and felt that Olly would be at right back, but were unsure as to how the rest of the team would line up.

After a Taxi ride to the ground, just in time for kick off we saw that Olly had indeed moved to right back, Gary C and Ridge were in the centre with Freddie Bouma at left back, With Gareth Barry out injured, Stan Petrov was on the left, Ozzy and Gav in the centre and Gabby out right. The front two were JPA and Chris Sutton.

With the wind working up a fair old bluster, rain sweeping in and the Evertonians and Villans huddling in the old ground, I thought two things - 1. it would likely not be a classic match, and 2. Jon really, really, shouldn't have left his coat in the pub.

The first 20 minutes or so were fairly even and involved much "competing", with both sides seeking to get the upper hand, but not much actually happening. It was absorbing, though.

It was Villa, kicking into the wind (when it wasn't swirling) who wrestled control. Much of this was due to the midfield 3 of Gav, Ozzy and Petrov, but it was also clear that Olly, and Gaz and Ridge were on top of their opponents.

Some long range shooting from Stan Petrov and a few efforts from Everton didn't really trouble either keeper, but Villa were on top and were creating chances of making chances, without quite getting there.

Other factors at play were an inconsistent ref, and an unfortunate collision between 2 Everton players, which led to a 5 minute hold up while Tim Cahill was gingerly stretchered off. Hope he recovers soon, he's a good player. Beattie came on in his stead.

Shortly before half time Mellberg, I think, knocked a ball for Gabby to chase, against Lescott. He won the race (natch) laid it back to Isiah Osbourne, and Ozzy's cross was nicely glanced in by Sutton. No power, but the placement was perfect. 1-0.

We had a couple of other chances, but couldn't get the second we might have deserved.

Second half saw more Everton pressure than the first, but Tommy in goal had little to do, such was the excellence of the defence, ably assisted by all of the midfield and forwards.

The rain increased in ferocity, Evertonians roused themselves to egg their side on and the away section sang away for our boys.

Despite some further dubious refereeing decisions we held out pretty well, with one spell of play deep into stoppage time seeing 3 Villa players hurl themselves to block a shot.

The whistle went and we'd won.

In a way the match won't make great TV viewing, or and game of the season lists, but it was hugely, hugely, pleasing.

Why? - well on several levels. With players out injured we shuffled the small squad and the manager coaxed a real team performance out of every one of the players. Because Isiah Osbourne looked so much more at home than he had at Anfield. Because the tactics were spot on. Because we won at a place where we've not done too well in recent years. Because Everton had not lost at home in the league. Because we "bounced back" after a thumping at Chelsea in midweek, but because most of all, in the corresponding game last year we were dreadful, but this year the same squad, pretty much, raised their game and the fans and players were united in our aims.

We stood up for ourselves and came out on top.

Some marks.
Tommy - 7 - not busy, but a lesser mark would be harsh.

Olly- 7.5 - the best right back at the club
Gary Cahill - Splendid performance - 7.5
Ridge - Ditto - 7.5. It's heartening to see two young centre halves in total control of their job at an away game.
Freddie Bouma - decent 6.5

Gabby - 6. Didn't hold up the ball so well, but still a threat, and kept going, not letting his head drop. Good attitude
Gav - 7.5. Good stuff from Gav. Booked harshly, I thought.
Ozzy - 7.5. Now that's the stuff. A really good performance.
Stan Petrov 7.5 - Did extremely well out left

JPA - 6 - a real team performance, without threatening to score, but he put the shift in.
Chris Sutton - 7.5. Not that mobile, but those who saw the Blackburn game last week will know what he does. He did it again, and ran himself into the ground, as they all did.

Sub Steve Davis (Sutton) - only on for 5 minutes.
Sub Didier Agathe (JPA) - some good work - 6

Sometimes I feel people make too much of the cult of the manager, but Martin O'Neill deserves a huge dose of thanks for getting that level of performance from a tired and limited squad.

We got soaked on the walk back into town, but it was worth it. Thanks Villa.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Tonight The Monkey Dies


All teams lose games. It’s the norm rather than the exception, and so Villa returned to the realms of normality this afternoon. Deservedly so, too - Liverpool were the better side today, by a distance. The monkey of the last unbeaten record has gone.
Truth be told this was always going to be a tough, tough fixture - Liverpool having been easily beaten last week by Man Utd were always likely, I felt, to be wanting to make up to their supporters. Added to that their manager, unlike ours, has also been given a fair old bit of grief of late in order to fill up some newspaper columns and the the irrefutable fact that they have a squad packed with a lot more talent in depth than we do and all the signs were there.
It’s probably also worth pointing out that Villa, over the previous 2 or 3 games have started to look slightly less invincible than we were all beginning to believe in our new found moods of joy and optimism.
None of all that really matters when it comes to 22 blokes kicking a ball about on the pitch. All that really matters is that the skill, organisation, effort, commitment and endeavour of the two teams is put to the test and the best usually comes out on top unless the ref does something daft, as they sometimes can do.
Villa started still missing Gav in midfield, so young Ozzy kept his place from his debut at Leicester. Steven Davis was resting (rightly) on the bench. Freddie Bouma was at left back, with Gareth in midfield and Tommy returned in the goal.
For Liverpool, Peter Crouch and that very blond Dutch bloke played up front, and their side looked to have a real advantage in quality in midfield. This was to be proved throughout the game.
Kick off time arrived (fortunately not until after some very amenable scoops had been had in town, with JC, Bicks and Co. - the Cains IPA in Dr D’s was excellent), the Scousers waved their scarves about and sung along dutifully to YNWA, and the 3000 in the away corner shouted for our boys in, er, White and Light Blue.
Kicking towards us in the first half Liverpool looked to be first to every ball, and their midfield was running the game. Sissoko had a really good game for them, picking up all the lose balls, tackling, passing and running, and allowing Alonso to stroke the passes around. We didn’t really get near them for half an hour, but kept the score to nil nil due to the defense clearing away most of the danger. But we created absolutely nothing. Angel and Baros got no service, just some clearances to chase after. The ball kept coming back for more pressure.
After 30 minutes the dam broke. That blond Dutch feller scored from a good finish after a spot of pinball. The 5 minutes later or so the ref gave a soft fee-kick to liverpool and harshly booked Mellberg into the bargain. With too much time and space allowed for their midfield, a reverse pass out wide, a cross and Crouch with a slight mis-hit maybe scored on the half turn. JC said Olly missed the ball and he was probably right. It got worse though just before half time when Gerrard passed nicely for Garcia to score from about 8 yards.
45 minutes and we’d had one shot (off-target) and got a chasing. Ominous. We just weren’t in it at all.
The second half saw some changes for Villa - both Baros and Angel were taken off, and shortly afterwards Ozzy was replaced by Steven Davis. The Two ex-celtic players, Sutton and Agathe replaced the two invisible forwards.
Sutton did pretty well, giving their defenders more trouble than either JPA or Milan had done. He linked up well with Gabby, now playing through the middle and one two put Gabby through on goal. Only one outcome was possible, you just knew he’d score, but it was a good finish and we had got back at least touch of pride. Even so Liverpool continued to make chances, particularly down our right, where Aaron Hughes didn’t have the best of games.
Sutton brought a cracking save out of Reina, leaping to get to a header from a free kick that was surely going to go into the corner of the net.
We kept up the effort and the heads never once dropped, which was pleasing, but we were still not really “in” the game seriously, in terms of looking like getting level for more than a few minutes of pressure.
It’s often been like this at Anfield (and other away games) in recent years, but what was different was the fans - we recognise that before the season started and before the changes at the top we were looking at a relegation struggle, with our small squad and consequent lack of quality once a few players drop out. So at 3-1 down we were singing the manager’s name, accepting, I believe, that things are on the up, but there’s only so much that can be done without the opportunity to bring in more quality. It’ll take time. 
The game ended, a walk back to the station, a chat and a beer with a couple of familiar, friendly faces, a moan about the trains - they’re always a problem in the north west - engineering works never cease, it seems and then a mad dash as I realised I’d lingered slightly too long in the bar, but I (just) caught my train hoping that Villa can get back on track to our ultimate destination, too.
Some marks, to make up for the pitiful description of the match action
Tommy - 7. Blameless.
Aaron Hughes 3 - not at his best just now, too much seems to “happen” down his side.
Freddie Bouma - 5. OK on his first full game back
Olly - 5
Ridge 5
Gabby - 7 MoTM for Villa. As Drummond pointed out, he’s looking more like a footballer all the time, not just a sprinter.
Stan Petrov - 5
Ozzy - 3 - he was up against Sissoko who was the overall, excellent, MoTM and will have learnt a lot, I’d guess. He could be a good ‘un, but not quite yet at this level. (Steven Davis 6)
Gareth Barry - 5
JPA - 4 (Chris Sutton 6.5)
Milan Baros - 2 (Didier Agathe 6). Is it lack of matches and fitness, or is it disinterest? Hard to tell. 
Oh and the ref was a bit crap, but didn’t affect the result.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fables of the Reconstruction


There's a (allegedly Chinese) curse that says "may you live in interesting times". It seems to me that the Chinese must be alright, if their insults lead to what we've seen at Villa park these past few months.

It's worth casting the mind back to the summer just to realise how interesting times have been since then.

There we were in June and July, reading the thoughts of the Villa faithful. These thoughts ran (not quite exactly) along the lines of "I can’t take any more of this dull ambitionless Ellis and O'Leary inspired mediocrity, I'm off to saw my own legs off for a bit of light relief" - and that was just the players!

A quick look at the VillaTalk archives (link on the right) shows just how angry, depressed, frustrated and disillusioned we all were, almost without exception. The main Villa part of the site had almost turned into an off-shoot of the previously no more than pleasant and diverting "Off-Topic" forum, which had swollen to bursting point with people taking refuge from the storm of depressing mediocrity that had infested Villa park and taken deep root.

So things weren't good. They really weren't.

Since then we've had, so far, a steady and rapid journey back upwards. I've almost got the bends from the speed of the rise. It's been so dizzying that I can hardly believe that what went before ever really happened (even if it largely "not happening" lasted for 24 years).

To date the rise has almost entirely been an emotional one rather than a tangible one. Spirits have soared; the same small squad of players have looked more determined, more motivated, more organised and more competent than they ever did over a 10 game spell last season, or the season before.

Martin O'Neill has been universally welcomed by the supporters, players and other people at the club. The media have started talking more positively about the Villa and gates which were threatening to be pitiful, following lamentable season ticket sales pre- the change have more than recovered.

Off the pitch the speed with which Mr Lerner and his team have acted to address problems has been breathtaking at times:- 

Long overdue Training ground development lying stalled because the "ring-fenced" money set aside by Ellis was a fantasy? - Holy RSJs! The builders are only back in on the job the next day.

Derelict Holte Hotel decaying sadly behind the ground and shaming the club? - brew-up-lads-tastic! The workmen are in and refurbishment started, and with a sensible plan for what to use the place for. 

But the biggest change is the rediscovery of the soul of the club. It's the refreshing attitude of the new board and new manager.
We used to have a Chairman who said a lot and did little, now we have a Chairman who says little but does a lot.
We used to have a manager who made excuses and said the players were honest, but not good enough, now we've got a manager who has the players believing they can beat anyone, and if they don't beat 'em, they’re sure as heck not going to lose to 'em.
We had a Chairman who treated supporters with contempt and who seemed to see us as a wretched bunch whose sole purpose was to put funds into his coffers and tell him how munificent he was.
Now we have the General and Randy listening and talking and being interested in us as people, as part of the club, and now it's the Owner, like the fans, investing in the club.

I don't know what's going to happen next - will the ground be developed, will players be signed steadily, or in a big rush next summer, or not at all. In a strange way I don't care because I trust the people in charge to get it right, on and off the pitch. It's a long time since I've trusted the club, or since the club trusted us.

Like a Chinese meal, the "interesting times" curse leaves me wanting more - Bring it on.

And as a post script, I've found out today that Mr Lerner is going to pay for all coaches for fans to travel down to Chelsea for the League Cup match there in a couple of weeks. We have 6000 tickets for the match, which could mean a sizeable sum being spent. Wow.
Additionally General krulak, in charge of the day to day running of the Club is talking and listening to supporters, oth at matches and even on that new fangled internet thingy.
Quite astonishing, and quite, quite, excellent.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What's the colour of money?


Not writen for a bit, so now seems as good a time as any.

I got my cheque today from Mr Lerner, the new owner of the club.

I couldn't send my acceptance off fast enough in order to help in a tiny way, facilitate his taking over of Villa from Ellis and the previous board.

When he finally confirmed that he was in it was to great joy and relief from almost all the villans I know.

Ellis was a mix of, at best, well intentioned but incapable, and at worst selfish and self obsessed, and that'sbeing kind, I feel.

Of course, just now we're in the honeymoon period with the new american owner and his team. But so far all the signs are hugely encouraging. Without doing anything, the takeover has had a massive effect in boosting the whole mood of the place. For many of us it feels like we've got or club back, and that's enough.

But then there's the "action" already - the stalled training ground improvements are restarted already, plans are afoot for the renovation and restoration of the Old Holte Hotel (I used to go in there when it was a pub).

The fantastic new manager, attracted to Villa on the back of regime change and happier personal circumstances seems to be working magnificently with the players, and the results and performances have been hugely encouraging.

Suddenly, or it seems like suddenly, I've just got my love back for the club. And it's great.

So a belated thank you, and best wishes to Randy Lerner.

I've a feeling that a fair bit, if not all of the proceeds from the shares I thought I'd never sell will be finding it's way back into the account of Aston Villa FC (no Plc anymore :) )one way or another.

The colour of money? - Claret and Blue.


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Changes - a few thoughts after Arsenal


I went down to Arsenal yesterday and due to a trio of reasons I can't do a match report as such
1. I enjoyed quite a few pre-match scoops in the Twelve pins with some friends and acquaintances, and my memory of the detail is therefore somewhat hazy.
2. My seat was in row 4 - very near the front, so perspective of the game from that angle can be very misleading
3. Just about everyone but me will have seen it on the telly, I'd guess, by now, anyway and would know far better what actually happened!

So instead, I thought I'd just try and jot down a few thoughts, observations and impressions in a random order.

I like Arsenal, they're a club that generally act with a bit of class, behave in the way that you feel a famous old English club should. They're not penny pinchers. This was recently shown in the last game at Highbury when each supporter there found a T-shirt commemorating the game on their seat. Wigan the visitors were included too, with their shirts being blue, rather than red or white like the home fan's.
Their team under Wenger has been the one, that when it plays to its best has taken the entertainment in football to a completely new level. At times they are simply majestic.
So having expressed my admiration for them as a club who (largely) do things the right way, what did I make of the new ground?
Stunning, that's what. Just round the corner from Highbury, this huge structure rears out from the streets, all shiny metal and glass, sweeping curves and walkways.
Inside the attention to detail and "class" is again obvious. The seats are all padded, and noticeably larger than those in every other ground I've been to. The leg room is ample. The stewards were there to help, rather than to spoil anyone's enjoyment.
The obvious comparison is Man City's ground - it has the same type of light and airy feel, but the Emirates Stadium is bigger.
One thing that's lost is any kind of bear-pit atmosphere - but Highbury never had that anyway, in my experiences. There was plenty of noise when Arsenal scored though.
Top marks then for the stadium. The only concern would be the prices. One "Gooner" said that a lot of the games would be more expensive 46 quid instead of the 32 we (and he) paid yesterday.

But you didn't want to read all about the Arse, did you? What of Villa?

Well, er, not much different to be honest. Same players as last year, but all looking keen and eager at the start of the new season. Gareth Barry was (in my view rightly) the Captain, with King Olof left to marshall the defence with Ridge. This they did exceedingly well both were excellent. JLloyd had a busy old time defending against the rampaging runs of the Arsenal right back, but Aaron Hughes was a lot less busy - he saw off Lungberg pretty easily, and without Ashley Cole he didn't have the same amount of attacking to defend against. Henry didn't terrorise like he can do.

Sorenson played very well, and there were no communication cock-ups at the back whatsoever.

In midfield Gav and Steve Davis in the middle harried and chased, Gareth Barry joined them in breaking up play and closing down very effectively. Gabby on the right had his pace which we looked to use, but in truth he didn't get much chance to attack, and when he did he was easily dealt with by Arsenal.
Luke playing behind and to the left of JPA didn't much get in the game, and nor did JPA - basically defending from the front was their role as the game developed. They did it diligently, but were never given the service or able to threaten Arsenal much at all.

Of course we scored from a corner - a great ball in from Davis onto Olly's noggin' as their keeper and 2 defenders failed to get there.
But this brought increasing waves of Arsenal pressure, the post was rattled, saves made, and when Theo Walcott came on and gave Arsenal width on their left, to match that on their right side, a goal was inevitable. Gilberto whacked in from the angle.

But we hung on.

I was as interested to watch Martin O'Neill on the sidelines as any pattern of play, and he was there, waving and exhorting, and prowling. At the end, he came on to the pitch told all the Villa players to turn round and go and thank the fans. Matin Laursen threw his shirt to the crowd, and L'il Lee clambered over the barriers to do the same. Both had come on late on - Lee for Steven Davis after maybe 80 mins and Laursen with only a couple left.

So the effort commitment and organisation was there, and reward was gained. But equally we were no threat at all, bar a corner.

Perhaps the biggest change was in the Villans in the stands. Most if not all of us thought we'd lose, but that notwithstanding, the mood for the club and for the season was optimistic. It was epitomised by one fan with an old "Ellis Out" placard (one of Paul Barnes' to be exact, the A3 size) with "At Last" added in thick black marker.

Amen to that my friend, Amen to that.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Suddenly everything has changed


Now he's going I can hardly contain my excitement - Sad! Not me. I'm deliriously, joyously optimistically happy. I don't mind if we play pants all season, I don't mind if we end up in in division 3 or 2 or whatever they're now called, we've almost tangibly got our hope back, or at least I have. 

It's what he never ever realised, really, or had the wit to understand. Football is about the hopes and dreams of millions, not Ellis's hopes and dreams of millions of pounds. 

We're free of the shackles - it might go horribly wrong, it might go fantastically right, but we're not shackled any more. 

The point of sport is that you don't know what's gonna happen, and for all that people say"we're the Villa, anything could ruddy happen" we know that's not been true for a good while. 

Now were going to get that back. 

We knew that whoever the manager was, we'd be bored half the time, frustrated another quarter of the time and occasionally be happy-resentful that we finished 7th and 30 points behind the Sky teams. 

The roller coaster was just a flat ride at the ground level. 

"We can celebrate all we like" - too chuffin right. 

Who's he beaten? - No one. And that's the problem. What have we won, what baubles have we got in his donkeys years? not much to show. 

He's going to have a lot of money. He's done alright for himself, but that's how he is and what he is. 

A man who made a few quid by running a cut price enterprise which made it's money by selling a cheap product and cutting costs in the late 60s and early 70s was still working the same way 40 years later. 

Good riddance to bad rubbish. 

Turn the page, like in the fanzines of old and look forward to whatever comes next.


Rapid Ear Movement


The Lifting

I am mostly listening to "Cuyahoga" by R.E.M.

I want more of Life's Rich Pageant, please. The time of Reckoning is near, and there will soon be no more of Ellis's Fables of the Reconstruction

It started as just a Murmur, some people said it would be the end of the World as we know it, but I feel fine. The seemingly endlessly recurring Bad Day is drawing to a close.

Underneath the Bunker an old man, world leader pretend, still proclaims "I am Superman", but he's heading towards the Great Beyond as we reach the Endgame and he clutches the Final Straw. He'll be consoled by Strange Currencies from Little AmericaHalf a world away, as we all shout "Leave" and cheer his Departure, hoping in the Aftermath to make it all OK.

There's been so much Bang and Blame, plenty of suspicion and not much pretty persuasion.

The apologist is diminishedDisappear, to Ignorelandyou don't belong, but why not SmileSummer turns to high.

We're all laughing and we talk about the passion rekindled, you'll soon be the outsiders. We'd never been so Low, but now we're in Near wild heaven.  Hope is back and we walk unafraid

And so ends and begins the perfect circle.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Snipers at the gates of Doom


Well I never!

The fans of Aston Villa have been saying this for years, but now the players are joining in. On Friday, the squad released the following statement:- 

"We feel it should be a big club but if the chairman has got ambition, he needs to start showing it. It has to come from the top. 
"So many other clubs are doing so much to show their ambition apart from us. As players we're all ambitious and we want to improve on last season. The chairman should be behind the club and not working against what we're trying to achieve. There have been a series of cutbacks and we feel we have to mention this because they are now starting to affect us.
"At the end of last season, the chairman refused to pay #300 for the pitches to be watered. The training ground development, which we were all looking forward to working in, has stopped. 
"Now we have lost a masseur because the club refuse to pay for one and are clubbing together to pay for our own. 
"We have also heard that the physio, who was on his way to see Martin Laursen, could not claim back for a cup of coffee at the airport. 
"We've had no explanation for the cutbacks and we feel if the manager (David O'Leary) can't get one, then we have no chance. 
"Maybe the chairman thought he would have left by now because of the takeover. Supporters are concerned with what happens on the pitch and rightly so. 
"But we feel with all the cutbacks, it is difficult to attain the targets we all share.
"In the second half of last season, there was no investment in the team, a 
loan player - Eirik Bakke - was sent back to Leeds, and now we're unable to sign James Milner from Newcastle. 
"There are no positives coming out of the club. We need to see a plan where the club is going and all the players feel the same. Every penny is being watched."

All I can add is my thanks to them (and what to you so long?)

Interesting times

Let's hope that the end of the pompous, self serving time of Ellis at Villa is over and the club can get its soul and its life back.


Saturday, April 29, 2006

how does it make you feel? - Liverpool Away report


A weary, weary, end of season report from Anfield

I have barely got the mental energy left to write this, it’s been that kind of a season.

But seeing as the sun shone, and the Theme Park is my favourite away ground, I’ve just about crawled over the finishing line - much like the Villa.

First the good news. Good beer £1.25 in the pub near the ground. Seemed rude not too.

And now the bad news, or indifferent news. The match.

The pre-match scenario was pretty straightforward, really. We needed 1 point from our last 2 games to definitely stay up, but realistically, we were probably pretty secure already. So the interest was in whether small heath alliance or “Come on Pompey, Yes my babbies , come on, send the sh*t down F.C.” would be staying up. Obviously, I was strictly neutral in this matter.

Oh yes, our game, sorry. We kicked off and let a goal in. 3 minutes and 19 seconds said the Stevie Coppell sound-a-like on the PA.

Whatever the precise timing, the gap in which Morientes found himself was wider than a fat cockney wide boy on a wide awake course - think Danube Estuary. Even with all the pace of an oil tanker, there was no way a decent forward could do anything other than gently pack up his picnic table, wipe the last crumbs from his lips, empty his glass, shake his napkin and wave to a couple of friends nearby in the stands, before putting the ball confidently past Sorenson. This is what Morientes did (more or less - it was a good finish, but would perhaps have been made harder by the attendance of some defenders).

Not the best of starts.

The half proceeded, with Liverpool being easily good enough to have the majority of the play, kicking towards us. When we did get the ball we didn’t keep hold of it, and if we did, then Baros wasn’t really that interested. Not that we really got it to him much.

Half time, and the tannoy Coppell said all the other games were goal-less.

The second half started much better for Villa. We had put JPA on for the lacklustre Baros and the difference was marked. Touch movement, holding the ball up, picking out team mates. Marvellous. I remember we used to that sort of thing before, long ago. Can't remember much about, just vague images of happy fans. Strange, anyway.

And so we scored. After a period of pressure, Milner rolled the ball across from the wing, and Barry had a tap in at the far post. Made up perhaps for a headed miss in the first half, again from a Milner cross. JPA had made a serious difference.

Moments later, cock-up time in the Liverpool defence, not for the first time, and Gabby Agbonlahor, clean through, rushed his shot and hit it just wide.

Crikey. Liverpool had dozed off so much we were looking in with a shout.

Corner to Liverpool, Gerrard flicked it in at the near post. A few minutes later, Gerrard scored an absolute screamer, welting the ball home from the right hand corner of the box (only a bit further out).

Game over, like so many others this season. 

Villa created a few more chances, as did the reds, but no one really cared. Attention was on scores from elsewhere. Apparently Pompey were losing, then drawing, then did they score a pen? whatever, the away end stopped chanting for O’Leary to go, and concentrated more on “stay up Pompey, Pomey stay up”

The game finished, the fans all waited - Liverpool for a deserved end of season lap of honour, Villa to hear the scores from “elsewhere”

small heath succumbed. We celebrated.

Redscouse will be celebrating a cup final appearance, and more Euro Telly Cup adventures, we celebrate being not quite as dire as the dogsh*t. Small consolations, I suppose, and there’s nothing else to celebrate.

Good luck to Liverpool, see you next season.

Some marks - nah, why should I?

Ellis get Out Now. O’Leary - close the door after you.

Thank God that’s over.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006



We’ve all been trudging around, gloomily for so long now, I thought I’d try and lift my head up, get my chin off my chest and look into the future.

Not the future, next season, or even the future next season but one, but say 5 years time.

We’ve derided the club, rightly, for a lack of vision and lack of planning, for blatant self interest and short sighted-ness, so maybe by looking at what and where we want to be, as a club, something can formulate in our minds that will allow us to look at the present from a new angle?

So what do we want from Aston Villa?

Essentially, what we want is to go along to the games with a sense of excited anticipation. A belief that we will, on any given day, be witness to, well, something worth witnessing.

There’s a lot more of course, pre-match rituals, chats in the pub, a kick about in the park and all the rest, but that all revolves around a shared experience, a sense of a community gathering to both witness and participate in 90 minutes of sporting tension, exitement and excellence.

It’s a simple joy, and seems relatively easy at face value to arrange. Just a FA computer to pick the fixtures, a competition, or comeptitions to compete in, stadia and players and manager. That’s pretty much it, isn’t it?

It’s clearly not that easy though.

We’ll be happy when we win, ecstatic when we win well and disappointed by defeats.

We’ll be proud when we “fight”, in awe when something special happens - a great goal, or a piece of superb skill or defending or a terrific goalkeeping display that gets us something from nothing.

I would guess that these thoughts are common to every other football club and fan in the land.

Essentially, then, all clubs have the same criteria. We’re all after the same thing.

As a Villa fan for 30 odd years I have a kind of ingrained “Villa” mindset. I’d like Villa to be up amongst the top tier of the country’s clubs. I’d like us to be challenging for trophies and European competitions. Some clubs will be wanting pretty much guaranteed trophies every season, others will settle for different goals.
Again, as a Villan, trophies every season would be great, but it’s not a demand, or a percieved “right”.

I do have some historical evidence to suggest that my wishes are fulfillable and realistic, and that failure to meet them should not be excused over the long term. We have proven we can do it, after all.

In 5 years time Ellis will have gone, so too will David O’Leary. So this article is not about where are we now, and “isn’t it terrible?”

Not so many years ago, the record crowd for a Premiership game, in this all seater(ish) age, was 46,000 at Villa park for a game against Liverpool.
Now Man Utd sell out 71,000 and will sell out 75,000 every game next season, Newcastle get more than 50,000 every week, as will Arsenal next season and others too.

Times have changed, and times have become more money oriented.

We’ve just recently signed a new sponsorship deal with Red32 for maybe a few hundred grand a season. Man Utd have just signed a deal for perhaps 30 or 40 times that amount with AEG is it?

We get shown on Sky, Utd get shown across Europe in midweek Eurotelly games. And they’re after, with their G14 mates, getting money off FIFA for the World Cup.

The playing field in money terms isn’t even. There’s a 3:1 incline already. We’re kicking up the slope and against the prevailing wiind.

When faced with such an ascent, it’s necessary to do two things. Take one step at a time, and to always bear in mind the peak we want to reach.

We’ve currently forgotten there is a peak and have been stood around catching a cold while others clamber on up.

So what to do?

Well first, in order to draw up a five year (and beyond) plan, we need to have an aim.

Currently it seems to be “sell my shares for 50% more than their worth” which as it goes is commendably optimistic, but rather lacking in a football sense (or indeed any sense at all)

But that’s not fair - what about the rest of the board? what are their aims? “not to get sacked” or “to collect my pension” or “”where’s the rest of ‘em gone?” Ah. I see your point.

So before we can get a plan we need to get a board that is capable of thinking beyond their own self interest.

Things to do number 1. Get a competent and professional board.

All this money business -" we’re going to have to join in, aren’t we?” they might ask.

No more 9 million pound losses just from “running costs”.

So that means that the punters are going to have to become “consumer units” or some such phrase.

Consumers of a product, basically.

Well in that case we need a product that lots of them will want to buy. It’s no good just offeriing standard stodge, a unique selling point is needed. We can’t rely on “Lager beer’s premier league football” as that’s not unique. There will be other clubs offering exactly that.
You can use (ancient) history/tradition as a small selling point, but museums don’t do sell outs.
Better is “The absolute best football team in the area” . It’s a start. But best in the area needs to graduate to best in the (larger) area.

So how do you get that?

Get the best footballers, manager and coaches I guess.

Is Dario Grady better than Morinho ? depends what the question refers to. producing players - Grady, producing the best team - Morinho.

We can’t afford a Morinho, so we need to identify people with skills to build up and develop players, facilities, commercial deals, stadium facilities and all the other apsects of the club.

Things to do number 2. Identify and recruit “developers” at the management layer. Keep the good ones we have, already.

Passion is a huge thing in football - both for the fans, sorry, consumer units, and for the players/team.

Things to do number 3. Ensure that everyone at the club shares a common passion and aim for the “plan” or the club, or the team, however you want to phrase it.

It’s only right that the people involved in this “project” should be rewarded for good work, and rewarded well. I’ve already said how it’s so money oriented, whether we like it or not.

Things to do number 4. Make reward performance based. Do your job well and get well rewarded. Do your job badly, and you don’t.

One of the strengths of football in England is the part clubs can and do play in the community. It needs to be recognised that there’s a two way relationship, beyond a commercial one, between a club and it’s environment and local population. A money making behemoth in the midst of a working area could easily be resented.

Play a part in making the lives of people in the local area, even if they are not “customers”, especially if they are not customers, better.

Things to do number 5. Don’t ever forget where you are, and who you work amongst. Respect and help your neighbours. They are a part of your success or failure. Listen, communicate, be genuine.

These things, are, I think just the very basic starting points we need to address. I’m sure I’ve missed stuff off, and got some wrong.

But none of it seems that impossible, and none of it that easy.

The last thing I’d suggest is that whatever the club decides to do, they need to communicate it to their consumers.

AVFC Plc is a business. It’s not a pub side. It needs to be run like a proper business, or else it will become just a glorified pub side.

Or is it too late?


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Time To Support The Club: It’s Really That Simple - A reply


JC Wrote

“One hundred and eighteen years ago yesterday, William McGregor, said this of Aston Villa:

For brilliance and, at the same time, for consistency of achievement, for activity in philanthropic enterprise, for astuteness of management and for general alertness, the superiors of Aston Villa cannot be found”

All around me all I see are people slagging off everything. The players, the management staff, the ground, the chairman, the people serving the pies....”
I read the article and felt uneasy. I agree, usually, with a lot of what JC says, but somehow the article left me feeling uneasy.

It’s taken a while for the “why” to sink in.

I recognise the mood of discontent John describes - the slagging off of everything, basically. The manager and players have noticed it too, and commented on it. So clearly John is on to something. But still, an itch needed scratching.

What, though?

There’s a lazy stereotype that Villa fans are moaners, but frankly that’s rubbish. We’re no different to any other club’s fans. Don’t believe me? Listen to a phone in on Radio 5 Live or local radio wherever you live. Chelsea fans will soon be slagging off Morinho, Abramovic and their players. Arsenal fans, and Man U and Liverpool up there doing well will be phoning up next time they lose, or the tea is cold.

Anyway, if we’re no different, then “why the griping”? must surely be the question. If you understand why people are moaning, then perhaps you can address the cause, or at least try to. (Teenage testosterone and frustrations are, of course, incurable).

What about the starting point of John’s article - the William McGregor quote “For brilliance and, at the same time, for consistency of achievement, for activity in philanthropic enterprise, for astuteness of management and for general alertness, the superiors of Aston Villa cannot be found”

Well it’s no longer valid, is it. The superiors of Aston Villa are many. So the fans aren’t moaning despite being the best. Perhaps they’re moaning,then, partly at least because we’re so far from being the best. Maybe it’s “unreasonable” to expect the best, but is what we’re actually getting - second rate fare - not something that should be the subject of complaint and dissatisfaction?

If we weren’t complaining, then it would mean we didn’t care. Far worse, but not so far off, for some.

From the tens of thousands of Villa fans we get scores of different “views” on what should be done. Most of us (me certainly) are not experts, but we care, so we talk and write and argue about what should be done. “Sack the board” /”sack the manager”/ sell the midfielders/sell the defenders and so on. We used to get “buy a forward”, but fortunately the transfer window put an end to that.

So we’re not as individuals likely to agree with a lot of the suggestions.

During a game, a chant will catch on, partly through agreement, partly through simplicity of expression, partly through just having been quiet for 3 minutes. “We want O’Leary Out”

Despite what people say, I believe that fans want to go to matches, see a good game, see their team win and to participate in a good positive atmosphere. We surely don’t go in the hope of having a chance to moan at the pies/manager/substitute full back. We’d rather win, enjoy the “food” and see the left back score the goal of the season from 30 yards.

I went to Everton, and the chanting against O’Leary didn’t surprise me one bit. He’s been so negative himself that it was only a matter of time....

I didn’t join in, but that doesn’t mean a thing.

I can’t remember the last time I heard Villa fans chanting for the manager to go, if ever. And I’ve been going a long time.

I think where I’m going with this is that Johns article is right to identify a mood of discontent, and the effect it has on the experience - a viscious circle, basically. But I really believe that the fans, as varied as we are in our views are only reflecting, not leading, the situation. My perception is that we are a pretty tolerant bunch normally, perhaps too tolerant, and that if the whining has got so loud as to be a further negative factor on what is supposed to be entertainment, of sorts, then it’s the product and the people responsible for the product that need to be doing the navel gazing.

If the football gets better, if the club gets stronger, if it even shows it wants to try to get stronger, the fans will be there, and they’ll happily stop moaning about cold pies and all the rest.

Oh, and in this phase 3 of the “whole new ball game” the club really needs to take note.


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Grounds for divorce - Everton Match Report


The Third Lancastrian away game in a week. Once upon a time it would have been cause for celebration, but not any more.

Welcome to another world weary away report, this time from Goodison.

I guess you'll know the result, and that Everton deserved their win.
They've certainly improved a lot from the shambles of a side we saw them bring to VP over Christmas. Like the bulbs popping through the grass on Stanley park, they looked full of life and full of the joys of spring.

James Beattie - the chap we wanted, the one who had all but signed for us 'till Ellis "helped" had a good game for them. So to did Tim Cahill. And while their defence looked almost as shakey as ours, their central midfield consisting of Cahill and one of the Arthur Nevilles (they're called Arthur for different reasons - one because of his Arthur Scargill militant tendencies and one because he looks like he eats his Kattomeat with his paw, rather than just from the bowl like other cats... anyway, the Kattomeat Arthur Neville is the one I'm on about) had more help out wide until late on, than did ours and their whole team looked better drilled and better organised.

The early TV kick off and Saturday traffic meant no pre-match ale for me, just a chat downstairs in the ground. The mood wasn't overly enthusiastic or confident.

For the first 12 minutes we were doing OK - no disasters happened, but obviously this couldn't last, and it didn't. Everton scored a good goal - one of their all very similar Osmans, or McFaddens or whoever driving the ball in to the bottom corner after some shennanigans and difficulty clearing the ball. He did have as much time as he wanted, mind.

As the half full away end started to belatedly fill up, they scored again, after maybe 20 minutes. This one was cock-up contender of the day number 1 - I bring you a throw in, a slightly hesitant goalie allowing himself to be beaten to the ball both in timing and in bravery and Cahill had scored. Sorenson to blame mainly, but he wasn't helped by the defenders allowing Everton to get their way too easily.

Villa came right back into the game, and a succession of chances were cleared of the line down the far end. Davis, then Gabby from the corner, then Davis again from the clearing header. Not our day (again).

Thankfully for Everton we soon handed them another contender for stupid goal give-aways. A long ball down the line, and their wide player surged past JLloyd (on for Aaron Hughes, who had looked half asleep - perhaps he has this virus?) ridiculously easily - JLloyd looked like he was treading porridge, and a ball across the box. It was too far ahead of their forward, and whoever it was in the centre for Villa - maybe Barry (though where Mellberg or Ridge were was hard to tell, but it was nowhere close) decided to let it run, rather than risk a skewed clearance. He clearly didn't know there was another Everton player behind him, and Tom didn't tell him, and Bouma was quite not up with his covering play and so they scored. No communication, players AWOL and/or making elementary mistakes. The O'Leary out chants were in full flow, as were jokes following a programme availability announcement. What can you do but laugh?

Half time. Big telly adverts for Nissans and Computer games drowned out the discussion amongst the Villans in the Bullens road, but in truth most of what would have been said involved heavy usage of swearing and an industrial application of sighing. Only 45 minutes then we can all go home.

These second 45 minutes saw a better performance from Villa. (In truth they couldn't have been worse). Gabby on his debut, and Luke to a lesser extent were troubling the ponderous, but experienced Everton markers with their pace and movement, if not their strength or aerial ability.
The introduction of Lee Hendrie also brought much needed life and invention to our midfield

We scored, glory be. Gabby from the angle on the far side of the pitch, after some interplay around the edge of their box - Hendrie, Davis, Barry etc.

And Everton began to get anxious. But they needn't have done so really. We weren't good enough to cause anxiety to anyone, not with a defence that is as porous as ours.

They duly scored their 4th just before the end. A good finish from MotM Cahill. There had been a few near things at both ends prior to that, but it was all a bit frenzied.

To sum up, Villa terrible, Everton quite good in the first half. A lot of the Villa fans were chanting for O'Leary to go. I didn't join in, though I'm not his greatest fan. Everton's fans didn't do much but cheer when they scored - that's the thing with these early kick offs. No beer.

Some marks
TS 4

AH (not on long enough to mark, subbed by JLloyd - 5
Wilf - 4
Olly 4
Ridge 6

Craig Gardener - 4, wrongly booked for a hard but fair tackle, and he's still very early in his career
Steven Davis - 6
Gav - 4
Barry - 5
Lee Hendrie (on for CG) 7. If he'd been on for the whole game, he'd have been our MoTM

Luke 5
Gabby 5+1 for the goal

When I was a lad, if Villa let in a goal I'd be devastated, and a loss would hurt all week. Then the losses only hurt for a day, then an hour. Now, 3-0 down in 40 minutes, and playing like drains, it doesn't affect me at all.

And those are the ground for divorce. Some want Ellis and Villa separated asap, some want O'Leary to be squabbling over who gets to keep the cat and the CDs.

Me, I don't care. I'm already emotionally divorced from them. They don't make me happy any more.


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Uncomfortably Numb - Blackburn Away Report


My local game, and thanks to Sky telly a tea time kick off. Here's a world weary away end view of proceedings.

We trekked down the road to Blackburn aware that they have a pretty sound home record, but also aware that Villa have been more obstinate on our travels than the often supine home performances.

But before the game, a few scoops in the Fernhurst. People who haven't been to Blackburn may not be aware, but this fairly large pub is located just near the away end at Ewood, and is pretty much a dedicated "away" pub. Well they must have raked in a hell of a lot of cash today, because the place was rammed. Villans had descended upon it from places as far afield as Sweden and, er, Chorley.

The first hint of what was to come arrived with the news that the Bitter had run out, and I was "forced" to drink lager. Swedes regaled the drinking masses with traditional songs (traditional and word perfect Holte end songs, that is). My mate's little lad, a 6 year Blackburn fan, seemed a tad confused by the atmosphere. No doubt he'll have been confused by what was to follow, too.

The game started (after the compulsory Balti pie) with Villa looking spritely. Within a minute Barry had found himself past Friedel, but from a wide angle on the right, couldn't roll the ball into the empty net.
Villa were for 20 minutes the better and more attacking side. We created a number of chances, but didn't score, and Friedel did what he had to do - tipping over a Mellberg header, for instance.
Blackburn had a couple of long range shots. That was it.

The second part of the first half the game just died. The life left Villa, and Blackburn got no better. Perhaps if Milner, injured in the warm up had been on the right, instead of Luke, the Villa attacks might have had a second dimension. Who knows? But Luke looked lost and wasted out there. 

A half time thaw out, and chat and then the game kicked off again.

Or at least Blackburn did, but Villa were caught cold - a corner, their first, was floated in, some fumbling went on at the far end, and a Rover scored. Tommy made out it was all terribly unfair, but I saw now't wrong from 100 yards away (except dithering).

Damn. All those missed chances. Typical.

Villa wrestled back control of the game, and a superb, and I mean superb, instant pass from Barry put Baros clean through. Guess what, he dithered a tad, waited for Friedel to go down early, which he didn't, and then struck his shot at the keeper's body. Damn. Again.

Within a minute or so he had a chance to redeem himself. He was presented with an unchallenged header from a Davis cross. And missed. Damn. Again, again.

It was fairly clear that Phillips was unimpressive, Luke lost out wide - perhaps a move for Lukey into the middle and bring on a sub on the right? No, decided DO'L.
Mark Hughes though was making much better use of his squad. Emerton came on and soon after scored from what looked like yet another goalkeeping ***** up. Tommy was sprawling about on the floor, but without the ball. Did he get it and lose it, or just never get it? I couldn't see. Anyway, Emerton put the ball in the net. Damn. Again, again, again.

By now we'd been denied a blatant penalty when a fiercely hit Barry shot was hand-balled in the box, and had a couple of other dodgy decisions go against us, as well as seen more misses and close shaves - a Gav header wide, a Barry pile driver missed by about an inch.

In truth though, despite Villa creating more chances (and missing them) Rovers were now able to control the game and they ran out comfortable winners.

It was cold, we lost a game due to poor finishing, poor goal-keeping and the opposition manager doing his job better than our manager.

Blackburn are 5th and looking at Europe. We're 15th and looking around wondering what on earth is going to happen to our club. It's drifting along in a sort of anaesthetised numbness.

Their players aren't better than ours. Their fans aren't better than ours. Their ground's not better than ours. So why is it? Arguments rage.

Anyway, some marks
Tommy - 4 - at fault for both goals, I felt
Aaron Hughes - 6
Freddie Bouma - 6
Olly - 7
Ridge 5

Luke - out of position 5
Gav - booked and will miss a game now 6
Stevie D - 6
Gareth Barry 8 (MoTM)

Kevin Phillips - 5 - just not involved enough
Baros - 6 - bad misses, but he was there to miss 'em and was our main "threat"

Subs - on for the last 7 minutes or so - Lee and JPA - 5 apiece. Why wait till the game is almost over, though?

Me, home for tea. 2 (degrees C)


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Strip Tees - Middlesbrough Away match report


Well, Crikey! I don't know exactly what to write.
I set off on my journey from the north-west to the north-east thinking we might see a tense, nervy, closely fought game, perhaps lacking in quality, probably to be poorly refereed, and maybe that Villa could sneak a win. But I didn't really know what to expect. You never do with the Villa though, do you?

If I'd been giving the team talk, I guess I'd have thought back to the Sunderland game - the last time we played in a red plastic stadium in the north east. In that game the first half was dreadful, but at half time it must have been realised that the opposition really were that bad, and if Villa just went at them, we'd romp it. And we did.

So perhaps more of that, only from the start, this time, would have been my message.

I say all the above with hindsight obviously, but that's certainly what looked to have happened today. We absolutely horsed poor Middlesbrough. Despite claims from both clubs before the game that their respective mid-week results had left them "full of confidence" I suspect that one of those claims was entirely spurious. Boro were dreadful. Really, terribly, shockingly bad. It's not that often that I roar with laughter at a football match, but I did twice today, and both were at hapless play by Boro players.  

Anyway, the match kicked off and Villa were "at it" straight away. Milner and Barry, Phillips and Moore giving the back 4 of Boro no time to play or linger. Gav was snaffling up the ball in midfield and we were dominating from the off.

After quarter of an hour we got our first reward. Luke Moore placing the ball into the bottom corner of the goal, across Schwarzer from the inside right position. Not the cleanest hit, but the placement was excellent.

Up to this point Boro hadn't so much as had an attack to speak of.

Shortly afterwards though a good cross in from their right side was missed by Viduka, when any sort of header would have resulted in a goal.
But Villa just went back up the field and scored again. A cross from out wide, by I think, JLloyd, right footed curled in towards Kevin Phillips in a similar place to where Luke scored from. But this time the ball was in the air, and Phillips facing the wrong way. He flicked it and directed it right into the same corner Luke scored in. 20 odd minutes gone. 2-0 Villa. Game surely over, given Boro were so bad.

Villa eased off a bit, but should still have scored again - a combination of Phillips and Barry somehow failing to score a sitter (at least it looked like that from 100 yards away).

Half time. Time to contemplate what was looking so easy. But only easy through the sort of hard work and team ethos that Wigan have thrived upon (to my delight) this season. A small mention for the referee at this point. He was good.

Boro took off Hasselbaink and Viduka and brought on Yakubu and Macaroni.

Kicking towards us, Villa continued to run the game and got further reward when Luke got his second. Good work by Barry, Davis, then Barry again ended with a cross to Luke's feet. His first shot was blocked by Southgate, but his second, as he was quickest to the ball made it 3-0.
As a Boro fan said afterwards, "Every time you attacked it looked like you would score"
This was as much due to the shambolic play of them as to our good play, though we were good.

Steven Davis nicked the ball from a red shirt in central midfield - the Boro man really should have looked up and passed - but Davis was able then to run straight through. He slotted a pass to Luke who chipped over the on-rushing Schwarzer to make it 4-0. He was never going to miss, having already scored two.

Barry was booked for a foolish reaction to being chopped down, Luke went off to rousing cheers, JLoyd too was substituted and applauded from the pitch. Olly also, double fist-clench saluting, got to sit out the last 10 or so.

The subs - Ridge, JPA and particularly Hendrie kept up the high standard of Villa play.

Lee showed some real class when he cushioned a ball dropping with snow on it, went past the gawping midfielders in red and set up a swift counter, and again with a run and cross field ball to the feet of Milner.
Maybe having his name chanted endlessly while he warmed up in front of us had got him gee'd up, maybe the competition and desire to play is what does it.

And so the game ended, and I drove home happy.

Some marks

Tommy - untroubled, almost nothing to do - 6

Hughes - controlled - 7
JLloyd - very good - 7.5
Olly - Dominant - 8
Delaney - Dominant - 8

Milner - boy does he work hard - 8
Barry - class 8
Gav McCann - Brilliant 9
Steven Davis, quiet 6.5
Luke Moore 9 and MoTM
Kevin Phillips 8

Subs, Lee, Ridge and JPA none on for long - 7 apiece

Manager and coaches 8. Job well done.

The ref did OK too.

Horsed 'em, honestly. It was brilliant. Onwards and upwards....

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