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.