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2007 Away match Reports

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blandy

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

I'll take the Rain - Wigan Away report

 

In the post Christmas, pre-New year gap you tend to get games and days like today's. They don't really make the headlines, they don't make great viewing for a TV audience, or even, it has to be said for the sodden fans shivering in the ground. But they are an intrinsic part of football. They matter just as much as balmy, pinging the ball around, fantasy football games played in May and August. They are the sort of games that define the character of a side.

Let's be clear about it, it was a truly horrible day - The weather conditions were diabolical. In the old days of course, we used to get soaked standing on open terraces at places like Wigan, or Oldham, or other wet, red-brick towns a lot more often. In a way it was nice to get that reminder of those times long gone, again.

On the other hand, now that Football is a HD Event on Sky+ telly, we have become soft, used to multi-million pound fayre at 35 quid a pop in practically centrally heated state of the art stadia with perfect pitches, where rain and weather is something that goes on as a backdrop, rather that as an intrinsic part of the game.

Wigan though isn't like that and probably never will be. Thanks to them for the enlightened pricing from 5400 Villans
For sure the ground is of the modern age. Named after the company of the millionaire owner, the JJB stadium isn't really in the heart of the community, it's on the edge of a town trying to redefine itself for the 21st century. Plastic seats, happy shiny people, concrete and flags on sticks. But despite all that, in truth Wigan Athletic away in December is one of those occasions where however stylish the sports cars and suits of the players might be, the things that really matter are the eternal values of football in the winter in the UK. "Have you got the heart for it". "Do you fancy it" "Get stuck in lad".

The day started off with the rain rattling hard against the windows, awaking the Villa faithful from our post Christmas slumber, eager to get to the pub and meet up after too much time spent slumped in armchairs and couches, staring at the telly.

We convened in the centre of Wigan, familiar faces and friends rammed into the comfortable surroundings of a pub too good to mention. A hoard of VT'ers, and other friends and acquaintances too, all supping on the hoppy produce of varied breweries.

We all felt, to a man, I think, that we'd get something from the game, but we all also felt that the weather, the wind and rain would not make it an easy game. It would be one where we'd have to really show our mettle, compete with a revitalised Wigan and take our chances.

Reluctantly, we eventually left the boozer and yomped into the westerly downpour. 15 minutes of trudging, 5 minutes of pie munching and the game kicked off in front of a packed away end.

Truth be told it wasn't a great game, I can't remember much detail of slick moves and silky skills. The things that stay in the mind are the bobbles of mud churning up on the heavy pitch, the headers and tackles, the total commitment of all the players, of both sides. Shirts drenched, shorts coated in mud, studs clagging up with bits of turf.

Wigan scored first, a cracking header from a corner, right onto Marcus Bent's bonce (the announcer said it was Bent, though I thought it was Titus Bumble), in front of us. Not brilliantly marked, but superbly taken. Scott in goal without a chance of saving.
In that first half, the team were pretty even. I felt Villa were not quite right shape wise. Carew had gone off early, after maybe 10 minutes or so, with an ankle or leg injury after a tackle down the far end. Luke Moore came on in his place. That wasn't the problem. The problem I felt was that we weren't controlling midfield, weren't using the width of Maloney and Ash, and despite the excellent work of Nigel Reo-Coker Wigan were playing the game the way they wanted.

At half time I was thinking that the game was eminently winnable for us, but that we needed to just get Gareth Barry a tad deeper in his starting positions, to use the ball out wide, better, and hold solid at the back. That way, we'd maybe give the two forwards a better chance to get hold of the ball - something lacking in the first half.

The second half wasn't long started when we got an equaliser, not dissimilar to Wigan's goal. From a corner, GB found Curtis Davies (excellent all round) and Kirkland had as little a chance as Scott Carson did in the first. 1-1.

Now we were in business. Gabby was really causing Wigan problems, our defence was holding off the exertions of the Wigan forwards and Barry was really starting to run the midfield and dictate the play.

With about 20 minutes left, Ashley Young got right to the goal line, crossed in from the left and Gabby glanced in from about 4 yards out. Beauty. 2-1.

In a game of few clear chances it turned out to be the winner. We probably just about deserved it because of our greater quality, equal commitment and because the team had the nouse to hold on to the lead.

And then we went back through the rain to the pub to warm up.

Some marks and comments

Scott Carson - Sound, 7.

Olly - another solid performance from a player now comfortable at right back. 7
Freddie - same as Olly - solid 7
Curtis Davies - very good - 7.5 Pacy, strong, looked like a real player.
Martin Laursen - 7.5 - just what you want and expect from him. A game made for him, really. Splendid.

Wee Shaun - 6 - lively but didn't get as much of the ball as he'd have liked (Craig Gardner 7 - a game also made for Craig, did very well when he came on)
Ash - 6. Lovely run and cross for Gab's goal. Always a threat.
NRC - 8 - Top stuff today. Really played well.
GB - 8 - Tremendous drive, particularly second half. Skipper-tastic perfomance.

Big JC - 5 - not on for moe than 10 mins (Luke 6)
Gabby -8 - complete handful for Wigan.

The marks maybe high, for a game that was scrappy, but sitting down near the front, the commitment and effort was tangible and it was a real hard won victory.

Well done to all who turned up, Happy new year. Onwards and upwards.

 

Saturday, December 15, 2007

This Nation's Saving Grace - Sunderland Away Report

 

Just what you need on a cold, cold winter's day - a proper game of English football, in a proper stadium, with proper fans, committed and skillful players with plenty of heart. Rip roaring stuff.

We'd set off for the stadium of light on a cold bright and beautiful morning, looking forward, as ever, not just to the match but also to the journey across the Pennines from our NorthWestern outposts, Bicks and myself.

As it happened neither let us down. The scenery was staggeringly beautiful in the morning's sunlight and still, sharp, air. Thick frost coating the hills, clamping itself around the exposed skeletons of trees and tightly cracking the water in a solid, immobile grip. Sheep wearing thick, shaggy woollen coats munched on crispy grass, crows circled looking for easy pickings from anything that might have succumbed to the bitter night.

In the car, the chat was about what to expect from the game. Thoughts about needing to win to maintain the challenge, a point not being a bad result, but a defeat would be a real downer.

Fishing out the "Football Real Ale Guide" we decided on the King's Arms, 15 minutes walk from the ground. Good choice, good guide. It was, it turned out, North East Pub of the Year last year. Lovely beer, good service, and packed with people and bonhomie. A part of the life of England that is just right.

A walk to the ground, picking up some warming scoff on the way, we headed to where the Paul McGrath song was coming from and settled into position.

The teams - well ours was unchanged, and for them Yorkie was in midfield. The fans - probably about 4000 or so short of full up, the ground held plenty of expectant Villans and Mackems, and the ref, Mr Steve Bennett.

Both teams started with intent in a fairly frantic first 10 minutes, the culmination of which was Sunderland scoring from a corner. The marking, such as it was, was appalling. Is it this zonal thing, or is the marking just "off". Either way Higginbottom, (the announcer said) headed in from 6 yards.

Rather than give Sunderland a big impetus, Villa it was who upped their game. We got well on top, without creating serious clear chances. As the game moved towards half time, the pressure seemed to paying off, as a number of half chances came Villa's way. Carew coming closest to scoring with a flick which the keeper, down the far end, seemed to finger tip onto the post, and back out into play.
Sunderland broke back, but like most of their attacks in normal play, their move broke down. From set pieces they were more of a threat, though not massively so. Maybe it was just be being worried about some of our defending, but with both sides having plenty of big lads to pile in to the boxes, there was always a threat when either side had a corner or free kick.

The second half started as the first had ended, with Villa again having the lions share of the play, but Sunderland dealing with it, mostly, and being a threat, to an extent, on the break, though I didn't feel they had the quality to really punish us. Kenwyn Jones was not as good, fortunately, as he's sometimes seemed on the telly, but he did give Zat and Martin Laursen some competition.

Our forwards also struggled to get free in the danger areas. Gabby's touch was just not quite right today, and he was not the danger he has been, but he worked well. Big John was better, but we tended, I felt, to play too much through him, rather than make chances for him to get on the end of.

In one early spell Gardener, who had been booked in the first half, was inches from heading in at the far post, in front of us, but just couldn't quite reach the ball with his dive. It was Craig who came off, to be replaced by wee Shaun. The funky Cold Maloney gave us what we needed, more movement and attacking threat. SUnderland now had two tricky wide men to deal with. With maybe 20 minutes left, only 5 or so after he's come on, Shaun made a run across field, was bundled into and over by a Sunderland defender, 20 yards from goal, fairly central. A really good scoring chance. He took the free kick himself and Ward in the Sunderland goal didn't stand an earthly. Right into the top corner. Sweet.

One plum from amongst the Villa fans ran onto the pitch, harmlessly, but the eejit was rightly carted off by the stewards. No need. It doesn't take many idiots to spoil our reputation, make life harder for fans traveling to games.

The game continued in its' end to end fashion, now with Sunderland coming more into it again. Some last ditch tackling and blocking was effective for Villa, but it wasn't particularly well organised defending at times. On occasions we let men get free in the box.

Right on the death, Sunderland had the ball in the net, but the ref was giving a free kick for a foul as the ball was nodded in. No goal.

It would have been extremely harsh had we lost. On the other hand, though we had a lot of the play, we didn't make so many chances to deserve the win, really.

What to make of it all, then? Well, as an alternative to trudging round the shops as a prelude to the ever increasingly commercialised "Christmas Experience" it won hands down. It was a decent game, like I said at the start in a proper footballing place. The countryside, the pubs and the beer, the football, players and fans alike, are all part of this nation's saving grace. The ref was alright, better than Riley, anyway.

Some marks

Scott Carson - Sound. 6

Olly - decent game again. 7
Zat - 5. He doesn't always get it right, sometimes getting caught out of position, but today he recovered every time.
Martin Laursen - 6. He's not playing quite as well as he was early on in the season, but he was fine.
Freddie Bouma. Very good again from our left back. Had some shots, too, passed the ball better. 7.5

Craig Gardener. 5 - Committed and hard working. (Wee Shaun -7.5. Excellent appearance from Shaun, and a lovely goal)
NRC - 6 - some good break up work, helping out where and when needed, a decent game from Nigel, but still the pasing needs to improve.
GB - 6.5. Spent a lot of time further forward, when we were on top. By his high standards he is capable of more, perhaps.
Ashley Young - 7.5 - Again a good game from Ash. Frequently fouled, he just gets up and gets on with it. Lively and a threat.

Gabby - 6 - worked hard, ran hard, but not that much of a threat today.
Big John - 7. He's a big old unit. His hold up play was good, he made the defenders work hard and battle, and almost scored.

Lowest temperature on the way back - (minus) 5. Brrrr.

A final thought on the team - I think, despite our solidity away from home, we need at some point to make the transition to be more of a threat, creatively. GB and Ashley are more effective with either or both of Stan Petrov and Shaun Maloney also on the pitch. It gives the opposition more to struggle with, they get pulled around and out of position more. Add in Gabby's pace and JC's presence and the mix is right, but often we're a bit too one dimensional and predictable, still.

 

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Storm in a Goldfish Bowl

 

An alternative view on the so-called rigged FA Cup draw.

I read 
JC's article with interest. I've seen the pictures on the internet of the draw and the 24/25 balls.

All I can say is that in my view a tabloid paper has done well for itself in generating a story out of nothing.

But of course, as with any conspiracy theory tales, it seemed to generate a life of it's own. It was picked up by the local Birmingham paper and fans gave their views. It might be hypocritical for a website contributor to bemoan the tendency for the media to want to fill their pages and airwaves with the views of fans, but it's getting daft.

We're in the situation where a non-story has led to pages getting filled with quotes from fans about how terrible it all is.
Sorry, but that's just not "news". It's filler replacing journalism. Where's the investigative spirit gone? No need we just read the internet these days, cut and paste, article written. Now off to the pub.

JC put his view well, but I think it's misplaced.
a rather huge, elephant sized mistake has been made by the Football Association – and it is up to us, as Villa fans, to make sure that it is rectified.

Give over, John. "elephant sized mistake" - really? Ant sized non-story I'd call it.

it is now very clear that an error has been made in the draw, and it is no longer valid.
Manchester United were given the ball number 24 to represent them. Yet the ball number 25 is drawn out against Villa.


No. To my eyes, and many many others, just not so. You get some reflections from studio lights, but the ball drawn is 24. A grainy you-tube video doesn't make it not so, as a fact. That's not a mistake, it's a quirk of the light.

I'm all for fans campaigning against issues that they feel are wrong in the game, whether that be corruption, ticket prices, over-zealous stadium licensing jobsworths, kick off times, greedy chairmen, agents...the list is endless, but tabloid "filler stories" with no foundation other than some reflections from a studio light?

Sure it's a long shot that we keep being drawn against Manchester Utd. But that's the story, not "cover ups" and shennigans".

Was it Sammy Nelson who drew the ball out and is said to have then covered it up? this the player who bared his, er, cheeks, to the Arsenal crowd long ago, when playing for them. If he can't keep his posterior covered up, could he really cover up a dodgy draw on live TV, for posterity?....

John's on much better ground when he says I’m not worried about playing Manchester United. Aston Villa can beat anybody at anywhere

But then asks for the impossible The F.A need to either show proof that it wasn’t a mistake and simply ‘covered up’ by an old timer who was embarrassed and not being able to recognize a number correctly, or set the fixtures to be the correct one.

How could they "prove" anything. All they can do is look at the high def TV pictures, check it out and find that....it was actually all OK and above board. Which is what they've done.

Finally, John says One thing is certain. If a satisfactory explanation and result is not given, I will be regarding this tournament as void and will not be going to the game – and I suggest that you save your money from the F.A’s pockets, and do the same thing.

Fair enough, each to their own and all that, but it's the clubs who get the vast majority of the gate money, not the FA, and what the FA do get again much of that 10% goes back to the FA Cup pool. So, very misdirected, I feel.

Having said all that, I hope the next draw is improved so that people can see better. We used to jokingly think old Bert Millipede had it in for us Villans when we got a lot of away draws over a decade or so - the days of the velvet bag, and alleged "hot balls" and Bryon Butler on a monday lunchtime from Lancaster Gate on radio 2. It's clearer now. It's on the telly.

The FA can balls things up in so many ways, they're experts, but they don't need a conspiracy to do it, they have a gift for it.

Still, I confessed to hypocrisy at the top, and I've proved it by filling an artile with more guff on a non-story. Can I get an NUJ card now please, like proper journos have?

Next week's conspiracy theory:-
Steve McLaren is alleged to have been "any good" and thousands will immediately prove he wasn't....Oh, actually....

 

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Bittersweet Symphony - Middlesbrough Away report

 

It's been a funny old week, on the International scene, or maybe not so funny for a lot of people.

Former Boro' boss Steve McLaren sacked for a string of poor results and poor performances from his player, Villa's excellent young 'keeper throwing one in after 5 minutes, and then looking like a Rabbit in the headlights for 45 minutes, though he did do well second half, for England.

If wednesday was a night they will want to forget, but never be able to, today gave one of them at least a chance to get over it in the best way possible.

The day didn't start with these thoughts in my head, it started rather bleary eyed after an excellent friday night seeing Half Man Half Biscuit in Blackpool.
The problem was cured by a restorative breakfast of Sausage and mushroom butties and a mug of tea. Works wonders.

So off to the Riverside we went, fellow VT'er Bickster having scooted up from Liverpool. The journey is usually a pleasure, a real highlight, almost, of the season's travels. But today, with the blustery wind, rain and spray it wasn't so fine. There was still the odd glimpse of the majestic scenery, a buzzard circling, geese making their way to one of the many nearby lakes and the giant turbines harvesting wind.

On arriving in Boro we nipped in to the pub for a couple of pre match refreshments - some kind of Lincolnshire Ale, it was. Very nice too.

Then on to the ground, a walk in the wind to the stadium across the road from the town. The ground was not exactly packed, nor indeed was it expectant. Apart from a fair number of Villans noisily chanting in the away end it was quiet and sullen. Boro' had apparently been dreadful for a while, their fans expected to get tonked.

One thing that was expected, and duly arrived was the reaction to Scott Carson - roundly jeered by the Boro' fans, roundly cheered by us lot. It's a bit "pantomime" really. "It's behind you" now, Scott. Well and truly, after today.

The new pantomime Villain is former Villan Gareth Southgate. Someone I rather like. I don't get how he has been essentially rejected so firmly by so many Villa fans. He was a splendid player, a nice bloke, and he was right about Villa at the time, even if his leaving was a bit "off".

At least today he wasn't abused (not by the Villa fans, anyway), he was merely taunted as to the score at various points, asked politely for a wave (request declined) and had his future career path laid out for him - "You're getting sacked in the morning".

So the Boro fans came to bury young Scott, and in the end another undeserving, decent man, got the hardest time. It's only words, no-one died.

But enough of that, how did the game pan out?

Well, it wasn't a classic. Boro started better than us, and after maybe 5 minutes or so, almost scored - Downing clear of Mellberg shot at goal, hard and accurately, from the angle. Scott Carson made the save....just. The ball missing by an inch or so, after he managed to get a block in. Such fine margins. He was cleary nervous - some iffy kicking revealed as much, and was clearly being gee'd up and supported by the Villa players, as well as fans. That save, early on was really one of only two he had to make all game. The other being after maybe 75 minutes, when he was back on song.

So with Scott redeemed, how did the others do?
Not brilliantly, it has to be admitted. But not badly either.

For 35 minutes, with Boro the less bad of a bad pair, the game sort of scuffled along, not helped by the ref, who gave some bizarre decisions.

It was at this point that Martin O'Neill did something simple, but very effective. He moved Ashley Young to the right, put Barry left, and it clicked immediately. The shortfall had been obvious - Ash wasn't getting the ball, and there wasn't really anyone playing wide on the right.

The last 10 minutes of the half, with Villa stepped up and better set out, we got on top. Zat Knight got the ball at the back, came inside the onrushing forward and knocked it out to the left, where Freddie Bouma, who was very good today, headed back to Gareth Barry. Nice cross into Carew's feet, a swivel holding off Woodgate and a shot into the bottom corner. 45 minutes, 1-0. The police rushed to form a barrier in front of the Villa fans, for some unknown reason. They were very efficient at it, well drilled. Top marks from the Sarge, no doubt, though I guess they get a lot of practice, maybe.

The second half was not long started when we got a nice second goal. Ashley Young pressured a Boro defender, nicked the ball, and although there was no goal from it, we did get a corner. Ashley took it, in front of us, a defender went to clear, but hooked the ball back to another defender...Olof Mellberg, who controlled and lashed in like Gabby. So much like Gabby that it took the announcer and the fans around me to explain that it wasn't Gabby. I was wondering why Olly looked quite so chuffed.

It wasn't long before we got another goal, Boro' by now starting to misplace passes, and generally look a bit disheartened and ragged at the back and in midfield dropped another clanger. This time it was Woodgate. A long ball down the middle from Carson, bounced towards Woodgate, with Gabby closing in on it. Woodgate let it bounce, Gabby nipped in and biffed it past Schwarzer. Red faces and red shirts.

For Boro, Boateng was trying to turn the tide, Johnson was playing very well, and with spirit, but the rest....
They'd started off using the flanks well, Alliadiere was like a proto-Bergkamp at times, one turn was glorious, but as the game went on, it was clearly a lost cause.

Villa were sharper, more confident, and more dangerous. Craig Gardner on for Petrov again nicked the ball, passed through for Gabby to collect, beat the defender and hit the post.

Boro had possession, but did little with it. The game meandered to a close. The Boro fans meandered out of the ground, miserable.

At the final whistle, the players thanked us for our support, as did Martin O'Neill, holding up 3 fingers. 3 goals? 3 wins in a row, or 3 more years? I hope it was all three (at least).

I hope Gareth Southgate sorts out his troubles, I hope Martin O'Neill stays, I hope Scott Carson continues to play well for Villa. I hope Nigel Reo-Coker stops with the daft tackles (booked again).

Some marks

Scott Carson. 6 - not that busy, nervy early on, but fine by the end. Clean sheet, again.

Olly - 7 - up against Downing who was good, done a couple of times, but solid, and one extra for the lovely goal.
Freddie Bouma - 7. Just a really sound defender, and helped with the first goal.
Zat - solid. 6
Martin Laursen - Ditto. (Curtis Davies, confident, but not on long enough to mark)

Ash - bright, 6
NRC - worked hard, not the best passing at times, but did his job effectively. 6
GB - 6. Not at his best, but fine.
Stan Petrov - 6. Looking sorted, now. (Craig Gardner - bright when he came on. it would have been his sort of game, 6)

Big John - 6. Stuggled for a while, but battled hard, nice goal. (Wee Shaun, nice touches, didn't get the ball so much, though.)
Gabby - 7. He earned his goal by his performance, and in the actual move itself. Man Of the Match.

The marks may seem low, for a 3-0 win, but to be honest, Boro weren't too good.

 

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Stay Hungry - Bolton Away report

 

Some match reports are as easy to write as scoffing a kebab after a night out. The match might have been a veritable chilli sauce coated helping of juicy lamb and salad, perhaps with the pickled chilli peppers of classic goals or a simmering atmosphere to accompany it.

Other reports are rather more "school dinners" - all a bit of an effort, something you feel you know you should do, but which to be honest isn't that appetising, and in fact is something that's been said thousands of times before.

I'm afraid children, it's time for your overcooked cabbage and meat of indeterminate origin, with watery tapioca to follow. There's no Jamie Oliver round these parts.

So here we go.

After the (for me) short trip to the Reebok, followed by, naturally a couple of amenable pints with fellow VTers, Bickster, LancsVilla and Aston, it was a saunter to the ground and up to the top tier of the away end.

The first thing noticeable was the amount of empty seats in the place. The Trotters are clearly uninspired by the appointment of Megson and their rubbish start to the season, the Villans perhaps put off by the ridiculous prices, early kick off and TV showing. I mean what kind of git charges 32 quid for this type of game? "Your Ground's too big for you" we sang, and it is the way they're going. It can't have had 20,000 in it, which is pitiful.

Back to the culinary theme, and Villa's line up was a hotch-potch. Ozzy was in, theoretically on the right, Stan Petrov back in the middle, Shaun on the left, and Ashley supporting an isolated Gabby. Zat Knight luckily for him, kept his place.

The game was a sequence of disorganised play, little of quality happening. For us, the formation was a mess. The side unbalanced, the players appearing lost. Olly was getting skinned by Diouf, Ozzy was wandering inside, not getting tight on men, and when he found space, the easy ball to him was not forthcoming. Neither Ash, nor Shaun were really getting at players and Gabby was chasing lost causes. Stillian Petrov was the single player playing well for us. Personally, I was glad to see him back in. He's a proper footballer, with a brain. He did well after his recent dip in form.

Bolton, of course, scored. From a free kick, of course. Given away by Zat knight, of course, though it was perhaps harsh - as much backing in as pushing. The otherwise anonymous Anelka lifted the ball over the wall, and Taylor might have got to it, but didn't.

Bolton also might have had a penalty, as the ball seemed to hit a defenders arm, from about a yard away, so maybe it also struck a Bolton player, or maybe the short distance it travelled counted for us. Or maybe the ref was as unsure as I was, exactly what happened.

Half time and we were saying, "please Martin, just play 4-4-2, give Gabby some help, fill that big gap on the right and we'll be a lot better".

He did, and we were. Paddy Berger came on for Shaun, and played on the left, Luke came on for Ozzy, and Ash moved to the right.

Ah a shape. We were better without being particularly good, but it was at least "right". Barry came more into the game, Berger was looking to link with Luke and the players appeared happier all round.

We equalised when Gabby escaped down their left, cut inside and lashed the ball across, perhaps aiming for Luke, but it was deflected at pace, past Jaskaleinen. Bolton complained because the ref had over-ruled the linesman, and they had gone to sleep.

After that, Bolton kind of reverted to the Allardyce tactic of long throws and set pieces, we just about coped, though they should have scored when Diouf, I think it was, shot over from a yard after GB had cleared badly with his right foot. In the first half Gabby had missed a chance from a rebound off the keeper following a shot from Shaun. It was one of those days. I thought it would end 2-1 to someone, but there were no more goals, no Jam for the tapioca.

So some thoughts and marks from the game.

Well done to all those supporting both sides who turned up. Well judged to those who didn't.
The manager got the team wrong, but at least rectified it at half time.
It was nice to see Stan Petrov back and playing well, Ozzy showed glimpses again of how he's come on, and he was perhaps sacrificed tactically rather than for performing badly. Shaun Maloney is popular with the fans, and rightly so, but it didn't quite happen for him today. That happens. Keep your head up Shaun. Next time, you'll make hay.

There needs to be a bit more hunger, sometimes, to win. It seemed we were happy to get the draw.

Gav McCann got a nice round of applause, and JLloyd got some stick from some. Neither did anything to show that they should still be at Villa. But good luck to them, especially Gav.

Marks

Stu Taylor 6; Might have saved the free kick, distribution OK without being as good as Carson's is.

Olly; 5- Looked uncomfortable, but not helped by the wierd formation first half.
Freddie Bouma; 6 - good defensively.
Martin Laursen; 6 - won everything in the air, caught out a couple of times.
Zat; 5 - Did OK, a couple of moments of concern.

Ozzy; 5 - lost on the right, but some nice touches, and he was finding space well. Needed to help Olly out by getting tighter on Gardner and Diouf.
Stillian Petrov; 7 - MoTM for Villa. Kept us alive, really in the first half, consistent.
GB; 6 - Much better second half than first.
Ashley Young; 6 - delivery not the best today, boundless energy.
Shaun; 5 - one jinky run and powerful shot, some nice play, but a bit peripheral.

Gabby; 7 - played well again, horribly isolated first half. 

Subs Paddy Berger 6 and Luke 6 - both had a big impact in terms of settling us down. They linked well and held and used the ball well. Luke could have put in a bit more effort towards the end, I felt, but maybe that's harsh.

Time for Tea.

 

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Daydream Nation - Man City Away Report

 

First things first - anyone reading this before the match "highlights" come on the telly - don't bother staying up for Match of The Day - get some kip instead.

That said, I suppose I'd better make a few jottings to explain why, and what went on, or didn't.

I must admit that until arriving in Manchester, or shortly before, I was under the (false) impression that it was a 2 pm kick off. Checking my ticket I was a bit surprised to find out it was actually a 4pm game. That's the problem, really (not my general numb-brainedness) you just can't settle into any kind of routine. TV has done for us match going fans. Perhaps today was a bit of revenge. Up yours, Sky!.

Before that though, I should mention that arriving at 11:15 for a 4 pm kick off does at least allow for plenty of pre-match refreshment time. And so it was that Bicks and myself, and later Scott and his mate from Leicester were able to chatter and sup in the centre of Manchester, before getting the bus up to the COMS.

By now, feeling more than a bit peckish after all that beer, we scoffed down some hearty northern pies, pasties and hot-dogs and took our seats. The ground was far from full, and far from noisy. In fact it was soporific and unexpectant. Yawning gaps in the stands, yawning fans in the occupied seats.

45 minutes of football took place, in which almost precisely nothing happened. Scott Carson made a good save, City cleared a couple of shots off, or not far off, the line. But it was dull, sterile, tedious and uninspiring. Both sets of fans, normally pretty noisy, were barely able to rouse so much as a murmur.

Half time. Relief.

But within minutes of the restart, the promising Alan Johnson, for City, ran past Nigel Reo-Coker, kept on going, and finished very well.

Rain. You could see the clouds gathering before the rain came, big, black, monolithic beasts, hanging in the Sky. I guess they got bored, too, and decided to dump their contents as a sign of their discontent, or maybe they just do that anyway.

With the worsening weather, there was some increase, though not much, in the atmosphere, and some increase, though not much, in the tempo of the game.

Carew was replaced by Maloney, with wee Shaun going wide and Gabby into the middle. Later Bouma, who had been decent, was replaced by Petrov, and Reo-Coker, who had been poor, was replaced by Gardner. Barry went to left back.

It didn't really make much difference.

As we pushed further and further forwards to try, rather rubbishly, to get an equaliser, City had some half chances on the break, and they almost got a second, but Barry running back, cleared off the line after their man had gone round Carson.

To be honest, I'm struggling to write this. The antisceptic, nature of the game and the day has just about done for me. The trains ran on time, nothing to moan about, but I do feel the players, and manager will regret that they didn't give it the full gun, as BFR might say. One step forward, one step back.

Some marks
Scott Carson - 7. One good save, some good distribution, too.

Olly - 6. OK
Bouma 7. He was good and unlucky to be subbed, I felt. (Craig Gardner 5)
Martin Laursen 6 - OK
Zat Knight - 6. OK, too.

Gabby - 6
Nigel Reo-Coker 4. Disappointing. he's either very good or poor. Nowhere in between, it seems. (Petrov 6)
Gareth Barry-7 our best player, again, but he needed his team mates to give a bit more, today.
Ashley Young - 5. Not so effective today.

Big John - 5. Mostly harmless. (Shaun 5 - didn't get enough ball)
Luke - 5. Likewise. Worked tirelessly though, which is something he hasn't always done.

 

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mountain Energei - Newcastle Away Report

 

So to our second game of the season, to be witnessed from the upper slopes of St James' Park, Newcastle. Another tea time O'Clock kick off, thanks to those oh so considerate TV men - though for once the later kick off suited me. It meant a leisurely morning and a drive up to SJP, at a civilised time and still plenty of time for some convivial beers with fellow VTers, Bicks and Chris, in a local bar before making our way to the game. Good chat. Thanks.

After doing my usual daft thing of speeding up the multitude of steps to the concourse, I had time to catch my breath and wait for Bicks and Chris to more sensibly amble up.

The view from the seats never ceases to amaze. It's bloddy miles high. You can see both Spain and Iceland from the away section (possibly). I detected the annual migration of the buffalo across the tundra, too. You can also just about make out the pitch, in the far distance, many fathoms below.

Anyway - the match. We started with a similar team to last week, but with Stuart Taylor perhaps unluckily making way for Scott Carson (dressed as a banana) in goal.

Being as it's quite late, now, typing this, I guess that you will know it was 0-0. But it wasn't a bad game, nor was it a belter. It was one of those "good point" away from home type results, where we perhaps had slightly the better of things, but didn't do quite enough to win. I felt we had the better chances, though neither keeper was overly troubled on too many occasions.

Early on we definitely had the better of the game, Martin Laursen who had a visibly exasperated Viduka in his pocket all afternoon had a header from a corner brilliantly saved by Harper, Gabby streaked clean through, got caught, won the ball back, and then instead of squaring to an unmarked Ashley Young decided to shoot himself, rather lamely. It's at times like that that you don't know whether to curse his greed or applaud the fact that he got there in the first place. Bit of both I guess. He'd certainly looked a threat all afternoon, and Newcastle were wary of him.
He doesn't though seem to link really with Carew. They're just two forwards, rather than a partnership. Carew was a lot better than last week, but still didn't look completely fit, though he maybe took an knock early on, again.

We played with different tactics to last week. Ashley Young stayed wide, and had a great game, full of energy, not just going forwards, twisting and jinking, but also helping out defensively. He caught the eye again.

Others who played really well were Martin Laursen, who was immense, Olly who was tidy, and Nigel Reo Coker who didn't impress me at all last week, but this week was a bundle of energy and looks to have slotted in perfectly. He made some great runs and surges forward, and almost scored a blinder after a long run. He's got his own, unique, song now, too.

In the "did OK" group were most of the rest of the team. Barry looked to be caught on the ball just a bit too much, Petrov was classy in patches but not quite convincing, though he did make a great chance for Carew to lash miles wide. Barry did similar for Petrov later on. He missed too. But it looks like the "dinked" cross to the far post might have been part of a plan.

Talking of which, the overriding impression of the two teams was that they are both exceedingly well coached, but both lack a touch of invention. The players of both sides were clearly playing to a plan, but neither side was quite able to break the shackles of the opponents. For us, it's quite pleasing to see progress in away games, where we won't be "undone" easily. For Newcastle fans, perhaps remembering how they used to blitz sides with abandon, it's maybe not so edifying. It can be a bit "samey" the Prem. All sports science, defensive tracking back and endeavour, and slightly lacking in spontaneity. The teams that can either afford or develop and also accommodate the extra ingenuity will be the ones who prosper. 

Back to the players that were on the pitch, in this random ramble, Bouma was defensively excellent, as we've come to expect, but wasteful at times with the ball, and offers little offensive support. Craig Gardener on the other side was again defensively undone several times, and isn't a full back, but he did a job there, for the team.

Luke Moore came on as a sub with maybe 20 minutes to go and looked lively. He links well with Gabby and Ashley and is making himself available for the midfielders more than perhaps he did last season. We seem to play more as a team with him on the pitch.

Scott Carson was reassuring in goal - one first half save was excellent, and there were few, if any, misunderstandings with the rest of the defence, though he was scarcely troubled, truth be told. Looks a good signing, though.

There's only two more things to say. 50,000 people can make a lot of noise, and they're great fans, the Geordies, but there were only really about 2000 of them, and 2000 of us singing in the ground, up in the Gods. It used to be bedlam, before they enbiggened the ground. Shame that's gone, that atmosphere.

And finally, the drive back. being later than usual, I got to drive through the part of the country with the best scenery, but at twilight, and it was great. Though grey and rainy, the half light, the low clouds and the lack of towns and industry across the cumbrian and northumbrian hills interspersed only with the occasional lit up edifice of a giant factory, seemingly generating clouds, or perhaps mining for grit or clogs, or black puddings was like something out of Lord of the rings, or maybe a Bond villain's lair.

I'm glad football's back. Watching the cricket on the telly in the pub, made me sad that summer never really got to happen, this year, but today was good. Villa will be fine, too. We've got good players, are well coached, good support and just need something adding. If we get it , we could be really good.

 

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Summerbreeze

 

I read Mike's PR, Promises and Perception article concerning, in effect, the raised expectations of the supporters at Villa park, and wondered whether within it there is a perhaps valid criticism of the communication from the club to supporters regarding transfers.

So I thought I'd try and look at it from the other side, and see how the view panned out, and what if anything needs to be done, could be done.

The club has been taken over by new a new owner and his team, and has transformed itself, with a great deal of time, effort and commitment, not to mention money, from those people into a different club. One that clearly is genuinely intent on returning to the top echelons of the English, and one day, European game.

I feel that the club will think (rightly) that the changes in relationships between themselves (players, manager, officials, board) and us lot are much improved. Better atmosphere at games, bigger crowds, more season tickets sold and so on. 2 way dialogue on VT and elsewhere about all aspects of the club except transfers.

So far so good - except the transfer thing?

Well yes and no. I would imagine that the perception from the club of us lot is slightly mixed.

They've had a lot of praise (rightly so) for many of the things they have done. Both publicly and in private, and I believe they genuinely appreciate the heartfelt thanks response they've had for their actions. So that's nice.

Transfer wise, up to yesterday, the feedback, too, has been positive, and they'll have been pleased.

So this boils down to the reactions to the news of Marlon's signing. Reaction has fallen into perhaps 3 camps

a) Good. The manager wanted him, the board backed the signing, we got our man.
B) Bad. Marlon is not the sort of player I rate. We should have signed [someone else]
c) We've been lied to, I want my season ticket money back, it's a disgrace. The club is just the same old club it was, talking the talk in the transfer window to get sales of season tickets up.

The first 2 views seem fair enough to me, for a fan to hold. The third completely unfair. I would guess the club are somewhat bemused to get such, er, strident, comment back.

So is it the fans (well a portion of us) who are out of order? Or is there something in what they say? Mike seems to suggest communication from the club is lacking, and thus contributed to fans feeling strongly that they have been "let down".

If he's right, How could this area change?

Should or could the club have not said that they want to succeed and "walk the walk"?
The answer is they could have said little on their aims and ambitions. But this would have been a mistake. As new and unknown owners, there was a clear obligation on Randy and Co. to spell out to the fans "how it's gonna be".

Well should they have been more communicative in this area then?
"We want to sign 6 players - a forward, 2 midfielders, a goalkeeper and 2 defenders (or whatever) and we have a budget of (say) 22 million pounds"?

There's two flaws with this approach (at least).
Spelling out the detail of your transfer plans is not a good negotiating tactic.
Spelling out your budget is not a good negotiating tactic

Saying exactly what you want and getting it are 2 different things. Clubs may not want to sell, current players may wish to move, or offers might come in, which change your plans - where you end up, and where you started from are often a way apart.
Overall result - your negotiating position is weak, you end up giving yourself more chance of failure than success - leading to fans, who you were trying to please, exceedingly unhappy.

Well what about regular updates, instead, then?
"we're going to be going for a fullback from Europe in the next 10 days" (or whatever).

Result, alert rivals to your next move. Get the press tracking your moves and intentions. Outcome - reduced chance of failure and miffed fans and furious manager. Mistake.

Compared to the options so far, the one they actually took doesn't seem so bad, does it?

Practically speaking, no clubs truthfully say who they are after when they will sign them and what their budget is. They have found over time that the best plan is to keep schtum and try to get on with things out of the glare of the insatiable demand for information from media and fans.

But still, there is a part of me thinking Mike's got a point, to an extent. How did we get to a situation where so many normally rational people appear to have lost all sense of proportion? Surely something can be done to address this?
Perhaps we should go back to what the General has said? "I'm not going to discuss transfers - that's MO'N's remit"
In this case then, maybe MO'N should discuss them just a little bit?

I don't mean individual players, targets or fees, I mean where he sees the squad, overall.

It's been striking to me having read hundreds of pages of comment on just one transfer that MO'N pretty much universally escaped any criticism, whilst poor old Marlon and Richard Fitzgerald came in for loads of "comment".

It seems that the manager, the man who really matters in all this, might be the solution, then. After all Martin O'Neill is a very clever man. Shrewd, great with people. Canny.

I think maybe a few words from our leader would be helpful, just from time to time, on how things are progressing. How he sees the squad progressing, where he's still looking and working to improve matters.
We got a taste of it towards the end of the season - Gabby will maybe not manage another ever present season and I want to help him a bit" was the gist of one tidbit. And it was good. a couple of lines, job done in that areaa.

It doesn't take much to add that he would be looking therefore to add a forward to the squad who would neither block Gabby's progression, nor break the bank and detract from strengthening in other areas. He wants someone fast and powerful as an option, someone with something to prove to people....etc" or words to that effect.

Surely there's a positive in there - a popular player in Gabby is helped, and equally expectations (wildly stoked by vivid imaginations) are aligned realistically. Would we (some of us) be going freaky mental if this had happened?

This type of thing even now, would be in my eyes a good move. Maybe in respect of the defence and defenders at the club, or another area. No need to spill any beans, but just an inkling?

Maybe something about whether there are plans in the pipeline for other notable signings. That's all.

Of course if there aren't then maybe the lesson is that what Richard Fitzgerald intimated was out of kilter with what MO'N intended to actually do? And if so, maybe MO'N and Fitz should better co-ordinate what they say and do. In this case, had Richard Fitzgerald said that the new people at the club, including the manager, had reviewed the season, been hugely impressed with the progress made by the youngsters, had identified the need for broadening the squad width, but felt that he introduction of too many new faces in one go would be counter productive, that they felt that 2 or 3 additions or replacements would be necessary but that (for example) Martin Laursen's fitness and form, combined with the progess made by Gary Cahill...etc blah blah meant that major surgery is not needed, that a chance to continue had been earned....etc" then expectations again, would be managed.

Of course, there's another aspect. We may yet be adding further to the squad, I believe we will. I believe that Marlon Harewood will be a useful player at Villa Park, I believe that despite the furore the club now is in good shape and good hands.

Maybe the lesson is simply that it's the silly season and we all get affected and talk drivel to fill the gap.

So to our proud, bemused, but very welcome American board I can only say, welcome to an English Summer. May you experience plenty more.

 

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Inner Flight

 

Musings on how NRC might fit in

It's one of the strange facets of life that if you know you have to get up early - to catch a flight say, you're not gonna be able to get a proper kip in, even if you go to bed early, because you subconsciously know you dare not oversleep.


So it was that last night, on the day that it was reported Villa and West Ham had agreed to swap Nigel Reo Coker for a bag of dollars, I was due to fly early the next morning.

Unable to sleep, my mind wandered onto the long anticipated signing. I can't say as I've got an opinion on him. I don't remember noticing him stand out any time I've seen Villa play West Ham (perhaps he wasn't in the team - I wasn't going to get up and scour the interweb for confirmation), but it occurred to me that managers tend to pick players they sign, especially when they cost a bundle.

So I was thinking - next season's midfield.... Last season's midfield.....got to get up at 6.... Barry and Petrov looked good together in the middle.... is the alarm set?. Gardener developing nicely, but can't be expected to play every game. Luke Young really came on a bundle - where's NRC going to play?
It didn't add up in my sleepy head.

I mean put Petrov and NRC in the middle and Barry has to go left, and Ashley Young right, but Barry is better in the middle. So if Ash goes on the left, then Barry is in the middle. Turn off brain, and go to sleep. Gah, dammit.

Basically, I was confused. Where is the shape?

Villa found some form when Gav dropped out and we had more creativity in the middle, but somehow, good as we looked at times, I felt that a strong midfield (i.e. a top 4 midfield) would win out over our 4. The signing of Nigel Reo Coker by MO'N would be to address that, I was sure.

Suddenly it's 1 am and I'm still awake.

Maybe, we'll play 3-5-2. That way it all fits together.

3 at the back from Olly, Martin Laursen, Gary Cahill, Ridge, Freddie Bouma, Mark Delaney, - defenders all. Mmmm. Seems possible.

5 in midfield centred around NRC as the ball winner, with GB and Stan Petrov either side, and then 2 of Ashley Young, Craig Gardener and a new player to provide the width (GB could go left Young Right and Gardener into the middle as an option).

Then up front we've currently got 2 from Big John, Luke and Gabby.

That kind of fits.

So we need as a minimum another winger/wide player, for the right side, and another forward (please not Germaine Defoe, I can't stand him. Too London for me, too cocky for his ability).

And then I fell asleep.

The plane was delayed, and I might as well have had a lie in.

 

Sunday, May 13, 2007

where i end and you begin - bolton away report

 

So that's it, then. Another season done and dusted. It's been a mixed bag, with an underlying theme of improvement and optimism. Today's game exemplified why.

The day started with the short trip, for me, to Horwich and the Bromilow Arms, where, some fine beer ( the local flat cap) was taken, and end of season chatter was had with fellow Villans from the North West. (Credit again to Bickster for taxiing it all the way from Liverpool).

After our pre-match sharpeners we walked down to the out of town shopping mall and football dome place that is the home of Bolton Wanderers. We knew I think, what we'd get. They might have lost "Big Sam", but the players are still the same - all big, strong, fit lads, with a bit of ability, a good team ethic and an awkward style of play, to both play against and to watch.

The first 20 minutes or so, in the Lancashire rain, were pretty end of season uneventful. The game wasn't a great spectacle. Villa playing the same team as last week were relaxed, but not lackadaisical, Bolton were their usual selves.

It was around about the 20 minute mark when they scored, in front of us. A knock down in the box, less than diligent marking and Gary Speed finished well. Sloppy, really by Villa, but exactly the sort of awkward thing Bolton excel at.

Fortunately, Villa have a spirit and ability about them these days that means we don't take setbacks as anything more than temporary blips. Within 5 minutes Craig Gardener had scored an absolute blinder. A volley as the ball fell over his shoulder, from Big John's knock on, on from the corner of the box. it was unstoppable. 1-1 and the game reverted to it's middling fair. Plenty of people seemed as interested in scores from elsewhere, a sure sign that the game wasn't riveting the attention.

There were a few scrapes at each end, and injury to Tommy, caused by a fair challenge as he hesitated with a defender over who was going to deal with a ball, and Nolan, I think, caught him on the hand, with his studs.

The second half saw Stuart Taylor on, and Bolton swap Anelka (off) for Idan Tal.
Bolton had more of the play for the first part of the half, and another failure to clear a ball in left Davies to score, similarly to Speed in the first half.

For a while, Bolton were well in control, and they looked perhaps more likely to get a third, than we did to equalise. The Villa players looked tired in comparison to the Trotters who were after a European place.

Martin O'Neill decided to replace Patrick berger with Luke Moore, and a bit later, Freddie Bouma with Steven Davis. Both substitutions worked well, livening up the side and adding threat and invention.

You just know with Luke, that given a chance, he'll score. He did again. Lovely play by MoTM Ashley Young a ball in from the goal line, and Luke Volleyed past Jaskelainen before he could blink. The last 10 minutes then saw Villa pressing, then holding on, then Bolton playing for time, presumably because of scores elsewhere.

Referee Clattenburg blew his whistle for the last time this season, the fans, many Villans in fancy dress, cheered and applauded the players off. Martin Laursen threw his shirt into the crowd, hopefully he'll stay.
It rained some more and I was home in time for tea.

Some marks for a fairly ordinary game.

Tommy 6 (Stuart taylor 6)

Aaron Hughes 6
Freddie Bouma 6
Olly 6 - never seems to do well against the physical sides.
Martin Laursen 7 - we'll seriously miss him if he goes. I hope his fitness stays and his knees hold up.

Patrick Berger - 6
Gareth Barry 7
Craig Gardner 7 (1 for the fabulous volley)
Ashley Young 8 MoTM - full of confidence and tricks.

Big John - 6
Gabby 6.

So, for the next 3 months, while cricketers huddle from the rain, tennis players fleetingly take centre stage and papers talk of transfers and intrigue to fill the space, we'll recharge out batteries, rest our throats and watch as the club continues to improve.

We started brightly, dipped and then came again. That's the beginning sorted, now comes the hard bit.

Thanks to all the players and staff, the barmen and barmaids, the fellow claret and blue travellers and even the odd train driver. See you all in August.

 

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hello Sunshine - Man City Away Report

 

Global warming - don't ya just love it?

The season is almost at an end, and in the north west of England today, the sun shone, warmed the bones and made promises of things to come.

But being northern dwellers, Jon, his Bro and myself protected our pasty winter complexions within the shelter of a packed boozer near piccadilly, watching the SKY telly game from Goodison. Can't be too careful, what with them ultra violent rays beating down from the heavens.

Anyway, after pleasant chat and pleasant beers, we trooped on up to the upside down space spider that is the COMS, home of low (should that be "No") scoring Manchester City. So did around 40,000 others. about 3000 of them Villans, the rest being of course the fans of the also rans of manchester. Their support is numerically excellent, but on todays evidence, sonically dire. Not as bad as their team though.

The game, which let's face it, was not one of the weekend's more important fixtures, kicked off lively enough. City were perhaps the brighter, early on, but truth be told, both sets of players looked a bit enervated.

Olly and Martin laursen seemed to be handling the efforts of Mpenza, Samaras and Vassel pretty comfortably. Neither goal really looked under much threat.

After this initial "getting to know you" period, Villa started to come much more into the game from an offensive viewpoint. But still to not much effect.

Then, in the calmness that is only present when the game means not so much, I knew we'd score, before we did. Ashley Young wriggled on the left, beat his man and put over a terrific cross. I was certain, even before seeing Carew head it superbly into the corner, that we'd score.

It all looked so pre-destined, in that moment. All those worries about bogey sides, Darius and poor records in Manchester rendered meaningless and groundless by a bloke taking on the defender, crossing, and a big lad heading in across the keeper. Simple game, Dunno why we get so tangled up.

In the end of season sunshine Gareth Barry was the one player on the pitch who really looked like it meant something to him. He had a top game this afternoon. Ran it, really. Others did good too, but GB was the stand out.

Nevertheless, with Halsey refereeing, you just can't take things for granted. Shortly before half time Tommy turned away a City shot for a corner, the corner was crossed in and Tommy, in coming for the ball, was either prevented from getting it by Vassel, merely didn't get there with no one being at fault, or if you're Mark Halsey, fouled Darius heinously and gave away a pen.

Joey "youse lot are all sh*te" Barton, showed his average team mates how to do it, by, er, tonking the pen miles over the bar. Diddums. :)

Half time.

Second half was much more one sided, Villa were well on top. Not as much so as at Boro a week or two ago, but nevertheless, we looked easily the more able side. Really I suppose, we should have made more of this superiority, but we never looked like letting one in....until Mpenza got clean through, following a foul on Carew, not given, City broke quickly, but Tommy saved excellently in a one on one.

Carew was subbed off, not long after, Shaun Maloney replacing him. You know your luck's in when a sub comes on and scores straight away. It happened at Boro with Luke. This time it was wee Shaun. A free kick maybe 28 yards out. Wall, keeper, etc. Easy. Ball over the wall and into the goal. Keeper static. It was the second time I knew we'd score before we did. Wierd. 

City fans streamed, sullenly, to their exits, Villans stayed and enjoyed the last 15 or 20 minutes.

Game over. Job done.

It wasn't a classic, I doubt MoTD will be able to make much of it. It was all so end of season meaningless, in the wider context. For Villa though it wasn't meaningless. Apart from the duty of the players to damned well earn their devotion and their money, there was the issue of ending a "hoodoo", of keeping on the improvements so that next season starts on the right lines, of fighting to earn their places in the team. No game is truly meaningless to the fans, and nor should it be to the players.

Some marks

Tommy - 7 - Crucial saves,

Bardsley - 7 - Did well defensively, best game for a while from him.
Freddie Bouma - 7. You know the thing, without me saying.
Olly - 7
Crazy Horse - 7 - the pair of them were on top of their opponents throughout.

Craig Gardner - impressed again - 7
Stan - He had another good one. 7
Ashley Young - A lively 7
Gareth Barry - Didn't put a foot wrong, ran the game. 9

Big bad John Carew - 7 - looked a bit unfit, but effective. (wee shauny 7 - lovely free kick)
Gabby 7.

City were pants.

I haven't had a moan about the trains for a bit. SO here we go. Coming back tonight, and this is true, the train announcer (on the train) said "we're not stopping at [any of the stops] as we're running late" 4 minutes late, that's all! Consequently...well you can guess, but how daft is that? - People stood by platforms as the train howled past, having to wait another hour because the fecking driver must have been on a promise. Utter twunt. Grrrr.

It didn't detract from a good day all round, though. But North West trains are still ****s.

 

Saturday, April 14, 2007

All Tomorrow's Parties - Middlesbrough Away Report

 

It's always the best journey of the season, for me, Middlesbrough. Not necessarily the best game, or the best away ground, but just the best trip.

The reason why is the scenery on the way and today it was even more beautiful on the way back. The sun's gentle rays alighting in their soft, evening, way on the ancient landscape between the East and West of the country. Lambs with their little black heads trotting and mewling after their shaggy coated mothers in their stone wall enclosed fields, Lapwings twirling and wheeling, like black and white mini-stukas. Crows waiting for fresh road-kill. Marvellous.

I'd set off this warm morning in hope. Hope because of recent better performances and results and hope because Boro seems to be a lucky ground for us. Lucky in that we always seem to play well there, even if we lose.

The Riverside is a similar distance from Lytham as is Villa Park, so, it's not exactly a home game, but it's not to difficult to get to, at all, and with the aforementioned glorious scenery, I got my kicks on the A66 (except the bit with the roadworks, which was a pain - still I should have got up early enough to catch the train, but there you go, another story..).

My arrival in 'Boro was made all the more pleasant by meeting up with PMS from VillaTalk, his lads and Jan. We talked of Blackpool, Edinburgh and Vodka aversion, and last year's tonking of the 'Boro over a couple of drinks and some food and then meandered our merry way to the ground.

It sits there, spaceship like, or maybe just ship-like, on the waste-ground the other side of the A66 from the town centre.

And so to the match itself.

I guess most people will know the result, 3-1 to Villa, and I think it was a fair reflection of play.
The game had started off with both teams playing the ball around nicely, a couple of chances for Villa - Shaun Maloney should really have scored, clean through, but turned instead of taking the ball on, and the chance was gone. He hit another long range effort left footed, which Shwarzer tipped for a corner. Anyway, the play was bright and tidy, neither side had any fear or any massive objective to chase, but it was entertaining. Then Boro were given a free kick about 25 yards or more out. Rochenbach (the announcer said) hit a powerfull shot past the wall, but Tommy was well positioned, and caught the ball half on his chest, half in the crook of his arm....and then let it squirm through and trickle into the goal, at his right hand post.

Some of the maybe 1800 or so Villans cussed and abused, some chanted Tommy's name. Me, I just thought, hey ho, it's team game, all of us need to make up for the error.

And we did. The goal had come after about 20 minutes and by half time we were level. Phil Bardsley, I think, played Gabby through, and his run down the right and subsequent cross found Craig Gardner unmarked in the middle to finish nicely, for his first Villa goal. Gabby's rocket heels and endeavour troubled Boro all game.

With the goal coming just before half time we went for our half time refreshments lifted.

The second half was much more one sided than the first. Villa ran it. The previously slightly tentative Ashley Young and Phil Bardsley improved and the rest of them maintained or lifted what was already a good standard of play.

With each side attacking their own fans we got to see plenty of Villa pressure and skill. While George Boateng is a fine player, he was outplayed in midfield by Stan Petrov and Gareth Barry, ably assisted by Craig Gardner and Ashley Young. All game Martin Laursen and Olly were well in control of the tricky Yakubu and Freddie Bouma has his side sewn up, too.

Perhaps 20 minutes or so into the second half Luke Moore came on for Shaun Maloney to freshen up our control of the game, and within a couple of minutes he was celebrating. A free kick played in by Ashley Young was headed down by Martin Laursen and Luke swiveled and shot past the blameless keeper. Luke looked mighty pleased.

5 minutes later, we were further ahead. Barry picked up the ball, passed nicley to Petrov's good run, Petrov slipped past the defender and shot into the corner. Sweet for Villa, sweet for Stan, and sweet for my friend Yordi (a Bulgarian), next to me, who would collect Stan's shirt after the game.

Despite the sunshine outside, in the shade it was cool, and Villa kept their cool too, to easily see out the rest of the game.

Steven Davis (lively) and later Aaron Hughes had a run out. All was well with the world.

Some marks

Tommy 5 - His distribution of the ball was good, he wasn't that busy, but he did drop a ricket. Still it happens.
Bardsley 5 - Still learning, plenty of time to get the necessary "nouse"
Olly - 8 - Dominant
Martin Laursen 8 - Dominant - the two centre backs were absolutely rock solid.
Freddie - 7. Good

Craig Garner - Worked his socks off, scored a nice goal - 7.5
Stan - Lovely finish, lovely passing. He knows how to run a game when we're on top 7.5
GB - Class, as always - 7.5
Ashley Young - eager, 6.5

Shaun Maloney - 6.5 - another youngster with time on his side.
Gabby - 8 MoTM - Full of it today. A right handful.

Subs - Luke 7 (1 for the goal) - he scored, That's what forwards are there for.
Steve Davis - 7
Aaron Hughes not on for long, 6.

We played keep ball, we passed and moved, we entertained. Let's hope that our tomorrows bring more of the same, but better.

 

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Sunny Road - Blackburn Away Report

 

A sunny Easter Saturday saw 4000 Villans in Blackburn Lancashire.

Spring, don't you just love it?

Certainly today was a beautiful day. The early morning mists cleared to make way for a blue sky and short train ride to Ewood for my local game. One of the highlights of the season for an exiled Villan is to be able to make just a short trip to the game, rather than endure hours travelling each way.

The local train pulled into Blackburn, and 4 of us went for a few sociable pints in the Adelphi. "Black Sheep" was drunk, perhaps in recognition of recent feelings about a few of the team. There were a few concerns about the line up, but I felt nervously hopeful as we caught the bus to the Fernhurst, closer to the ground.
The beer's a bit averarge in there, but standing in the sun, meeting with a veritable horde of VTers, no one seemed to mind. The fans were boisterous but well behaved, as we wandered into the ground.

After a quick meat n'potato pie (they had no brown sauce, which is shocking) I settled down to watch Villa control the game. All the action seemed to be down the far end. Villa's midfield probing and passing, and Blackburn doing little but defend.

Friedel, that excellent shot stopper, was at it again. Last season he'd played a blinder in the correspondng game, though Baros had been hugely wasteful. This season, with no Baros, and his replacement out injured, we played with "wee Shauny" and Gabby as a tiny tots front two. No matter, they posses speed and trickery and with Berger giving a bit of a masterclass Villa were well on top.

Like last season though, things didn't quite go to plan. Blackburn got the ball up to the Claret and Blue packed Darwen end, Gamst-Pedersen ran into the box, Bardsley tackled and down went MGP, for what looked like a delayed dive and a penalty. Somewhat soft, I thought. McCarthy lashed into the corner.

Villa didn't bat an eyelid, we just kept attacking, and before long had equalised. Bardsley crossed, and Paddy Berger in yards of space seemed to flick the ball past Freidel with the outside of his heel.

A bit of justice. We should really have been winning, but parity was the least we deserved.

Straight after half time, Villa got a very dodgy penalty for a handball. Right in front of me, Craig Gardener, playing on our right, on the edge of the box, knocked the ball into a Rover. He couldn't get out of the way, really.

Up stepped Gareth Barry, and after a delay he powered the ball from the penalty, but Friedel made a stunningly good save. I guess the ball was perhaps too close to him, but still, the power of it, and the ability to keep it out, rather than divert it into the goal was impressive.

Blackburn, perhaps sensing their luck was in, and revitalised by their Manager making a number of substitutions, started to get on top a bit.
Happily the ever popular David Dunn was closed down, Berger collected the ball and rolled it through for Gabby to zoom onto, round Friedel and roll it into the net.

It was at about this point that I lost my voice, and the last 15 minutes took an age to pass. We were now under the sort of pressure that I'd have expected us to be under for more of the game. Free kicks and corners, headers, shots - they all seemed to be down the far end, now. Tommy and the defence stood firm, though. Aaron Hughes came on for Bardsley, Gav for Berger and Steven Davis for Maloney.

Rovers hit the bar, we had a couple of breaks, and eventually the game ended. Huge relief was evident amongst the players and fans. A number of the players threw shirts into the away end.

And then the Big Screen showed that the other Claret and Blues, Burnley, had triumphed at the Sty. Further cheering and joy.

We have had far too few of these sort of days in recent seasons, but it was immensely enjoyable.

The only thing left to do was go for some more beer, and then a curry.

Some marks
Tommy - 7 very assured

Bardsley 6 - daft challenge for the pen, otherwise sound. Assist for the goal (Hughes 6).
Bouma - 7. Rovers had no threat to us from his side.
Olly - 7.5
Martin Laursen - 8. Both centre backs did exactly what you want them to.

Craig Gardner - 6. Solid on the right.
Stan Petrov - 6. Sat back a bit, but was tidy and cleaned up a lot and kept the ball.
Gareth Barry - 8. Missed a pen, could have scored a couple more, but played well, as ever.
Patrick Berger - 8.5 MoTM. Superb. Won the ball, held the ball, passed the ball, absolute quality. (Gav 6)

wee Shaun - 6 can be pleased with his efforts (Steven Davis 6)
Gabby 7 - Far, far, better through the middle. Looked confident. Took the goal superbly.

Just a top top day out. 
I hope and believe there will be many more to come.

 

Sunday, March 04, 2007

London calling - Fulham Away report

 

It's perhaps not the fashionable thing to say, but I'm going to say it nonetheless.
London - Brilliant!
A couple of days spent down in and around our capital village included a trip to Craven Cottage, yesterday, to see the Villa play. The game was "unremarkable" but the weekend was excellent, here's why: -

Because I was working near London on Friday, I decided to stop down on Friday, rather than return to my Northern Eyrie and then travel back down on Saturday at daft o'clock.

It turned out to be a good decision, not just because I got a lie in and a leisurely breakfast, but because it allowed me to be impressed by our capital city and the people who live there.

The train in to the centre gave me views, through the friday rain, of various landmarks and points of interest - Battersea Power station, still missing it's large inflatable pig, the millenium wheel, that Gerkin shaped building in the distance and so on - a sense of the size of the place was transferred to my weekend-ready brain.
Stopping at Putney Bridge for the night meant only a shortish walk to the ground and plenty of pubs and life to explore on the friday evening. So I did.
It was dark, wet and cold, but the pubs were welcoming and warm, and the beer, mostly Fullers London Pride, was excellent, if a tad costly. The 8 Bells, the Golden Lion, the Old Spotted horse and a couple of others were part of my route. The locals were friendly and the weather forecast for saturday promised an end to the rain.

Saturday morning and a walk to a cafe for a sausage butty and mug of tea, or to be more accurate a sausage and plum tomato baguette and pot of tea. Very nice, but 6 quid!. The french staff were a surprise, but like the asian staff in the hotel and the polish shopkeeper in the newsagent they were enthusiastic and friendly, rather than sullen.

Walking off the calories and beer in the morning sun, I wandered around by the river. Joggers with their earphones and sweatbands plodded past, rowing eights with their coaches megaphoning instructions from motorboats flottila'd at regular intervals up and down the Thames. All that exercise made me thirsty, so I wandered on up to the pub, the Old Spotted Horse, again.

A couple of very amenable hours were spent chatting away to Paulo, Nigel and a small horde of london based Villans, plus people down from Brum. There was a match on the box, but no one paid much notice. The Bombadier Ale was most excellent.

Another walk, back across the river, down the towpath and Craven Cottage was reached, nestled up against the river and amongst the posh houses and flats. It's a little treasure of a ground, with a cottage in the corner next to the neutral and away fans and the old stand on our right. Lovely. There's a few executive boxes tagged on to the edges of the home "end" and a bit of structural tarting up has been done to the seating arrangements, but it's still like a "proper" old English football ground. Long may it remain so.

Readers may have detected a lot of waffle and not a word about the game itself. Well now's the moment for that word. "Mediocre".

It let the weekend down a bit, did the game. And it down let the fans, crammed into every seat as we were. There were plenty of Villans there, too.

Villa attacking us lot scored first, to much delight, John Carew just prodding home Gareth Barry's neat pass. Fulham had previously hit the post down the far end, and took only a minute or so to equalise. A free kick crossed in, Bocanegra (the announcer said) unmarked, ran in to head easily into the goal. One of Petrov, Mellberg or Bardsley was presumably meant to be marking him, but, well, they weren't.
Fulham had the best of the rest of the game, perhaps, but not markedly so. The ref was inconsistent, like the game. The pitch looked bumpy and uneven, and only Gareth Barry stood out, for me. Easily our best player, again, though Carew did well, too. Mellberg defended solidly, though Radzinski caused him some trouble. Laursen did his knee and went off to be replaced by Gary Cahill. The poor bloke just has no luck, does he?
The last 5 minutes, plus 4 minutes of stoppage time, saw Villa have a good spell of attacking pressure, but a win for either side would have been unjust.
We looked, I thought, not cohesive and a bit unbalanced as a team. We seemd more weighted to the left side, until late changes in the second half. Definitely a "work in progress".

Writing this on Sunday morning, after eventually getting back home about midnight, my abiding impression is of how much I liked London and the people who live there. I even saw a drive by shouting on Putney high street - 2 red-bus drivers, going in opposite directions have a ding-dong, with gestures and everything, out of their cab windows. Wow. London rocks!

Marks:
Tommy - 6. One horrible miskick aside, he was solid.

Bardsley - 5. Did his job.
Bouma - 6. Looked the business.
Olly - 7. Led the defence well.
Martin "crazy horse" Laursen -5 and a knee injury (sub Gary Cahill 6).

Stan Petrov - had a decent game, happily, 6
Gav - did the Gav thing - 6
Gareth Barry - MoTM 8. Quality play from the skipper.
Shaun Maloney - 6.5 - lively, I thought. (Sub Gabby - 5)

Ashley Young - 4. Started wide, moved to the middle when Gabby came on, largely invisible.
John Carew - 7. Big, strong, quick-ish. Scored, made the defenders work hard. Well played.

It was always going to be a draw. Craven Cottage is a good draw.

 

Monday, February 05, 2007

Half a Year Away - 6 months into Martin O'Neill's Reign

 

This post is unashamedly going to focus on the changes the our manager has brought to the club.

It's 6 months to the day, today, that Martin O'Neill signed on the dotted line. Of course there have been many many other changes to the club, not least the long, long awaited and dreamed of take-over, and enough has been written about that, so this one's for Martin.

What's he "done" then?

Well, pretty much the first thing he did was to get Gareth Barry to stop thinking about leaving and to sign a new contract. He told him that he could achieve his ambitions at Villa, that he was an important player, part of his plans and that he could definitely get back in the England squad.
Gareth believed him, and believed in him.

And guess what. England play on Wednesday and Gareth, after being our best player consistently over the season to date, is in the squad.

Villa benefit, GB himself has benefitted and England will benefit. Brilliant. It set the tone, and could turn out to be the best bit of "business" he'll do while at Villa.

Luke Moore had also been unsettled, but before his injury he was back in the team and happy.
Some players have been allowed to go and play elsewhere, but the majority of the inherited squad have stayed and have by and large raised their games.

We "knew" when Martin O' Neill came that players rate him. Now we've seen it for ourselves.

Of course, we were also told that Martin O'Neill is a miracle worker. This has turned out (unsurprisingly) not to be true, despite early suggestions that he might be.
We drew the first game at the Emirates. Usually in recent years we have been roundly horsed at Arsenal. But this season it was different. Backs to the wall it may have been, but it just wouldn't have happened without Martin O'Neill. It led to usgoing on a long unbeaten run - results were frankly beyond any expectations, particularly as he was unable to bring players in, as he might have liked. The takeover wasn't completed until well after the August transfer window closed. He did manage to get Stan Petrov in, and Chris Sutton and Didier Agathe as they were "free agents".

These three have had differing fortunes. Petrov started superbly, faded with injury and has only just come back into the side.
Chris Sutton looked handy, but suffered a head injury before Christmas and hasn't played since. He's apparently still unable to play for medical reasons.
Didier Agathe came and looked decidedly average, and went away again.

The team struggled on, wins became somewhat rarer, draws became defeats, extremely hard draws in the 2 cups meant early exits at both Chelsea and Man United - where our emergency on-loan 'keeper slipped up somewhat.

Injuries took their toll. Some fans started muttering darkly about "another false dawn" and began to ask questions about the manager's tactics or ability. Others, the majority, pointed out the state the club had been in when Martin took the job - players forming a disorderly queue to leg it, totally fed up with what had become of the place They pointed out the squad had hardly proven itself adequate over the previous 2 and a half years or so.

But with the the January transfer window allowing the club and the manager to further demonstrate how things have changed and to actually "do it" rather than "talk about how they can't compete/promise and not deliver (delete as applicable)" we signed 3 forwards and an on loan right back.

We've struggled to score goals all season, so the front players were naturally the issue most fans wanted addressed. Luke Moore injured, Baros disappointing and disinterested, JPA having faded and Gabby bright, but perhaps tiring needed some help (or shipping out in the case of Milan). 
2 of the new 3 have played 2 games each. The partnership has brought 2 goals between them, a promising ability to link up with each other, pace, skill and physical presence. It's far too early to make accurate judgements, but they look like part of the solution to our problems. Most impressive.
The third forward, Shaun Maloney, was signed only at the last minute, and sat on the bench on Saturday.

What about the rest of the side, then. How has Martin changed that?

First off, the spirit of the team is massively superior. We fight back. We don't give up.  
It's one of the major pluses for me - it shows that the club is "whole" again. It's great.
Supporters believe in the manager, they see the players fighting to do well, the players respond - a virtuous circle is beginning to emerge from the depression and negativity of the past. It was more noticeable in the away games to start with. The core of the club's support could see the change and we weren't backwards in roaring our approval. At home, things have been a bit slower to catch the mood, but it's being caught.

All this is opinion and intangibles, but to me it's important. It's stemmed from 2 things, or 2 people (but involves a lot more than that). The 2 people are Martin O'Neill, with his passion, humour, openness, intelligence and eccentricity and from the previous owner, chairman, finance director and God knows what else, finally, finally doing the right thing and leaving.

Martin O'Neill, for me has done everything and more, that could reasonably have been expected of him. He talks to us lot, more than just talking he communicates and invigorates us, he doesn't patronise us, or moan about us. He's the same with the players, I'm sure.

Throughout the period we were struggling for a win, there was never the sense that there was any "Oh, Crikey , I don't know what to do" or "It's not my fault". There was no bickering, no unattributed talk of players bickering, or criticising.
It was hard to take, but I'm proud that the club kept it going, that the fans didn't turn on the team or the manager, that the players got up, dusted themselves down and gave it a go again.

It's not all been roses, the league game at Old Trafford was galling - the team selection and tactics didn't work, the players seemed beaten before they started. We were, by all accounts, rotten against Manchester City, at home. But show me a side that doesn't have a stinker or two over the season, and I'll show you the league Champions, and even then....

There's a massive way to go. No one knows what will happen over the next few years. No one knows if the last 2 wins over relegation threatened sides, in Watford and West Ham, will turn out to have been the start of the next stage, or still part of the end of the last stage.

But I'll tell you what, It'll be fun. Relish this fun, it's been in short supply at Villa Park for too long.

Thanks Martin.

 

Friday, January 26, 2007

The good in Goodbye - cheerio to L'il Lee

 

Well it looks like Lee Hendrie has left, or is about to leave, the club he's been at since, well, forever really. I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts and good wishes for our (former?) impish midfielder.

I first saw Lee play for Villa in a reserve game at Deepdale, Preston, sometime in the early '90s. He was just a young lad then, full of promise and tricks, battling against physically stronger players in a pretty competitive game. He shone in that game, with his touch control and vision, and I've had a soft spot for him ever since.

After signing professionally for Villa in May '94 he soon made his debut, brought on as a late sub at QPR. Perhaps typically as it turned out, he was immediately the centre of attention - being sent off by the not-at-all-lamented ref, David Elleray for two soft bookings - the first for a harmless tackle and the second for taking a free kick that had been awarded the other way.

But the setback didn't stop him becoming a more regular feature in the side under Brian Little and then John Gregory.

An appearance many will remember as one of his finest was out on the left at home to Atletico Madrid, in the UEFA cup quarter final at Villa Park. We were knocked out on away goals, but not until a rousing fightback had just fallen short. For all that Stan Collymore affected the game with a tremendous goal, it was Lee's dynamic running and skills down the wing which brought about our fightback and inspired the team and really got the ground belting out some noise.

Here was a player who seemed to intuitively link up with the more intelligent football brains in the side. Play him in the same team as a Merse, Angel, Collymore and the link up play, little dinks and dragbacks really worked magic. He often should have scored more goals, but he made up for that by the sheer enjoyment he exhibited when he did score. There has never been a player that looked so happy to score, or for Villa to score.

Lee had a period where he was just about the best player in the side, shining also for the England under 21 side (along with Gerrard and Lampard). This led to him getting his only England call up under Glenn Hoddle, and he seemed to take to it straight away, coming on as a sub and almost scoring a great goal after a typical jinky run.

A change of England manager saw him drop out of the squad though. What might have been...

Lee began to suffer some unfortunate injuries, ankle problems and a need to put him back in the team early due to a weak squad meant that he played while not fully recovered. This led to a drop in form and some fans accusing him of being a "bottler" from tackles. Very harsh to my eyes.

He also did some pretty stupid things on the pitch, frequently irritating refs and opponents with his chuntering, getting wound up too easily and occasional displays of petulance. Bookings and sendings off accrued, none of them for anything malicious and most completely unnecessary. He promised to grow up, but never quite managed it.

He had disputes with fans who got on his case. Some "supporters" never got over the fact that his Dad is a Bluenose. To them that made Lee a 'nose and therefore fair game. I preferred to look at 300+ games for the Villa and his joy at the club doing well as evidence that he is one of us, and always will be.

Along with this split opinion of his heritage and whether people liked him for his talent, or didn't like him for his attitude at times, is the perennial argument that "he didn't make the most of his talent" (and therefore is a waster) - He seems to invite strong opinions either side, with no middle ground.

There are not many players for which so much would be written and talked about that doesn't have direct reference to his playing ability.

For me though I'll always remember watching him play well and the feeling I had that he is worth the admission fee, or a good part of it, on his own, when on song. He scored some absolute belting goals, went mad in celebrating, had the bottle to take and score a pen at Wembley in the shoot out against Bolton and is one of my favourite Villa players of the past 15 years or so.

I don't suppose he'll change now, Stoke will get performances of real quality, examples of stupidity, great goals and vision and some so-so games from him in a ever changing mix. He'll be value for them, and in a game said to lack characters, he's a character alright.

Me, I wish him - and hence the Stokies - the best of luck and will follow his progress with interest.

Thanks Lee. Up the Villa.

 

Sunday, January 14, 2007

My Imaginary Friend - Wanna Season ticket?

 

Sparked by a debate on the VillaTalkmessage board about season ticket benefits, I thought I'd write down a few thoughts.
There's lots of different angles to look at season tickets from.

They divide into 3 groups - things the club wants, things the fans want, and things both want.

Things we both want are fairly easy - a full and vibrant Villa park for every game, having fans go in the areas of the ground that suit them best - corporate and business types in the Trinity centre, families in a child friendly area, noisy beer monsters behind the goal(s) in the Holte and maybe Witton end and so on.

Things the club wants - Up front revenue, happy fans (less customer complaints, more customer satisfaction), the optimal return on sales - it's a curve of some kind, where if they are "too cheap" they'll sell loads, but be down on revenue, yet if they are too expensive they will sell few, and be down on revenue again. They basically have to be priced just right.

Things the fans want - Value for money. Assured seat - sit with friends/family in a place of your choice, access to "first dibs" on other tickets (away games, cup matches etc). Ability to get extra tickets for friends/relatives

Pretty much all of the other things (some) fans want may actually not be deal clinchers.

For example - programmes, discount in the shop, C&B mag, etc. could be made available seperately to all who want them via some other scheme - a membership or some such. Fans could then choose whether to be a season ticket holder, a matchday fan, or one of these plus a scheme member. I'd include away tickets in this but suspect the numbers of tickets available make it essentially a season ticket holder only thing.

The lists are by no means exhaustive, they're just some examples.

In terms of incentive to sell/buy tickets, there's one huge factor above all others: The Team.

There will always be a large number of fans who want to demonstrate loyalty regardless of the quality of the side, simply because they are Villa fans, and that' what they do. BUT this can't be taken for granted (I don't believe it is, by the way).
Nevertheless clubs with excellent teams and squads and managers sell more tickets. It's undoubtedly the hardest part to get right and sustain for a period , but if they do then I genuinely believe that Villa like many other Clubs could fill the ground consistently.

There seems to be a lag in ticket sales and attendances of a season. So if a club has a good season, then the next season will see gates go up, even if they struggle in that next season. And vice versa. The reason for this is "hope".

Once you can turn hope into reasonable expectation, or high expectation (that if you go to the match you will see your team win) then you've got to a point where you are maximising the benefit from the Team as a sales tool.

Because Villa has been up and down between top 8 and bottom 8, we've never really built up much hope, let alone expectation.
We need to get to consistent top 6 level and still be pushing on to get the ground full. Not one season then finishing 10th the next year, but several seasons of upwards progress.

I've wandered away from the point of the original post. So while I've done so I'll go back to one of my bugbears and just point out something on ticket prices.

The sheff U away game cost 15 quid and sold out the entire gound despite monday night telly. Brilliant!
Wigan and Blackburn have done similar and seen much improved gates. Charlton do something similar too, and have been for a while, for some games.
Yesterday Man City Fans boycotted their game at Bolton (as they did at Wigan) because of what they (rightly) saw as excessive greed or exploitation by the home club in charging nearly 40 quid for tickets for away fans, partly no doubt based on the games being local derbies and City having a large following.
We've seen small heath do the same to us (and Man U) a year or three back charging nearly 50 quid for tickets.

Next season, TV money will be 65% higher for the clubs. They simply HAVE to set reasonable ticket prices, or the grounds, many of them will be half full. And no one wants that. Not the clubs, not fans and not TV.

 

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Cistern Failure - Man Utd Away Report

 

I'm at somewhat of a loss (much like Villa again) as to how to approach this "report".

Should I merely state what I saw? Should I try to analyse the thinking and reasons for what I saw, or I should I instead go for a deeper analysis as to the state of the club?

I'll maybe try and do a little of each.

Right.

The first half was THE most inept, listless, beaten before we went on the pitch, wrong team selection, utter letdown disgrace of a performance for a long time. It was worse than much of O'Leary's drivel. It was that bad, it really was.

Before the game kicked off, things hadn't initially started well, what with all the pubs we tried being shut, for some unknown Mancunian reason. So we went for a cup of tea. Fortunately after our cuppa, we found the Peveril had opened it's doors, and Jon, Pants and myself were able to take a number of pre-match refreshments. Fine work fellas. Thanks.

After the Tram ride up to the ground, and a greasebomb burger (with onions and brown sauce, natch) I was able to hear the team announcements. Olly back in, Aaron hughes in midfield and Steven Davis on the bench, along with Lee, JPA, JLloyd and a spare keeper (not sure which one). Tommy was back in goal and Ozzy kept his place, with Stan injured.

I thought we must be going 3 at the back, but no, it seemed like 4-4-1-1 with Gabby wide and behind Milan Baros. What the heck was Aaron Hughes doing in the middle of midfield? Beats me. Needless to say he looked lost.

But things got worse. Villa were sloppy, tired, listless, second to the ball, poor of passing, ideas and movement. Shocking. By the time United scored, from a Cahill mistake - a mishit, rushed, clearance straight to Pak Ji Sung (or whatever his name is) United had had several good chances. Tommy had made one excellent save.

It didn't take long for them to get another, Carrick this time, from more sloppy play by Villa. Marking? Closing down? Nah, feck it, can't be arsed. Tommy should perhaps have saved it, too. It was hard to tell from the angle I was at, but it wasn't the most powerful shot, and it wasn't right into the corner.

A third came, Gav giving the ball away stupidly, a cross and Ronaldo headed in. Utter tripe from Villa.

I've heard the phrase "United didn't need to get out of second gear" in many reports in the past. Frankly they didn't need to get out of first gear. We hadn't got out of bed. We were absolutely shocking. All the things we have come to expect from Villa were absent. Work-rate, closing down, battling, any quality of distribution.

Villa fans sulked and tried to rouse ourselves by taunting the silent Mancs. "your support is flipping poor" being the gist of it. Kindly enough they didn't bother to respond and point out that our team was "flipping poor".

Anyway, half time came. Subs were made. Bouma went off, JLloyd came on, with Barry dropping to left back and Jlloyd into left midfield. Aaron Hughes went off and Steven Davis came on, but went out right.

Villa were better, though it would have been impossible to be worse. I would imagine that the Old Trafford decorators will have to re-paint the paint back on to the walls of the away dressing room. I would guess that MO'N might also have apologised for a stupid team selection. He should have. He got it badly wrong.

Anyway, Baros looked a bit more energised, Davis added a bit of energy, and the team got stuck in a bit more. The passing was still wayward, Ozzy in particular being guilty.
Nevertheless Baros wriggled down the right excellently, and crossed from the corner of the dead-ball line and the box to the feet of Gabby who couldn't miss. Well done Milan.

Lee Hendrie was warming up in front of us, with JPA, to much acclaim, and being Lee was also "bantering" with some friendly Mancs. Some things don't change.

United had more chances, we had the odd one or two.

Rooney got himself booked, eventually. Earlier Barry had been booked by a pretty poor ref. Howard Webb was it?. Jon (2) next to me called him an "Establishment fascist Lackey", which whilst maybe not strictly true, summed up his performance.
Someone put their studs through Olly's thigh and got told off. Barry fairly and equally challenged Neville, and Barry got booked.

We lost 3-1 and I went home.

Now for some attempts at explaining/reasoning.
The team selection - no, sorry, can't think of anything. How does Aaron Hughes suddenly become a midfielder? How do either Lee Hendrie or Steven Davis get left out for him?

The listless performance in the first half - well, last week we gave a monumental effort, and got beat in the last minute. "we gave it our utmost and failed, therefore we will not beat them" seemed to be the attitude, if only subconciously.

The poor passing, lack of movement and the general second to the ball-ness? Well, Fergie, I guess would have told United that an early goal would probably knock Villa right back, that Villa would do what they did last week and so United had to make sure they had good energy and commitment to match Villa. They did. We didn't.

The second half, United just cruised, never expending unnecessary effort, but they were still the better side, due to quality, though we won the half 1-0.

Frankly, we were toilet. It must stop, and stop now.

Marks

Tommy - 6
Olly - 5
Gaz - 5
Ridge - 5
Bouma 5 (Jlloyd 5)
Gav - 5
Ozzy - 3
Aaron Hughes - 1 ( I'm not slating him, he just might as well not have ben on the pitch. He was invisible. Not his fault. He shouldn't have been in midfield. If by some possibility he was supposed to be at right back, Olly spent the whole game there, anyway) (Steve Davis 5)
Gareth Barry - 6
Milan Baros - 6
Gabby - 6

 

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Still Waiting - Man Utd FA Cup Away report

 

Another trip to Old Trafford for me today, to go and watch what turned out to be a pretty decent game. 
I guess everyone who reads this will have seen the game televised live on the box, so there's not much point me detailing what went on, on the pitch. 
You'll know that Man Utd just scraped through after a late, late, howler from our on loan keeper. 
You'll also know that United and Villa both played pretty much their strongest sides, and that United's is "somewhat stronger" than Villa's. 
You'll have observed that Villa battled absolutely fantastically all over the pitch to try to make up for the gap in quality and United's home advantage. 
I was particularly impressed with the improvement in Isiah Osbourne. He had easily the best of his few games for us, and assisted "Mr 110%" - Gavin McCann - in making sure that we chased and harried and tackled and fought for every ball. 
I also thought that both Ridge and Gary Cahill had good games at the back. Aaron Hughes raised his game from the disappointing level of his recent performances, and Wilfred Bouma also had another good game for us. He's starting to look, defensively at least, a very good left back. 

Gabby didn't manage to get much change from the United defence, and looks to be needing a rest. JPA won headers, but looked toothless and Milan Baros, on for most of the second half got the goal that Villa deserved, and the Upper tier of the East stand were pleading for. 
Talking of which, the view from up there is good, and it's nice to be able to take more fans to Old Trafford than the normal 3000 we get in the corner. The fact that it was a cup tie and that there were more of us there than we're usually allowed made for a better atmosphere, though like many grounds the place is a lot quieter than "the good old days". 
There's not much more to add, really. I feel a bit deflated, but not let down. 

It rained, the trains and trams ran on time, and I'll be back next week. Hopefully for a different result. We've shown we can compete, if we give it our all. The passing needs to improve, but I would imagine that in the long run, this run of games against Man U (3 times in a month), Chelsea, Spurs away and so on will benefit the players. 

So far our standards and heads haven't dropped, despite being up against it with things. That'll stand us in good stead in the longer term.

 

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