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  1. 10,000 Villa fans made a long-awaited return to Villa Park yesterday afternoon and proceeded to create the sort of atmosphere, that the game has been missing this season. This was our first win at Villa Park against our visitors since 2014 and we certainly were not at the beach for this one, much to the moaning Thomas Tuchel’s obvious chagrin! This game brought an end to a season that started incredibly brightly, then stuttered, but was re-ignited by our last two games, producing fine back-to-back wins. This was a season of progress after our narrow escape on the final day of the previous season. We finished four wins off the top four and 27 points clear of the relegation zone. We also accumulated 20 more points this season than we did last, if we do the same next year, we will be playing in the CL the following season! This will be my final player match ratings. I would take this opportunity to thank my VT readers for taking the time to look at them over the years. I have been doing these ratings for many seasons now and have posted player ratings on over 400 games at Villa Park. There have been highs (10s) and lows (the odd 0), I have rated players on their debuts and on their farewells, but the time has now come for me to call it a day and to hang up my mouse. Turning back to yesterday’s game, Chelsea arrived at B6 needing a win to guarantee Champions League qualification via the PL this season. They had the better of the first half, but we had the goal at the end of it. They dominated possession in this game and made numerous chances and half chances, but they could only put one of those away. Villa encouraged by a 25% full ground, that sounded like a full house (particularly when singing Tammy’s name and “Sweet Caroline” after the final whistle, even giving the other Blues a name check in the process!), defended resolutely and took the opportunities that came their way. Chelsea may have started the game as favourites (they were one of the six short lived European Super League members after all), but we demonstrated the integrity of the PL by not gifting them the win they needed. In doing so, we gave Leicester the chance to claim the CL place that in the end and only thanks to their local neighbours Spurs, our visitors kept, despite losing to us on the last day. We end this season back in our rightful place as the top team in the West Midlands and have left a sans Nuno Wolves with a 10-point gap to be increasingly anxious about. We ended the season on 55 points, which is our highest points tally since season 2009/10, when we finished sixth with 9 more points. We have also taken 16 points from 4 of the 6 clubs that would have potentially made up the ESL this season, to show that beating these teams is no longer a bridge to far for us. My player ratings from a game during which our visitors huffed and puffed, but were not able to blow our house down are: Emiliano Martinez – 8 – Saved a Chilwell shot hit from the right side of the area, from a Werner cross at the near post on 15 minutes. Mount hit an 18th minute shot from the edge of the box, that Emi clutched above his head. Werner then tried his luck with a 20th minute shot from outside of the box that Emi held at his right-hand post. He then comfortably gathered an ambitious 22nd minute overhead kick from the left of the penalty spot from Pulisic. Got a hand to the ball for their goal, having received treatment following a collision with an opponent shortly before, but the ball had already gone over the line before he had been able to get a hand to it. Dived to his left to gather the ball, after Havertz had tried to turn in a 75th minute Mount cross and the ball had taken a deflection off Mings, with Konsa providing cover behind Emi, just in case. Ziyech picked up a loose ball on the edge of the box and ran to the left of the 6-yard box, before flicking the ball to Chilwell on the opposite edge of the box. Emi did so well to keep out Chilwell’s 87th minute shot, with his legs at his right-hand post. Ezri Konsa – 7 – We will need to address the question of who should fill in for Matty on any occasions that he is unavailable during the summer, because we do not want to be switching Ez from the middle of the defence, where he has been so effective too often. Pulisic’s 70th minute cross from the right, flew past him to the unmarked Chilwell on the left-edge of the 6-yard box, for their consolation goal, Kourtney Hause – 7 – Filled in very well due to Ez having been asked to cover for Matty. Kourtney really is a reliable PL central defender, I bet Wolves regret selling him to us now! Tyrone Mings – 8 – Was so solid at the heart of our defence again yesterday. This may not have been yet another clean sheet, but it felt like one. Orchestrated our terrific defensive performance and cannot have done his international chances any harm, with Southgate occupying his usual seat at Villa Park yesterday (does he have a season ticket now?). Matt Targett – 8 – Did well to dive low to head a dangerous Mount cross to safety from within the 6-yard box, with Azpilicueta closely behind him. Had another excellent game. Bertrand Traore – 8 – Watkins headed on an Emi kick from the edge of the box, that Bert picked up and ran to the left edge of the box with, before aiming a 16th minute shot towards the far post that Mendy dived low to his left to save. Hit a shot wide of the left-hand post from the edge of the box on 28 minutes. Targett’s 43rd minute corner was precisely hit to Bert, who in turn hit the ball first time from the left of the penalty spot, it might not have been as truly hit as he may have liked, but the ball went into the top left-hand corner of the net, off the underside of the bar to give us the half time lead. Earned our penalty when Jack switched the ball back to him inside the left of the box and he nutmegged Jorginho, who then made contact, as he moved to go past him. Like Anwar, he does need to learn to track back, but Bert wins games for us, with performances like this one. Marvelous Nakamba – 8 – MOTM - He was simply marvellous yesterday! Worked tirelessly and gave a solid defensive display in our midfield, popping up regularly at the most crucial times to avert the danger. This was the player we hoped he would be and the one that has now shown that he has it in him to live up to his name. John McGinn – 7 – Tenaciously claimed the ball just inside their half and then ran purposefully to the edge of the box, before hitting a 29th minute shot just wide of the left-hand post. Scotland’s best current player by a country mile, is limbering up nicely for the Euros. Jack Grealish – 7 -. Captain Jack is still easing his way back to full match fitness following his lengthy injury break, but his presence makes such a difference to us. Made a run into the right-edge of the penalty area and hit a 50th minute shot, that was deflected into the side netting for a corner. Jack played the ball back to Traore, which led to the penalty that gave us a two-goal cushion. Involved in both of our goals yesterday. Anwar El Ghazi – 7 – Put us two ahead when he sent Arrizabalaga the wrong way from the spot on 52 minutes, cooly hitting the ball to the right, with their costly substitute keeper, wrongly choosing to go left. He really is some penalty taker, and he has looked increasingly comfortable playing in the PL this season. Ollie Watkins – 7 – Ran tirelessly and harassed defenders throughout once again. Substitutes: Carney Chukwuemeka – Came on for Traore on 73 minutes. Dean has shown real confidence in this lad by introducing him in the last two games, Carney in turn, has took to PL football like a duck to water and he will be eager for more game time next season. Not on long enough to gather a rating on this occasion. Jacob Ramsey – Replaced El Ghazi on 79 minutes and he was also not on long enough to get a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  2. Well, we did take a point and we do remain unbeaten against Everton since our return to the top-flight. We also recorded our first clean sheet in two months and Jack is back at long last, but this game failed to set the pulses racing. Both defences were on top last night and neither team ever really looked like breaking the deadlock, although the visitors did begin to look increasingly threatening in the closing minutes. We had the best of the first half, but they came out a different side after the break (following no doubt, an interval tongue lashing) and put us on the back foot. There is currently little to choose between these two teams and that showed last night. We failed to work Pickford last night and both teams seemed relatively satisfied to hold the point that they started with throughout the game, which was perhaps more surprising in the visitor’s case, given they had more to play for before last night’s result. In conclusion, this was an end of season game played between two mid table teams and it showed. It does beat being a defeat away from relegation, on the last day though! My player ratings from a game that will not linger for too long, in most of our memories are: Emiliano Martinez – 7 – MOTM – Easily gathered an ambitious 30th minute Sigurdsson free kick, hit from the sort of range that only the late Peter Lorimer would have troubled Emi from. Made himself big just inside the 6-yard box, to block a 47th minute Calvert-Lewin shot that was hit from the left of the penalty spot. Fortunately, the striker was later flagged, as he had gone slightly too early in running past and between, Konsa and Mings. Claimed the ball on the edge of his 6-yard box a minute later, following a heavy touch from the same player. Godfrey met a 52nd minute free kick at the right-hand post and Emi reacted well to push the ball out for a corner with his left hand at the post. Holding gave Emi some catching practice with a header from a 63rd minute free kick. Did very well to keep out an 87th minute Calvert-Lewin header from just inside the 6-yard box with his legs at the near post. Equalled Brad Friedel’s club record of 15 clean sheets in a season last night, in his first season with us. Matty Cash – 6 – Was having a decent game until injury led to an early exit for him, shortly before the half time break. Ezri Konsa – 6 – Like the defence as a whole, he was solid and deserving of another clean sheet last night. Tyrone Mings – 6 – Had our best chance of the game on 17 minutes, when his diving header from the edge of the 6-yard box, flew a couple of feet wide of the right-hand post. Did very well on 92 minutes to cover Calvert-Lewin’s run into the box and reach a Richarlison cross first, to deny the striker a golden opportunity to hit home a late winner. Matt Targett – 6 – Another solid display. Anwar El Ghazi – 5 – Picked up the ball in the middle and ran forward before hitting an ambitious 25-yard 20th minute shot well over the bar. Hit a 61st minute free kick from the edge of the box, which Pickford chose to push past his right-hand post, rather than try to catch what was a wet ball. Jack found him on the edge of the box, he took a touch before hitting a 79th minute shot well over. Douglas Luiz – 7 – A marked improvement on some of his recent performances and he was unlucky not to have got an assist when his smart work within the box presented Mings with a clear opportunity to head us in front on 17 minutes. Nice to see him venturing forward again last night. John McGinn – 6 – Kept himself busy and did well in what was at times a combative midfield, particularly in the first half. Ross Barkley – 4 - If this does turn out to be his last Villa Park appearance in our colours, then I will think back on those games, when he showed us what a good player he can be, such as that stellar performance during which he combined so well with Jack against Liverpool, rather than on subsequent games this year. Since his injury, the covid breakout at the club and during Jack’s absence, Ross has rarely been able to reproduce more than a fleeting glimpse of the player that we know is in there and that was the case again last night, this will have disappointed Ross, as much as it has frustrated us. He was substituted after 65 minutes. Bertrand Traore – 4 – This was another of those exasperating displays during which he fails to make the sort of positive impression on the game, that we know he is capable of. El Ghazi found him on the centre edge of the box, but his first-time 11th minute shot was hit straight at Pickford. Booked on 43 minutes for diving on the edge of the box (it is nice to see the referees being consistent, it seems that any player (so long as he is playing for us) will now get an automatic card for simulation). Substituted on 72 minutes. Keinan Davis – 5 – Had big scoring boots to fill in Ollie’s absence. Lacked service and he did find himself up against a very solid, and well organised defence. Nevertheless, Keinan did not show quite the same determination or look quite the same player that had made such a positive impact in the closing minutes against WBA, last night. Substitutes: Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Replaced Cash in the 2nd minute of first half stoppage time. Headed a 74th minute Targett corner well wide. Blocked a 78th minute Gomes shot from the edge of the box, just in front of the 6-yard box. Always strives to give his best. Jacob Ramsey – 5 - Replaced Barkley on 65 minutes and injected some late energy into the midfield. Jack Grealish – Came on for Traore after 72 minutes to make a very welcome return, having last appeared for us in February, due to injury. Not on long enough to gather a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  3. We have been down this same road too often before. We take the lead, we dare to think that we could break the hoodoo they have over us at long last, but our hopes are inevitably dashed, and history annoyingly keeps repeating itself. The visitors despite threats to the contrary, played what looked remarkably near to their usual starting line-up yesterday and they looked determined to get their noses in front, during the opening minutes. Having weathered the visitor’s early pressure Villa then began to make an increasing impact on the game themselves and deservedly went ahead in the middle of the first half. Douglas conceded the penalty that levelled the scores early in the second half and they then added another within 4 minutes. Seeing our lead disappear and become a deficit so quickly was bad enough, but for them to then go on to add another near the end, that made the game look easier for them than it was, and to then have a player sent off was just so deflating. This was all too predictable and that feeling of deflation, is one that we have become all too accustomed to, over several years now. Bruno Fernandes scored his third goal against us in three matches yesterday. All three of those goals were from the penalty spot. They get awarded a lot of penalties against us, don’t they? Watkins was sent off for going down inside the box, having anticipated an injury threatening challenge that Henderson pulled out of at the very last minute. Would the referee have been in such a rush had it been our keeper and one of their forwards had stood accused of simulation, or would a penalty have been routinely awarded, as one was given when Bruno collapsed to the ground in a heap at Villa Park last season? Would one of our players have had a penalty awarded against them, if like Greenwood the ball had struck their arm inside the penalty area? I suspect at the very least, VAR may have suggested the referee have another look at it, if he had not already blown his whistle. A defeat by a 2-goal margin was harsh, but we do not get the rub of the green against this lot, they do every time and then some! Over far too many years now, Villa Park has become a favourite ground for our visitors. The players and managers may change, but if they do not win, they draw. The inevitability of it, becomes increasingly difficult to take. We are back in the bottom half again, after this result and our twelfth game without Jack. Whilst we have a game in hand of both Leeds and Arsenal, we are two and four points respectively behind these two. Wolves have also closed the gap between us to three points, so we really need a win on Thursday and ideally another at Palace, or a minimum of four points from six. We then finish the season with games against another two clubs that we have found hard to beat over recent years. It would be nice to take more points than we drop from our remaining games this season, wouldn’t it? My player ratings from a game that sadly produced our 8th home defeat of the season are: Emiliano Martinez – 6 – Parried away a 6th minute Shaw effort at the near post and Targett was on hand to clear the resultant loose ball. He then dived to his left seconds later to collect a Pogba shot. Held a 9th minute shot from Fred hit to his left and then dived to comfortably collect a 34th minute Shaw cross. Held a 39th minute Rashford shot from the edge of the box, to his right and then did well to parry a Greenwood effort at his left-hand post with his right hand and Konsa was on hand to clear the resultant loose ball from within the 6-yard box. Sent the wrong way from the spot by Fernandes after 52 minutes, when the ball was hit to his left. Might have felt he could have got a hand to their second, when Greenwood turned just inside the box and hit a sweet shot past his dive and into the left-hand corner of his net. Had no chance with their third, when Cavani was left clear to nod an 87th minute Rashford cross just inside the far post. Matty Cash – 6 – Had a steady game. Ezri Konsa – 6 – Should have been alive to the danger from Cavani and the job of challenging Cavani’s run to head their decisive third, was therefore left to Matty. He was otherwise always on hand to get his foot or a block in. Tyrone Mings – 6 – Committed himself unnecessarily on the edge of the box, enabling a nice turn from Greenwood to create the space he needed to hit their second. Other than for that costly mistake, had a solid game in the heart of our defence. Matt Targett – 7 – So reliable now and was the best of our defenders yesterday. Anwar El Ghazi – 5 – Hit a hopeful 30-yard shot harmlessly wide of the left post on 7 minutes. Was found by McGinn and his 50th minute shot from just inside the box was saved by Henderson, had it gone in, it would no doubt have been ruled out for offside by VAR, when McGinn first picked up the ball. Needs to perform more consistency at the high level he is capable of. Douglas Luiz – 4 – Started well enough but gifted them a route back into the game after 51 minutes with an unnecessary challenge inside the box on Pogba, who had his back to goal and was just willing him to make any sort of contact, so that he could topple over. Douglas had first grabbed his shirt and got away with it, but there was to be no reprieve when he went on to make contact, with the back of Pogba’s leg and the referee just could not wait to give it. Douglas was incredibly naïve or plain reckless, as he should be fully aware how easily Newton Heath’s players go down inside the box and how referees do not hesitate to award a penalty if even the slightest contact is made inside the area this season (other than in Ollie’s case today!) John McGinn – 7 – MOTM - This was simply John back at his best again. Ross Barkley - 5 – Was unable to repeat the impact he had on the Everton game yesterday and was substituted as we loaded the team with forwards as the minutes ran down, in search of an equalizer. Bertrand Traore – 7 – Put us ahead on 24 minutes. Solid challenges by Targett and then McGinn won the ball before Douglas found Bert on the edge of the box. He turned away from Lindelöf before hitting a screamer from the left of the box past Henderson and into the top right-hand corner of the net. Had a shot from a 60th minute Targett cross, pushed out for a corner by Henderson at his left-hand post. McGinn floated a nice ball into the box that Bert headed tamely towards Henderson on 80 minutes. Hit an 83rd minute shot from just inside the box straight at Henderson. Bert was heavily involved in most of the good things that we did up front, but like Anwar he does not always drop back and opposing wing backs therefore find space and are free to put pressure on our own full backs. Ollie Watkins – 6 – Came near to giving us a 2-goal cushion in the 2nd minute of first half stoppage time, when McGinn found him on the edge of the box. Ollie hit a good shot that Henderson dived to his left to push past the post. Unlucky to receive his first yellow, when his momentum took him into Maguire. Seemed even harsher of the referee to brandish a second yellow and send him off for simulation late in the game (he must have eyes like a hawk if he was able to see there was no contact). If referees applied the same strict interpretation to Bruno Fernandes, he would have seen an awful lot of red cards, wouldn’t he? Substitutes: Jacob Ramsey – 5 - Replaced Douglas on 65 minutes. Keinan Davis – Replaced Barkley on 77 minutes. Outmuscled Lindelöf on the right of the box on 82 minutes and would have been better to have had a crack himself, rather than to unselfishly try to square the ball to Watkins and see Wan-Bissaka block it. Keinan was not on long enough to get a rating this time. Wesley – Came on for Anwar after 78 minutes and was also not on long enough to merit a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  4. A game saving goalkeeping performance by Emi Martinez kept us in last night’s game and a timely first Premier League goal for Keinan Davis, gave us a late point and pulled the relegation trap door wide open for the Baggies. An early well taken Anwar El Ghazi penalty put us ahead within the first ten minutes last night and we really should have been able to kick on from there, to put the result beyond any doubt. That was not to be though and half-way through the first half, another soft penalty, this time for the visitors left the game all square. Having let our opponents back into the game, we were then second best for a quarter of an hour, during either side of the half time interval. Albion pressed us and clearly wanted it more than we did, during that period. An own goal put them ahead shortly after half time and the prospect of a second successive home defeat from a winning position, began to loom increasingly large. Fortunately, going a goal behind eventually got a reaction from us. We became increasingly dominant, although had it not been for Emi, we could have easily gone further behind before Keinan’s stoppage time equalizer, broke many a Black Country heart and all but snuffed out any lingering slender survival hopes that they may have had. It is a pity that we failed to play like we did in the last half hour or so, during the first hour last night. For too long we were setting up our deck chairs and rolling out our towels, when we should have been showing some of the passion that our opponents were. Clearly, they had more to play for than us. Our present poor run of one win from our last eight league games, has left us becalmed in mid-table. Nevertheless, we should not have so readily let this season drift away from us, following such a promising start to it. Had we shown what we did in the last half hour last night, during the whole match, we would have run out clear winners, with or without Jack. My player ratings from a game that a late goal, gave us some reward for a prolonged period of pressure are: Emiliano Martinez – 8 – MOTM – Guessed the right way when Pereira took his 23rd minute penalty, but the ball was hit above his dive. Blocked a 40th minute Pereira shot from the edge of the box and 2 minutes later had a coat of paint to thank, when the same player’s free-kick from the right-edge of the box struck the crossbar, with him a spectator. Cut out a 52nd minute Robinson cross from the edge of the box. Made a terrific 73rd minute save to divert the ball over the bar after it had bounced off the left post and was otherwise heading towards two Albion players who were waiting to score their third near the goal line. Made another fingertip save moments later to keep out a Bartley near post header. Pushed a 76th minute Pereira shot wide of the left-hand post. Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Filled in well enough in the enforced absence of Cash. Nodded a good Targett free kick wide, from level with the 6-yard box. Hit a 61st minute volley sweetly from just outside of the box, that Johnstone saved well to his right. Ezri Konsa – 5 – Gave the referee a decision to make when Maitland-Nyles felt the slightest touch from him on his heel and predictably tumbled to the ground to claim a penalty. Any touch however slight in the box, automatically seems to result in a penalty this season and that was again, the case on this occasion. Slipped when trying to deal with a 47th minute ball played into our half by Johnstone and the ball fell to Diagne, who ran into the box before hitting a shot that was going wide, until Mings diverted it past Emi. Emi later prevented Ezri getting an assist for a third Albion goal, by touching the ball over the crossbar on 73 minutes, after it had bounced off the post towards two waiting opponents. The ball striking that post had prevented him scoring a second own goal for the visitors with a header. Tyrone Mings – 5 – His 47th minute own goal (see above) inadvertently gave the visitors a slender lifeline to survival, that Davis cut in half during stoppage time. Matt Targett – 7 – Solid at the back and some good forward runs. Anwar El Ghazi – 7 – Sent Johnstone the wrong way from the spot on 7 minutes, striking the ball confidently into the left-hand corner of the net, to give him his third goal and his second penalty against WBA this season. I bet he wished that we could play them every week! Hit a 29th minute shot from just outside of the box that Johnstone saved to his left. Douglas Luiz – 5 – Had a decent first half. John McGinn – 5 – Screwed an 81st minute shot wide of the post from 30 yards and had a 94th minute 30-yard shot palmed away by Johnstone. Ross Barclay - 5 – Went down inside the box after 7 minutes following contact from Ajayi and was awarded the penalty, that El Ghazi converted. Hit a 33rd minute shot that took a deflection off a defender, which made it into a comfortable save for Johnstone. Found by Watkins on the edge of the box, found space for a 58th minute shot cleverly, but it was deflected just wide of the right-hand post off a defender. An improvement last night. Bertrand Traore – 6 – Mishit a shot from a nice 31st minute Targett cross, which went across the edge of the 6-yard box, rather than towards goal. Ran inside the box and hit a 62nd minute near post shot that hit the angle of the woodwork. Moved inside the box again 4 minutes later, but his shot went wide of the left-hand post. Ollie Watkins – 5 – El Ghazi pulled the ball back to him near the line, but Ollie was unable to get enough pace on his 44th minute header to trouble the keeper. Was well found by McGinn after 70 minutes and ran into the box before hitting a rasping shot, that was unfortunately hit straight at Johnstone. Substitutes: Jacob Ramsey - Replaced Douglas on 78 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating. Keinan Davis – 8 - Replaced Barclay on 82 minutes. Made a significant difference up front. Found inside the box by Traore, made a nice run but his 83rd minute shot was hit straight at Johnstone. Hit the left-hand post with a good 86th minute shot from just outside the left of the 6-yard box. Watkins headed a McGinn ball back across goal, where Bartley chested it down and Keinan reacted quickly as the ball was in between the defender and Johnstone, to prod it home for the equalizer. Wesley – Made a very welcome return to first team action on 91 minutes when he came on for Traore, following over a year’s absence through injury. Produced a 93rd minute save from a header from Johnstone, that spoilt what would have been a fairy tale finale. Not on long enough to get a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  5. This game started so unbelievably well, when we went in front after just 20 seconds. Could this be another slaughter of the league champions? Not this time, the visitors became increasingly dominant and were ahead at half time, albeit having been brought down to ten men in the dying minutes of that half. Could we take advantage of the man advantage and stage a comeback? We might have done, had we not squandered that advantage 11 minutes into the second half. After that normal service was resumed and the champions elect were the team most likely to add to the scoring, we had shot ourselves in the foot due to Matty’s moment of madness, or in this case his two rash moments in three minutes. Manchester City recovered well from receiving the shock of going a goal down so early. They dusted themselves off and steadily began to dominate the game. They sprayed the ball around at will and produced quick touches, stringing together passes between each other with ease. The football they produced, is what we should aspire to. At times they reminded me of the Barcelona of a few years ago and they are running away with the league title for a reason. Stones offered us an unexpected opportunity to get back into this game with an unnecessary and clearly dangerous high late challenge on Ramsey, that rightly resulted in him leaving the field shortly before half time. For a few minutes, we had the ball at our feet for a change and the visitors minds were perhaps on protecting their lead rather than on extending it, but that was just for a fleeting few moments. On the positive side our defence did well to keep the difference between the two teams down to one goal, despite being under considerable pressure and facing an increasing number of attacks that threatened to add to the visitor’s goal tally. Had it not been for Emi coming for a cross that Rodri reached comfortably before he did and headed into the vacant net, then we might possibly have taken a point from this game, but I suspect the visitors always had another goal in them if one was needed. After this game we are stuck in the bottom half of the table. Our poor run of results this year has seen us slip down the table place by place and although we remain just 2 points behind both Leeds and Arsenal, with a game in hand, games in hand are of little use if you do not get anything from them. Even Wolves who are 3 points behind us, having played one game more, now see the gap that was once a chasm between the two clubs, as a bridgeable fracture that they could soon close. My player ratings from a game that we were clearly second best in are: Emiliano Martinez – 6 – Did well to get down to his left to block and then catch a 19th minute Mahrez shot, that had been aimed between his left-hand post and himself. Had no chance with their 21st minute equaliser. Bernardo Silva pulled the ball back from inside the left of the box, threading the ball between Targett and Mings, to Foden who hit the ball into the left-hand corner of the net from near the penalty spot. Did well to claim a low 32nd minute Mahrez cross, that was otherwise on the way to Gabriel Jesus for a tap-in. Came for, but failed to reach a 39th minute Silva cross from the left, that Rodri nodded on into the unguarded net. When you come out for them, you really do need to get them. This was a rare, but a costly error by Emi, in what was otherwise a good performance. Did very well to block a 50th minute Gundogan cross from the left-edge of the 6-yard box, with his outstretched left foot and thus prevented the ball reaching the waiting Mahrez for a tap-in. Matty Cash – 4 – Matty had been having a decent game until a reckless and unnecessarily strong 56th minute challenge on Foden inside their half, earned him his second yellow card within 3 minutes and cost us any hope that we may have been entertaining of getting something out of this game. Having been booked for holding Foden back after 54 minutes, he really should have not given the referee the chance to show him another card so soon, in such circumstances. Ezri Konsa – 7 – MOTM - Did well to intercept an 85th minute cross from inside the left of the box, that had been intended for Foden who had run inside the 6-yard box behind him. Another good and rock-solid display in the centre of our defence. Tyrone Mings – 7 – Played his part in organising a good defensive performance, when it was under constant pressure. Matt Targett – 7 – Another that did well again at the back. Bertrand Traore – 4 – He remains some way below his best of a few months ago. Douglas Luiz – 5 – Produced a slightly better performance than of late, against his former club. A Traore header fell to him on the left edge of the 6-yard box, but his 5th minute shot went into the side netting. Headed a 45th minute Ramsey cross from the right, harmlessly wide of the right-hand post, from left of the penalty spot. Hit a speculative 51st minute shot from around 30 yards, that Ederson comfortably gathered at his left post. John McGinn – 6 – Gave us a very bright start to this game with a goal from a Watkins cross after just 20 seconds. Mings took a quick free kick inside his own half which Stones unsuccessfully stretched a leg out to intercept, the ball ran onto Watkins on the left-edge of the box. Ollie crossed the ball through the legs of Ruben Dias and John who had run into the box turned the ball into the right-hand corner of the net. This was his first goal for us since his first of the season, in the thrashing of Liverpool. Another one or two against the Baggies, would be nice John! Jacob Ramsey - 5 – Substituted at half time with a view to exploiting our frustratingly temporary man advantage. Traore pinged a nice 27th minute ball across the field for Ramsey to run onto, but Walker brought him down near the edge of the box only for his appeal for a free kick to be ignored by the referee. Jacob was then found inside the box by Douglas a minute later, but his ambitious shot from the left ended up in the side netting. McGinn played a ball from the edge of his own box that led to the late ugly challenge by Stones just inside their half, that brought him a fully justified red card. Marvelous Nakamba – 5 – Popped up a couple of times to put an end to a threatening attack. Ollie Watkins – 6 – Starved of service, but he did claim an early assist for our goal, when he crossed through the legs of Ruben Dias for McGinn to put us ahead within the 1st minute. Substitutes: Keinan Davis – 5 - Replaced Ramsey at half time. His introduction was a positive move and an attempt to take advantage of our man advantage. I would not have taken a midfield player off myself, as that was the area that the visitors were most dominant. As it was, our man advantage disappeared all too soon and Keinan therefore then only offered us another forward, who lacked the service to make a positive impact on the game. Ross Barclay - 5 – Came on for Marvelous after 63 minutes and this was a slight step up on some of his recent displays. Anwar El Ghazi – Replaced Traore on 75 minutes. Not on long enough to earn any rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  6. An outstanding start to the season is looking increasingly likely to be followed by a wretched end to it. Our early season form had us dreaming of a top six finish, but our present dismal run, that has brought us only 4 wins from our last 14 games, has us looking increasingly likely to drift into the bottom half of the table and to finish nearer the bottom six, than the top six. The goals have dried up, to the extent that we have only scored once in our last four games. We are now not even creating any decent chances, having gone almost an hour yesterday without having a shot on goal. Our midfield has badly missed Jack’s creativity during his absence and unfortunately when he is out injured, it is rarely for only one or two games. Even our cast iron defence is beginning to feel the strain now of knowing that conceding the first goal, invariably results in a defeat. Where once we were an exciting team that were hard to beat, we have now become a joyless side that even clubs that are on a bad run can look to turn over, as defeats against Championship bound Sheffield United and now Spurs have demonstrated. Fulham will be rubbing their hands at the prospect of visiting B6, after the coming international break! Spurs cannot have believed their luck yesterday. They arrived at Villa Park in crisis, having surrendered a two-goal advantage on Thursday to go out of the Europa League. Jose was under pressure, his team were low on confidence and they had seemed there for the taking, but currently we stand accused of being “on the beach” which clearly flaunts the government guidelines! We are also a tonic for ailing football clubs, rather than a team that will put them to the sword. We have now won one of our last seven games and this defeat was our sixth successive home defeat against Tottenham. This Spurs team looked to me, the least effective that they have played against us for some years. They did not play particularly well last night and sadly they did not need to. They all too easily were able to take all three points back to North London, when I am sure before the game started, they would have gladly settled for one. Both teams began the game slowly, in the case of the visitors perhaps understandably, in our own case, less so. We began to have the lion’s share of the possession after the opening uneventful minutes, but we were unable to create anything with it, lacked any spark and posed no threat up front, before we gifted them the first of their two goals. The visitors had gained some much-needed confidence by the second half, due to a large extent our own ineptitude and had begun to look increasingly comfortable. Although the game was by then over as a contest, during the last ten minutes, we did belatedly begin to venture forward a little and we did look a touch more interested. What a pity we did not try this during the first eighty minutes! My player ratings from a game that Jack could only helplessly watch from the stand, in what appeared to be a designer onesie, during his continuing absence through injury are: Emiliano Martinez – 4 – His error handed the visitors their opening goal. Emi came out of his area to claim a ball played forward but instead of putting his laces through it and clearing it well up the field, he attempted to find Cash, who was a few yards in front of him. Lucas Moura picked up the loose pass, played a one-two with Kane, running to the left edge of the 6-yard box, before hitting the ball between Mings and Cash, and past Emi at the post, towards two unmarked Spurs players lurking in front of goal. Of these, it was Vinicius who scored with a 29th minute tap-in. Emi was sent the wrong way by Kane when he struck their penalty into the left-hand corner of the net after 68 minutes. Hojbjerg hit a 78th minute shot from just inside of the box, which he parried away diving to his right. Matty Cash – 4 – Made a rash 67th minute attempt to block a potential Kane cross by sliding in closely between him and the goal, catching his foot after the ball had gone out and giving the England captain an opportunity to fall to ground clutching his lower leg, to win the penalty that clinched their win. Mike Dean could not wait to give it either, I wonder if Harry gave him his match shirt afterwards? Ezri Konsa – 6 – MOTM – Made an important early intervention by clearing a Sergio Reguilon low cross that had been intended for the waiting Vinicius. Had another solid game, that left me wondering how Eric Dier (dropped yesterday) got into the England squad ahead of him. Tyrone Mings – 6 – Had a solid game. Matt Targett – 6 – Made a nice late run into the box to reach a sweet 21st minute ball that Traore had hit from the right edge of the area, on the edge of the 6-yard box. Having done so, he might have done better to have attempted to beat Lloris himself, rather than to try to play the ball across to Watkins, who had three defenders in proximity, one of whom Tanganga, cleared it to safety. Mahmoud Trezuguet – 4 – Industrious, but he failed to produce any real product, and something more than hard work is required at this level. Sanson pulled the ball back from just inside the left edge of the box on 58 minutes, finding him just inside the centre of the area, but his shot lacked pace and was easily blocked by a defender who was positioned in front of Lloris. Hit a 73rd minute shot wide of the left post from the edge of the box. Douglas Luiz – 4 – His recent drop in form has surprised me. John McGinn – 4 – Hit a 59th minute shot from the edge of the box that was comfortably gathered by Lloris down to his left. Morgan Sanson - 5 – Hit some inaccurate crosses and has yet to make quite the impact that we had hoped that he might, although joining us at a time when our form is on the slide, has not assisted him in settling into the PL. Needs to start our remaining games and to stay on for more than an hour. Bertrand Traore – 4 – I had been hoping that he would step up in games like this one, during Jack’s absence. He does have undoubted ability, but he needs to produce it throughout a game, rather than once or twice. Ollie Watkins – 5 – Starved of service, but this still did seem some way off the level of performance that won him international recognition last week. Substitutes: Anwar El Ghazi – 5 - Replaced Traore on the half hour and looked relatively bright initially, before falling more into line with the inept level of performance of those around him. Hit a 61st minute shot from just outside the left edge of the box, which brushed the side netting, although had it been on target Lloris did have it covered. Ross Barclay – 4 - Replaced Sanson on 66 minutes and had a couple of reasonably decent moments on this latest brief outing. Not so clearly our worst performer in this game, as there was an awful lot of competition for that unwanted accolade last night! Keinan Davis – Came on for Trez after 79 minutes. Looked interested and made a relatively positive impression, which were things that very few of his teammates could be accused of last night. Pulled the ball back to Barclay from the left of the box, but his 84th minute shot was blocked by a defender. Not on long enough to gather a rating, but he did make a bit of case to be considered in front of one or two of those that did start, last night. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  7. We dominated the first half yesterday and our visitors from the Black Country, could have been two goals down after only 15 minutes, had it not been for the woodwork. The second half was totally different. Wolves having started the game slowly, increasingly took charge of the game and it was us rather than them, that were clinging on to a point for much of the second half. The first half was a marked improvement on our midweek display. The team seemed to understand, that although the fans were again missing, this match meant a lot to both sets of fans. If only we could sustain the same peak level of performance, more often over the full 90 minutes. There was little to choose between the two teams yesterday. Both teams will have felt they had the chances to have won it, but both teams will also know they could easily have lost it and a draw was both the right and a fair result. The positives are that we got another clean sheet yesterday and took a point from this local derby, despite having our talisman Jack, Matty and Anwar unavailable. This season it is our noisy neighbours, rather than ourselves that have a gap to mind, which remains at five points, despite us having played two less games than them. This, the fact that we have taken four points from them this season and that there has been little to choose between the two clubs over two games this season, does represent considerable progress for our football club. My player ratings from a game that ended with honours even are: Emiliano Martinez – 7 – Had a relatively quiet game, but when he was tested, he pulled out all the stops on both occasions. Neto had run from near his own box to just outside of the right of the 6-yard box and having got ahead of Targett, he hit a 50th minute shot, that Emi did well to parry out for a corner at the right-hand post. Emi was grateful that Coady having been left unmarked headed a 57th minute Neto cross against the far post and was doubly thankful, when Saiss proceeded to scoop the ball, that had been diverted across the face of the goal to him, over the crossbar from only around a yard out. Made a tremendous 76th minute reaction save to turn a Coady shot from inside of the 6-yard box wide of his left-hand post. Easily gathered an 87th minute Neto free kick from the right edge of the area, that was hit straight at him. Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 – Did a solid job at the back yesterday. I had anticipated him having considerable problems in coping with Traore’s pace, but fortunately our former winger appeared both uninterested and lethargic yesterday. Headed a 71st minute Barclay corner wide of the near post from the left edge of the 6-yard box. Ezri Konsa – 7 – Solid at the back and he posed a threat in the other area as well. Traore’s 15th minute cross evaded Mings on the left edge of the 6-yard box, before dropping to Ezri just outside the centre of the 6-yard box, but he could not keep his shot down and the ball hit the crossbar, rather than the back of the net. Following a 93rd minute corner and a Patricio block, the resultant loose ball reached Ezri to the right of the penalty spot, but he hit his shot wide of the right-hand post. Tyrone Mings – 7 – Marshalled our defence well and popped up where necessary to stifle their forward progress. Matt Targett – 6 – Faced an exacting test from Neto, who was by some distance their biggest threat yesterday. Matt became increasingly effective the longer that the game went on. Did exceptionally well on 94 minutes to get up at the far post to head a cross that was intended for Neves, who was was waiting behind him to potentially head home a late winner, to safety. Mahmoud Trezuguet – 5 – Worked hard. I was worried that his substitution, might give Neto more space in our half as the visitors increasingly pressed forward towards the end of the game, as he had been providing some decent defensive support. He does continue to be some way off his best, when in the opposition’s half though. Douglas Luiz – 6 – Made a welcome return to the starting line-up and our midfield is more effective with him in it. Had a decent first half but was not quite back to his best yesterday and he did fade in the second, as did we. John McGinn – 6 – Much nearer his best during the first half, but John was another who made less of an impression during the second. Morgan Sanson - 6 – Made a promising full home debut. Bertrand Traore – 5 – Failed to cause any serious threat to the Wolves defence. Ollie Watkins – 7 – MOTM – McGinn found him in the centre of the visitor’s half, and he proceeded to hit a rasping shot from around 30 yards that left Patricio a mere spectator, as the ball rattled the crossbar. How he must hate the woodwork, having now struck it seven times in all, this season! Should have took the shot on, having run into the box on 10 minutes, instead of selflessly looking to try to find Traore and give him an opportunity to open the scoring. McGinn played the ball to him and he hit a 17th minute shot from outside of the box, that was deflected off a defender, thereby making it simple for Patricio to collect the ball near his right-hand post. Trez found Ollie on 49 minutes and his shot was blocked by Saiss on the edge of the box, which sent the ball past the left-hand post for a corner. Barclay’s 93rd minute corner from the left, which had been intended for Davis, was nodded on by a defender and fell to Ollie a couple of yards outside the right of the 6-yard box, he turned and hit a shot that Patricio did well to block at his left-hand post. Substitutes: Ross Barclay – 4 - Replaced Sanson on 61 minutes. A positive substitution made with good intentions. He can hit a dead ball and should have offered us something moving forward. Ross at his earlier best prior to his injury, seemed to have an almost telepathic link with Jack. With Jack now missing nobody else seems to be on his wavelength, including himself at present. A slack ball played from the edge of his own area back into nobody in particular, might well have cost us the game on 76 minutes, but thankfully Martinez spared his blushes by pulling off a fine save from Coady. Keinan Davis – Replaced Trez on 78 minutes Not on long enough to earn a rating. Jacob Ramsey – Came on for Bert after 83 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating but looked comfortable in the middle. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  8. We have lost every game that we have started without Jack since we returned to the Premier League and we do not get many points from games when we go a goal behind. Given that and the absence of Matty Cash, defeat was not perhaps entirely unpredictable after 23 minutes had elapsed yesterday. The Foxes were out of their blocks quickly at the start of yesterday’s game and we were anything but. They were much sharper, and it seemed evident that their early dominance was likely to lead to goals and so it proved. Two goals on 19 and 23 minutes, left us with a mountain to climb and we did not really get out of base camp often enough to seriously threaten to complete an effective comeback. We did pull a goal back just after half time and we also spent a fair bit of time in their half during the last quarter of the game, but Leicester had by then dropped back and were content to protect their lead. They were able to do so without us really causing them any serious concern and without us troubling Schmeichel as often as we should have done. This defeat looks narrower than it was. Leicester having gone two goals ahead in the first quarter of the game, then took their foot off the pedal, in the knowledge that without Jack, they had probably already done enough. We seemed rather too ready to accept that without Jack, winning this game might prove beyond us and did not do enough to disprove the accusation that we are a one-man team. This was too easy a game for Leicester to win yesterday. Once again, this was a game of two halves. During the first we were just not good enough. In the second, we did improve, but not enough to become a serious threat to the visitors lead. Our visitors have now won 9 games away from home this season and we have lost as many at Villa Park, as we have won, so the higher placed side probably started favourites to gain revenge for their earlier home defeat by us. This result gives both clubs three points each from games against each other this season and an aggregate score of 2-2. Honours are therefore even, but what a pity it was that we could not somehow get a second late goal against the Foxes this season, yesterday. It will be all about Leicester after this game and their battle for a Champions League place. We were in a position where a win would have taken us within reach of a place in the top six yesterday, but not for the first time this season we failed to take an opportunity to get amongst them. Instead, it is Leicester, Everton and the increasingly fortunate West Ham that are rubbing shoulders with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United. We have again, put ourselves in a position where our away results (this time at Leeds) need to compensate for our home deficiencies, if we are to retain our top half placing. That said, we would all have been ecstatic about being in our current league position at this point of the season, at the end of last season. We are also not the only club, whose home form has been inconsistent this season (although clubs such as Liverpool have recently been stringing together a run of consistent home performances!). We still have games in hand, although top six is looking further away today than it did yesterday, it is still attainable, as is most definitely a top half finish. What we must do now is not let our present league placing slip The watching Southgate will no doubt have been impressed by the performances of Maddison and Barnes yesterday, the later of which is making a late claim for one of the Euro places that Jack has already secured in most people’s eyes, perhaps excluding the watching “wally in the waistcoat”? I wonder, did he come to Villa Park to watch them, Jack, or all three of them? What I do know, is that it would have been a good game for Jack to have made a strong case for an England starting place in, had he been fit to do so. My player ratings from a game that was a hard watch are: Emiliano Martinez – 6 – Emi got a hand to their first on 19 minutes but was unable to keep it out of the bottom left-hand corner of his net. He was then unable to hold Vardy’s 23rd minute shot and Barnes was by some distance, first to pounce upon the resultant loose ball to add the second. Comfortably held a 1st minute Ricardo shot, diving to his right and held a shot from the same player on 22 minutes, diving to his left, that was otherwise bound for the top right-hand corner. Collected a 54th minute Tielemans shot from outside of the box easily and then dived to his right to push a 30-yard Maddison free-kick past the post for a corner. Was swiftly at the edge of his box on 71 minutes to claim the ball before Vardy was able to. Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Elmo is not Matty Cash, but he worked hard and produced as much as can now reasonably be expected from him. Keeping Barnes quiet was a big ask of him. Ezri Konsa – 6 – Got an important 11th minute block on a Barnes shot, after he had beaten Elmo too easily. Tyrone Mings – 7 – Almost got us a late point when he glanced a header from a 95th minute Elmo cross wide of the far post. Tyrone was solid under pressure and did well to keep Vardy reasonably quiet. Matt Targett – 8 – MOTM – Got an assist on 48 minutes when he played a nice one-two with McGinn before hitting a lovely cross into the box that produced Bert’s goal. Did not put a foot wrong throughout, was solid at the back and moved forward well. Anwar El Ghazi – 5 – Brought into the team in Jack’s absence. Jack’s are clearly immense boots to fill and it would be unfair to expect Anwar to compensate for his absence or to replicate the way he can make the whole team tick. Substituted on 67 minutes, having not really made a big impact on the game or produced a performance that was on a par with his recent encouraging displays. Douglas Luiz – 5 – Not at his best, could this have been a game when we could have considered starting Marvelous alongside him and McGinn further forward than he was? Hit a good 32nd minute cross that Konsa was unable to get his head to and which ran off his back to the left and to safety. John McGinn – 5 – Put in a lot of work yesterday, but I wonder how much a deeper role really suits John and the team, particularly today? What we do have is his industry and tenacity, but what we seem to be missing is his previous threat on the edge of the opposition’s box, his strong forward runs and he also seems to have mislaid his shooting boots. Hit a ball that had bounced out of the box towards him in a central position, well over the bar from about 30 yards after 35 minutes. Ross Barclay - 4 - This was an opportunity for Ross to step into the role of our main play maker in Jack’s absence, but he failed to do so, after a reasonable start. There is a quality player there, as we witnessed earlier in the season, when he worked so well in unison with Jack, but since his return he has not reached that level. The reason why is open to question. I think he has not yet reached full fitness on his return to the side. His return from injury did coincide with the training ground being closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak, as well as with a drop off in Jack’s previous stellar performance levels, which cannot have helped him settle back into the team. Bertrand Traore – 7 – A well taken goal, a couple of nice moments and he managed to track back to help his full back on occasion, although this is something that he still needs to work at and that he was probably not expected to do, too often before he joined us. Bert looked favourite to get on the end of an inviting 17th minute El Ghazi cross into the box, only for Thomas to reach it fractionally before him, to block. However, he was in the right place at the right time on 48 minutes, when Targett’s cross for McGinn ran on towards him and he beat Schmeichel to it and hit the ball home. Ollie Watkins – 5 – Lacked service. Substitutes: Mahmoud Trezuguet – 5 - Replaced El Ghazi on 67 minutes. Seems to have lost the knack of scoring that did so much to help us retain our top-flight status at the end of last season. He offers an increased work rate but is not currently nearly as effective up front as he was at the beginning of the season, let alone at the end of the last one. Slipped as he hit an 86th minute shot from outside of the box that slid along the turf and was easily gathered by Schmeichel. Jacob Ramsey – Came on for Barclay after 76 minutes. Not on quite long enough to gather a rating, but like our new signing, will now be pressing for a start, in a midfield that does not currently quite pick itself. Morgan Sanson – Replaced Douglas on 81 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating. Surely, he cannot be too far away from a starting place now or at least an earlier introduction off the bench? Up the Villa! John Lewis
  9. 1-0 to the Arsenal has been sung at Highbury since the days of George Graham. Their team used to go a goal ahead and then shut up shop, leaving it to their watertight back four (that comprised of Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Lee Dixon & Nigel Winterburn) to secure their win. Yesterday, we turned the tables on our visitors from North London. Had we been at Villa Park, it would have been us that were singing that song, as our own magnificent defensive performance, secured our first double against our visitors since the inaugural 1992/93 Premier League season and cemented our place in the top half of the table. We now sit four points ahead of yesterday’s visitors with two games in hand of them, having recorded our third successive win against them and we have put ourselves in a great position to finish above them in the league table for the first time since season 1995/96. Our current points total matches the number of points that we gathered during the whole of last season, so there will be no relegation struggle at Villa Park this season, it seems one will be held on the other side of the city again though, instead! Villa bounced back well yesterday afternoon, after our disappointing mid-week home defeat. The whole team worked exceptionally hard and this time pressed our visitors when they had the ball and put in a series of solid challenges. Arsenal had started the game slowly and we took advantage of some early casual defending to go ahead after just two minutes. Our visitors took some time to really get into the game, they played a nice passing game, but they did not have the goal threat, that I would have anticipated Aubameyang might have offered had he not spent two thirds of the match on their bench. Our visitors had the lion’s share of the possession, but Ryan was the busier of the two keepers and it was Villa that created the better scoring opportunities. We were sitting on the edge of our seats, particularly in the second half, but their equalizer that seemed destined to eventually come, thankfully never did. My player ratings from a game that made me wish we were there to join in, with “Sweet Caroline” at the final whistle, are: Emiliano Martinez – 8 – He will have enjoyed this win against his former club. Emi was back to his best after a mid-week hiccup. Moved quickly off his line to his left, to claim the ball ahead of Saka on 21 minutes. Caught a 27th minute Pepe shot that had taken a deflection off Cash underneath the crossbar. Did very well to get across and dive to his left, to push a 29th minute 30-yard Xhaka free kick, that was bound for the left-hand upright out for a corner. Dived to his left to hold a 56th minute Bellerin shot from outside of the box. Did well to block a 69th minute Pepe shot from just inside the left of the box, at his near post, that had taken a deflection off Konsa. A 92nd minute cross bounced off Odegaard’s chest, but Martinez sensing the danger claimed the resulting loose ball off the same player’s foot on the right-edge of the 6-yard box. Matty Cash – 8 – His was the flank from which many of their attacks came from, but they did not result in goals and he played a key role in that. Ezri Konsa – 8 – He was determined to record another clean sheet and did his fair share alongside Tyrone in the middle, to make it happen. Tyrone Mings – 9 – MOTM – Made several important blocks and was often our last line of defence. He was the defensive rock on which so many of their attacks foundered. A tremendously solid performance from Tyrone. Matt Targett – 8 – Made an important block on a 57th minute Saka shot, that sent the ball wide of goal and out for a corner. Did very well at the back, where he was so reliable. John McGinn - 7 – Powered a 54th minute shot from outside of the box that Ryan saved diving to his left. A much better performance from John, who chased and closed-down his opponents throughout. Marvelous Nakamba – 7 – Gave a good solid defensive performance, worked hard, and made a couple of nice passes too. Back to his best. Bertrand Traore – 6 – Claimed an assist for our early match winner, when he claimed the ball following some early casual Arsenal defending and hit the cross, from which Ollie scored. Barclay found him on the edge of the box on 30 minutes, he turned between two defenders and tried to dink the ball over Ryan, who managed to block it, with his outstretched left hand. A good display. Ross Barclay – 6 – Picked up the loose ball (following Traore’s dink above) inside the box and hit an on target shot that was well blocked by Gabriel on the left edge of the 6-yard box. Had a 30th minute shot Jack found him inside the box on 48 minutes, but he failed to get a decent strike on the ball, which was easily collected by Ryan. Jack played the ball into the box for Ross, but his 52nd minute shot went wide of the left-hand post. This was an improvement on his mid-week display and he will be fitter for some training next week. Nice to see a player, so unhappy to be substituted, by the way. Jack Grealish – 7 – Watkins found him on the edge of the box on 79 minutes, he then moved into the area before hitting a shot that Ryan saved well, diving to his left. Not quite as influential on the game as he usually is, but he was involved in much of our positive moves and put in a shift for the team. This was a marked improvement on his mid-week display. Ollie Watkins – 8 – Worked tirelessly as the lone striker and scored the 2nd minute winner. Traore pounced on a poor back pass from Cedric that had been intended for Gabriel, before crossing to Ollie on the edge of the 6-yard box. Ollie turned the ball towards goal and the ball took a touch off Holding on its way past Ryan and into the left-hand corner of the net. Barclay played the ball across the edge of the box to him and he hit a 50th minute shot that Ryan dived to his right to parry away, a few seconds later Ollie headed a Targett cross on the far edge of the 6-yard box, that Ryan gathered at the post. Jack won the ball about 40 yards from goal and ran forward before finding Ollie running into the box, who hit an 83rd minute shot inches wide of Ryan’s left-hand post, with the keeper beaten. Won the ball in his own half and ran towards their area, before switching the ball back to Jack and continuing his run. Jack then played the ball back to Ollie just inside the left of the box, who hit an 86th minute shot, that Ryan saved diving to his left. Substitutes: Mahmood Trezuguet – 6 - Replaced Traore on 66 minutes. He made us more solid as we dropped back under pressure in the closing minutes and he worked hard, as he always does. Jacob Ramsey – Came on for Barclay after 78 minutes, to offer some fresh legs and with a view to holding on to what we had. Jacob picked up the ball in the middle of their half, ran towards the edge of the box and attempted to curl an 89th minute shot in, that Ryan dived to his left to save. Not on quite long enough to gather a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  10. It was hard to take the smug self-satisfied grins on the faces of David Moyes and Jesse Lingard, at the final whistle. Moyes certainly did a job on us last night and Lingard took a full year of frustration at Old Trafford out against us for 91 minutes. Moyes conceived a game plan to win this game and his team executed it to the letter. A crucial part of that plan was to nullify the positive influence that Jack invariably has on our level of performance. He did that by having Coufal man-mark him and by having him and Fredericks double team him, when he had the ball. The visitors clearly had a greater desire to stay in the top six, than we had to get into it, last night. They were first out of the blocks, bossed the midfield, were resolute at the back and were dangerous up front. We were too ready to let them take the early initiative. They had the better of the first half, although we went closest to scoring, when Watkins 27th minute shot clipped the outside of the far post, with Fabianski beaten. Had that gone in things may have been different, after all, we rarely fail to win when we score first, in the same way that we rarely win, after conceding the first as we did last night. At half time, I had felt relieved that the game was still all square. Given that we often play significantly better in one half, than the other, I had hoped that the best was yet to come. How wrong I was. West Ham dominated the second half, and they won the battle of the two most improved PL clubs this season, rather too easily. On 63 minutes Mings magnificently managed to hook an Antonio shot off the line to prevent the visitors going three up. In so doing, he preserved what had seemed an unlikely chance of pulling this game out of the fire, during the last third of the game. Watkins then proceeded to pull a goal back on 81 minutes. This would surely be too little too late and so it proved, but not before Ollie got within inches of equalising a minute later. Unfortunately, Dawson just got to a cross from Jack that had just needed a touch for an equalizer first. Hopes of a late unlikely comeback were then finally extinguished a minute later, when Lingard (who we made look like Ronaldo last night) restored the visitors two goal lead. West Ham did a Villa on us last night. They pressed us, gave us no space in which to play and put their chances away clinically. They dominated the game a little like we had done at their ground earlier this season, but unlike us they did not come away empty-handed. We have now lost as many home games as we have won. Home advantage is of course much diminished without the encouragement of home supporters this season, but Leeds, Southampton and now West Ham, did not just win at Villa Park they won easily. We need to formulate a cunning plan for games like this, as a matter of some urgency. We were off the pace last night, that may have had something to do with the number of games that we have had since our mid-season training break. Admittedly only Manchester City seem to be able to produce a consistently winning performance each time they are called upon to do so, in this season when games come thick and fast. We are not alone in having the odd poor game, West Ham had one against Liverpool, but we do need to make sure that we do not make a habit of it. We are now ninth and although we will have a game or games in hand of everyone else on Thursday night, you need to win them, to make them count. I think that we would all have taken a mid-table finish happily, before the season began, but having got into the position that we now occupy, it would be a pity not to go on to finish in or near to the top six. Or as a minimum, at least in the top half of the table. We now need to bounce back at the weekend for the visit of Arsenal. We need to rediscover the exciting Villa that are so easy on the eye and to find again our defensive solidity. We need to pick up runners and to give 110%. Make it so Villa! My player ratings from a game during which we gave a poor, below par performance are: Emiliano Martinez – 4 – Emi will not be happy to have seen the second and third goals go past him, he sets high standards and does not take well to any goals being scored against him. This was not a good day at the office, and it needs to be put behind him as nothing other than a rare off day. Dived to his right to save a 12th minute Antonio shot from inside of the box and dived to his left to save a Lingard shot from the edge of the box 3 minutes later. Dived to his left to keep out a 33rd minute Cresswell free kick from the right edge of the box. Easily gathered a 38th minute Coufal shot that was hit straight at him. Got a hand to Lingard’s 56th minute shot from around 8 yards out, after he had been found unmarked inside the left of the area, but the ball went on to bounce over McGinn who was trying to intercept on the line and into the net for their second. Beaten again by Lingard who had been found inside the right of the box by Antonio. Emi seemed odds on to keep Lingard’s 83rd minute shot out, but although he got down to it, he failed to hold it or to do enough to push it wide of the left post, which had seemed his intention. Matty Cash – 5 – Not at his best, but he was not alone in that. Ezri Konsa – 5 – See above. Tyrone Mings – 6 – His “never say die” approach to the game was exemplified on 63 minutes when he hurried back at pace to hook the ball off the line after Antonio had hit the ball over Martinez, for what had appeared to be a certain third for the visitors. His determination gave us a lifeline that sadly we did not quite use to rescue a point from this game. Matt Targett – 5 – Another who consistently performs at a higher level than this. Ross Barclay - 4 – Hit a Targett free kick that had been headed on by Dawson into his path, wide of the right-hand post from 12 yards. Failed to try to track Soucek’s run which culminated in him scoring their first goal. Anwar El Ghazi – 4 – Replaced at half time following what had been a disappointing display, given his recent improvement. Anwar failed to get into this game. Douglas Luiz – 5 – Another that did not produce his best in our misfiring midfield. John McGinn – 4 – Not near his best. Jack Grealish – 5 – Claimed an assist for our goal, but his overall contribution to the game was significantly less than we have come to expect from him. Hit a 75th minute free kick from a central position, around 30 yards out, wide of the right post. Should have been switched to the right earlier. Ollie Watkins – 6 – MOTM – Lacked sufficient service. Headed a 22nd minute Cash cross over the crossbar. Ollie was found by Jack on the left edge of the box and he hit a 27th minute shot from just inside it, that Fabianski could only watch as it clipped the outside of the far post. He played the ball wide right for Jack on 81 minutes, who in turn played the ball back for him to run onto inside of the box. Ollie did well to get in between two central defenders to slide in to and put the ball between the near post and Fabianski, to give us some cause for late hope. He was so near to getting an equalizer a minute later, when Dawson just reached an inviting Grealish cross, a split second before he did. Substitutes: Bertrand Traore – 5 - Replaced El Ghazi at half time. Hit a 66th minute shot from the edge of the box that took a deflection off Dawson and that was then helped over the bar by Fabianski. Mahmood Trezuguet – 5 - Came on for Barclay after 69 minutes. Morgan Sanson – Replaced Douglas on 80 minutes. Not a great game to make your debut in and he was not on long enough to gather a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  11. There seemed to be quite a gulf between these two teams last night, but I suppose there is. After all, we are now eighth and our visitors have now slipped to fifth from the bottom. There are also now ten points between us, and we have played two less games than they have. We moved back into the top half of the table again last night. In doing so, we moved above Arsenal and Chelsea, with two games in hand of both clubs. It has been a long time since we have been above both of those clubs, at this stage of the season. This really was a walk in the park for us. We had an extra gear had we needed it, but we did not. Steve Bruce was fortunate to leave Villa Park with a second successive 2-0 defeat, it could so easily have been at least double that last night. Newcastle’s realistic target for this season is probably a place in the top half of the bottom six, our target might soon become a place in the actual top six. For now, we should continue to take each game as it comes, but before too long surely, we will be considered credible contenders for European qualification for the first time in ten years. Two wins from our next two games would see us with the same number of points that we got during the whole of last season, at the half-way stage of this one. We are already in with an excellent chance of getting our first top half finish in the PL for ten years. What a pity it is, that none of us have been able to take our places at Villa Park, during this of all seasons. We were well worth our two-goal lead at half time. We were able to sit back during the last quarter of the game, with an eye on conserving our energy for more difficult games that are to come, in the knowledge that our defence was highly unlikely to concede one, let alone two goals. Our defence really is so very solid. A clean sheet was always their target yesterday and it was one that was achieved by our resolute back four and keeper, without them being put under any noticeable pressure from our visitors. Newcastle arrived at Villa Park on the crest of a slump and they now look on the verge of another grim relegation battle. They will take heart from the seven-point gap between themselves and the bottom three, but not from their performance last night, when they were well and easily beaten. My player ratings from a game that left us wanting to ask Brucie “Can we play you every week?” are: Emiliano Martinez – 7 – Easily gathered a weak 4th minute shot from Almiron to his left. Given little to do but what he did he did, in his usual exemplary fashion. Matty Cash – 7 – Another good performance and like Matt looked good when getting forward. Ezri Konsa – 8 – What an impressive central defensive pair we now have. Ezri just gets better and better. He was so solid at the back again last night and if he does not claim the ball then Tyrone does. Tyrone Mings – 7 – Headed an 83rd minute Grealish free kick wide of the right-hand post, from near the penalty spot. Was in the right place at the right time to head a 23rd minute Lascelles.header to safety from inside the 6-yard box. Matt Targett – 8 – Hit a 5th minute shot from outside of the box firmly, but straight at Darlow and then put over a nice cross 5 minutes later, that Watkins was just unable to reach, to help into the net. He was a real threat moving forward and had an assist for the opening goal. Ross Barclay - 7 – Headed a Traore free-kick just wide of the right-hand post on 17 minutes. Traore played the ball into the box on 68 minutes, Watkins headed it from the left edge of the 6-yard box towards Ross, who back heeled the ball just over the bar and past the far post. Marvelous Nakamba – 7 – Slotted in nicely in John McGinn’s absence. The ball fell to him on the edge of the box in the 2nd minute of first half stoppage time, but his shot flew a couple of yards wide of the left-hand post. Douglas Luiz – 7 – Hit a 44th minute shot just wide of the right-hand post, from just outside of the box and kept the midfield ticking. Jack Grealish – 8 – Got an assist for the second and was unlucky not to add a third on 73 minutes. Barclay picked up the ball inside his own half and ran to near the edge of their box, before playing the ball to Jack inside the left of the penalty area. Jack then hit a shot that was bound for the top right-hand corner, before taking a slight deflection off a defender that just sent it out for a corner. Jack like Barclay, with whom he works so well were clearly unhappy to be substituted late in the game, but with him one booking away from a ban, the decision was the right one. Bertrand Traore – 8 – Hit home our second on 33 minutes to put the game beyond any reasonable doubt. Darlow punched a corner out to the edge of the box, which fell to Marvelous, who played the ball left for Bert, who in turn played the ball wide left for Jack. Our captain ran into the box and pulled the ball back and across to Bert, who had run into the box. The ball was just itching to be hit and Bert side footed it just underneath the right of the crossbar, applying just the sort of finish, a move of that quality had deserved. Constantly involved yesterday. Ollie Watkins – 8 – MOTM – Worked tremendously hard throughout, moving from one side to the other to cause opposing defenders’ frequent problems. He also headed home our first after 13 minutes. Targett played a one-two with Jack on the left, before hitting a cross that bounced up off Schar invitingly towards Ollie, who headed the ball past the advancing Darlow and into the net. The keeper had for some reason, seemed intent in colliding with Ollie, with his hands down at his side, but seemed to think better of it. Netted again on 33 minutes, but he was just offside as he made his run for the ball. Barclay found Ollie near the edge of the area, who ran into the left of the box, before hitting a 46th minute shot, that Darlow blocked with his legs. The loose ball was partially cleared by a defender and then flicked wide of the left-hand post by Douglas. Substitutes: Anwar El Ghazi – Replaced Barclay on 80minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating. Mahmood Trezuguet – Came on for El Ghazi after 80 minutes. Might have added a late third on 94 minutes, when he turned the ball to the left of Darlow, who managed to get a hand to it, to keep it out of the net. Not on long enough to gather a rating. Jacob Ramsey – Replaced Jack on 88 minutes. He was also not on long enough to earn a rating. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  12. Whatever happens in the future, these young lions will always have last night. They all made their first team debuts together and worked tirelessly for each other and for the shirt that they wore. Whether they go on to play again for our first team (which I believe more than one, has the potential to do), make a footballing career as a professional elsewhere or do not quite go on to make the grade, they will always smile and be rightly proud of how they performed last night against the current league champions. This really was Roy of the Rovers stuff! What a tremendous display our young lions put up last night. It would have been so easy to cave in having gone a goal behind so early, but our lads were determined to put up a valiant display. During the first half our lads looked comfortable on the ball and showed some style. Not only did we not let Liverpool add to their score during what remained of the first half, we even had the boldness to equalise after 41 minutes, with a superbly taken goal by Barry, that sent the visitors in at half time for a spot of teacup throwing. Our courageous, extremely hard-working young players had held the current league champions to 1-1 until the hour mark, but they understandably grew increasingly tired and conceded three goals in five minutes, to ease Liverpool’s embarrassment and to dash any thoughts, that we might have entertained of taking the visitors to a penalty shoot-out. Having hit four the visitors may well have anticipated hitting more, during the half hour of the game that remained, against a team that had run themselves into the ground. The introduction of some fresh legs and a back to the wall, resolute defensive rear-guard action, resulted in our young lions, denying the visitors the additional goals that they sought. Our lads held firm, gave everything they had and then gave some more, and by doing so, prevented the score giving the impression that Liverpool had eased into the next round without needing to slip out of first gear. Although their need to bring on second half substitutes, to win it demonstrated that any further goals, would have been far too cruel on our young team. The visitors had the bulk of the possession and may have progressed into the next round, but it is the young Villa team that will deservedly take the plaudits, rather than the likes of Fabinho, Milner, Henderson, Wijnaldum and Salah, that they had faced. I suspect that had Liverpool have chosen to rest those players, they may have been regretting that decision after the game! Mark Delaney did exceptionally well to prepare these youngsters for the tough test they were to face, particularly given the short notice that both he and the players had. What was expected to be a potential slaughter did not happen. This may have been a case of men against boys, but those boys were certainly up to the task. They were not overawed by the occasion, but instead embraced the unexpected opportunity to exhibit their talent, against a team that ran away with the title last season. They should be as proud of themselves, as we are of them! Three months ago, Liverpool brought their first team to Villa Park and lost 2-7. In December 2019, they chose to field a team of kids, having prioritised a game in Qatar, over a League Cup quarter final against us and found themselves on the wrong end of a 0-5 score line. Last night, our youngsters reacted rather better than Liverpool’s had done last season, to the challenge of playing a first team, in front of a live television audience (although they did also have a vociferous Villa Park crowd to contend with). The difference between those two cup selections was that unlike our visitors 13 months ago, it was not our choice to field an under-strength team, that decision was forced upon us. Aston Villa first won the FA Cup in 1887 and then proceeded to make a habit of winning it (in 1895,1897,1905,1913 & 1920). There then followed a lengthy 37 year wait until we next lifted the trophy, in 1957, when we beat the Busby Babes. The wait that we have since endured for an eighth win, seems never ending and will now stretch to a minimum of 65 years. We once sang “7 times we’ve won it, no-one else can catch us up”. Sadly, Liverpool have caught us up and another four teams have overtaken us. I had hoped that this might possibly have been our year, but we were denied the opportunity to have a proper go at it, by playing our first team tonight. We were beaten by the FA’s resolve to complete the third round this weekend, at whatever the cost to the integrity of the competition, rather than by last night’s visitors. On yesterday’s evidence, I suspect that our first team may well have beaten Liverpool had they have been able to face them. One thing that they would not have done however, was to show any more commitment than those Villa boys, all did last night. My player ratings from a game on a night that the club lost, but our young players all emerged as winners from, are: Akos Onodi – 9 – MOTM – I understand he had a trial at Liverpool. Their loss is our gain. Pulled off a good save from Fabinho after 23 minutes, diving to his left to keep out his shot from inside the area and then got off the floor and into position quickly to block a Mane shot at his left-hand post, which deflected off him to safety. Salah made a run into the right of the box and hit a 35th minute shot that Onodi dived low to his left to push out for a corner. Dived to his left to push a shot that Jones had curled from the edge of the box, in the 2nd minute of first half stoppage time. Did well to keep Salah’s close range shot out, from an offside position and to then clutch the ball before the striker kicked it out of his hands on 53 minutes. Collected a 77th minute Origi shot from outside of the box comfortably. Jake Walker – 7 – Had a good game. Dominic Revan – 8 – Made a great 49th minute block on a Minamino shot near the penalty spot. Gave a captain’s performance. Mungo Bridge – 8 – Looked very solid and composed. Callum Rowe – 8 – Claimed an assist for the splendid ball he played for Barry to run onto and score the equaliser. A fine overall performance. Kaine Kesler Hayden - 8 – Hit a nice 27th minute cross for Bogarde from the right, after a Barry run, that a defender just managed to get to first, putting the ball out for a corner at the far post. Did well to block a Henderson shot from the edge of the box in the 1st minute of first half stoppage time, near the goal line. Lamare Bogarde – 7 – Ability does seem to run in his family. Mamadou Sylla – 8 – Got back well on 30 minutes to make a well-timed tackle on Henderson at the left-hand edge of the 6-yard box. Arjan Raikhy – 7 – A good display. Ben Chrisene – 7 – Looks to have be an astute signing. Louie Barry – 9 – Played as our lone forward last night and made an impressive first team debut, during which he scored the first of what seems likely to be many goals for us. His reaction to scoring, his smile at the end of the game and his post-match interview, suggested that we may well have another potential Jack on the books. Or given his playing position, even another Gary Shaw or Brian Little? Scored a terrific equaliser on 41 minutes, when he outpaced Williams to collect a lovely ball from Rowe. He left the defender trailing, as he ran into the box and hit the ball past the advancing Kelleher and into the right-hand corner of the net. This was the clinical, composed, nerveless finish of a natural goal scorer. Substitutes: Bradley Young – 7 - Replaced Chrisene on 61 minutes. What about that sublime turn inside his own box? He made a positive impact during the last half an hour. Harrison Sohna – 7 - Replaced Raikhy in the 65th minute and played well. Hayden Lindley – 7 - Came on for Bogarde on 66 minutes and slotted in nicely. Sil Swinkles – 7 - Replaced Callum Rowe on 75 minutes and looked comfortable. Edward Rowe – 7 - Replaced Walker on 75 minutes and played his part. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  13. Yesterday’s game brought us another clean sheet, another 3-0 win and another 3 points! This and our last game have reinforced my growing opinion, that we now have a determined, entertaining team that work for each other and has developed a winning mentality. That is rather a nice Christmas present for us Villa fans. For the first time in many a year we have a team that can go into every game, no matter where we are playing and who we are up against, with the knowledge that they will give them a proper game. Clubs like Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Spurs and Chelsea, will now no longer see games against us as ones that they can expect to take three points from, without needing to get out of second gear. They will know that they are in for a game and are up against a team that have it in them to beat anyone. We are sixth in the table following our Boxing Day win and later today, we will have one if not two games in hand of any team that is above us in the table. Should we win one of the two games that we have in hand and that is on current form not beyond the realms of possibility, we would find ourselves in the top four. Winning both, would be less likely, but it is not impossible, and should we do it, we could find ourselves on top of the table or at least within touching distance of a team we put 7 goals past in October. I accept that I am perhaps, getting a little or even a lot carried away, but after these last couple of games, I think we now have the right to dream and to ask, what if? If Arsenal or Chelsea, were in our present league position they would no doubt be labelled as being “title challengers”. Leicester’s title chances were largely ignored until it became impossible to continue to do so, five seasons ago. In 1980-81, our own title chances were considered less likely than those of Liverpool and then when they faded Ipswich. Can we do a Leicester and win the league after looking likely to be relegated the previous season? What I do know, is that you will not find a bookmaker willing to offer you 3,000/1 against it and few of us would “want to bet against us” if our current manager was to now ask us the same question as our late great manager had put to a reporter back in 1981. We have at least made it into the top six and we now have only 10 less points from 13 games than we accumulated in the whole of last season. We made a winning start to the season, beat last season’s league champions convincingly and have shown the strength to come again following a couple of defeats at Villa Park, rather than to slide down the table. We now face stern tests at Chelsea and Manchester United, before we return to Villa Park to face Spurs and Everton. Two wins from these four games would make European football an increasing possibility and make a top half finish look likely. What if we got more than six points though? We might then even be viewed as potential title challengers! It has been a long time since we were, but this team might just do it. If not this year, then perhaps the one after next or the one after that. Palace came to Villa Park having been thrashed at home last week. Yesterday they were fortunate to only be beaten 3-0, by a flowing and confident Villa team that played the whole of the second half with ten men. Having started very strongly and created several chances, after going ahead on five minutes, we were left concerned at half time that one goal might not prove to be quite enough to secure all three points, given we faced playing the second half a man down. Would we simply drop back and try to hold onto the lead, facing increasing pressure as the minutes ticked down? No, we would work incredibly hard as a team throughout the second half to compensate for the loss of Mings and in fact be by far the better side in those last 45 minutes, as demonstrated by the two additional goals that we beat “the team of the eighties” by. Villa played as a team yesterday and they have really played some scintillating stuff lately. My player ratings from a game that Zaha showed that he is prone to doing something that opposition fans regularly accuse Captain Jack of doing, namely “going down easily” are: Emiliano Matinez – 7 – On those occasions that Palace seriously threatened to penetrate our solid defensive barrier, Emi was on hand and determined to prevent the ball getting past him. Did very well to block a 1st minute Zaha shot from inside of the box, after he had got to a through ball from Benteke before Mings was able to. Dived low to hold a 16th minute Eze cross from the left of the area and then moved to his left to collect a 31st minute Milivojevic free kick from just outside of the area. Saved an 85th minute Eze shot from the edge of the box to his left and collected another low shot from the same player, from outside of the box 4 minutes later. Matty Cash – 7 – Got a slight touch to the ball on 25 minutes and van Aanholt then seemed to fall into him. VAR insisted on rearing its ugly head again, although there was no clear & obvious error made by referee Anthony Taylor in refusing appeals for a spot kick and suggested he have a look at the touchline monitor. Fortunately, having done so, this referee stood by his own decision and Matty was not incorrectly punished. Well done on that referee, but a couple of the players Woy took off, might have merited a second yellow more than Tyrone did! Kortney Hause – 8 – So solid at the back yesterday and Kortney was then first to react when the ball thudded off the crossbar on 66 minutes to head home our decisive second goal from close range, which was confirmed by the ever-reliable Hawk-Eye goal line technology. He really is beginning to look comfortable and increasingly confident in the centre of our defence. Tyrone Mings – 5 – Tyrone was unlucky to be shown a first yellow on 39 minutes, after Zaha having himself fouled McGinn, reacted furiously to being caught on the leg by Mings as he stepped over McGinn on the floor. Referee’s do often tend to book both players in situations where the player that is given the free kick, immediately reacts aggressively to having been fouled, although Zaha had himself committed the first offence on this occasion. Tyrone then gave the referee a decision to make only 6 minutes later, when he put out an arm to stop the same player running past him just inside our half. Zaha took the opportunity to go to ground in a heap and having been booked a second yellow and an early exit, for our defender was inevitable. Matt Targett – 8 – MOTM – Did not put a foot wrong throughout. This was his best performance in a Villa shirt so far and he bossed his flank yesterday. Anwar El Ghazi - 8 – What a sensational goal that was! Anwar sealed our victory on 76 minutes. Grealish picked up a Hause clearance inside his own half before releasing the ball to Watkins, whose first touch let him down and took the ball to the left side of the area. Ollie went on to collect the ball and hit a short pass to Anwar who hit a screamer into the top left-hand corner of the net. He is now playing with confidence, looks comfortable playing in this current team and is looking a far better player, than many of us (myself included), had thought possible. Scoring goals for fun, now isn’t he? Earlier, a 22nd minute Traore corner from the left, had got a touch off a defender’s head before reaching Watkins at the far post, his header was deflected into Anwar’s path, who turned and hit a shot that the nearby Guaita smothered. Found by Jack on the edge of the box, but his 35th minute shot was hit wide of the left post. Watkins 41st minute cross from the right, found him at the far post, but his shot was blocked by Guaita. Hit a 50th minute shot from the edge of the box that was comfortably gathered by Guaita. Douglas Luiz – 7 – He simply makes our midfield tick. John McGinn – 7 – John worked extremely hard to compensate for our numerical disadvantage alongside Douglas, with whom he plays so well. Jack Grealish – 8 – Did Woy instruct his players to take turns in bringing Jack down yesterday? Ran onto a ball played for him by Traore and took it into the box, seemed to be pushed by a defender, but did not go down and instead hit a shot which Guaita saved with his legs. Was his usual exceptional self and on another day would have claimed a couple of assists. Bertrand Traore – 8 – Has probably taken longer than had been expected to settle into the club, but this and his last game, have shown we really do have some player on our hands. To quote Klopp, “Wow!” Bertrand was very unlucky to be the one that was chosen to come off, to enable us to make a like for like replacement for the departed Mings in first half stoppage time, at a time when he was looking a likely contender for the MOTM award. He had earlier played the ball to Watkins who ran on into the right of the box before hitting a shot that Guaita kept out with his right hand, but the resultant loose ball was hit past two defenders and the keeper, into the net by Traore after 5 minutes. Hit a nice 13th minute ball into the box, that McGinn almost got his head to. Received the ball from Watkins and hit a 17th minute shot from the edge of the box that struck the left post. Like Anwar he is making a habit of scoring. Ollie Watkins – 8 – Did everything, other than score and was a constant threat to the Palace defence. Worked incredibly hard and led the line very well, particularly in the second half when he was playing up front on his own. Headed a 66th minute El Ghazi free kick from the left against the crossbar after it had bounced off a defender, but Hause was on hand to finish the job. Played a nice one-two with Jack, but his 74th minute shot from inside the box was blocked. Grealish played an 87th minute ball into the box for him, but his shot from near the penalty spot was blocked by Guaita. Jack then again found him inside the box a minute later, but his shot having beaten Guaita then bounced back off the right-hand post back into his arms. Substitutes: Ezri Konsa – 7 - Replaced Traore in the 3rd minute of first half stoppage time. Slotted seamlessly into the gap left in our central defence by the dismissal of Tyrone. Ahmed Elmohamady – Came on for El Ghazi on 86 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating. Jacob Ramsey – Replaced Douglas on 91 minutes. Not on long enough to earn any rating. Happy New Year to all my readers! John Lewis
  14. The positives were that we kept a clean sheet, we made numerous scoring opportunities and that we avoided a fourth consecutive home defeat. The negatives are that we once again undid splendid work away from home by dropping hard won points back at Villa Park. We also proved that 27 shots were not quite enough to hit the back of the net once! We demonstrated that when regular starters are unavailable it really has a significant impact on our ability to get a positive result. The players that came into the team to replace injured or suspended first teamers did well enough, but this and the positional changes that we made, clearly weakened us. We need to try to bolster the strength of our playing squad during the coming window to the extent that it proves possible to do so. Burnley got what they came for. Their dour football can grind out results and it will probably grind out enough of them to see them to safety at the end of the season. They were fortunate to play us at a time when we were much weakened, and we were perhaps unfortunate to play them at a time when they were at their most confident to date this season. Nevertheless, only 7 of our 27 shots were on target and we really need to be more clinical than that up front. It is frustrating that we remain in the bottom half of the table after this game and although no game represents “a gimme” (particularly this season), this really was a winnable game. Having again disappointed at home, we will therefore have to again rely on our fantastic away form to compensate for our home failings. Beware Big Sam! Had the frame of the goal twice and a goal line clearance, not denied us, we might have got the win that we needed, but luck was not with us last night. We dominated the second half but have no more to show for that than the visitors took from their meagre contribution to the entertainment last night. Hopefully, we can make amends with another win at Turf Moor later in the season. Unlike this time last year, we are looking up rather than down the league table and that is progress. My player ratings from a game that could have and should have, produced a win for us are: Emiliano Matinez – 7 – Made a nice two handed save from Wood on 22 minutes. Comfortably gathered a 44th minute Brady free kick from outside of the area and collected a 64th minute shot from outside the box by the same player above his head without any alarm. Made an exceptionally good sharp 72nd minute save from Mee (who somehow avoided a card yesterday) at the near post. Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – He lacks pace now but makes allowances for that and uses his experience well. Elmo gave his usual reliable, steady performance. Kortney Hause – 6 – Came into the side for a first start this season and did not let anyone down, producing a solid display and almost scoring on 44 minutes, when his header from a corner thudded against the left post. Had another header a minute later from an Elmo cross to the far post gathered by Pope. Tyrone Mings – 7 – Should really have been on target with his 88th minute header from an Elmo cross. His header lacked direction and went wide of the left-hand post, and so a golden opportunity to grab a late winner was lost. Did a solid job at the back though. Tyrone held our defence together nicely and led by example. Matt Targett – 5 – Had a reasonable game. John McGinn - 6 – Played deeper than of late, so we did miss him further forward. Made some nice passes late in the game and did well to claim second balls against uncompromising opponents. Marvelous Nakamba – 5 – Put a foot in and had a decent game on his return to the first team. Anwar El Ghazi – 5 – Came the nearest to breaking the deadlock with a tremendous 37th minute free kick from outside of the box, that Pope did very well to get his fingertips to and push onto the crossbar. He did less well with numerous other opportunities, but he did at least get into these goal-scoring positions. Hit a 56th minute shot from the edge of the box wide of the right-hand post, that really should have been on target. Grealish then played the ball to him from the left edge of the box to find him inside the box on the hour, but his shot was comfortably gathered by Pope diving to his left. Grealish fed him again a minute later and he ran from the edge of the box into it, but his shot bounced off a defender and over the bar. Grealish made a run from half-way, before finding Anwar inside the box again, but his 66th minute shot was painfully weak and was easily gathered by Pope. Hit a 74th minute shot from the edge of the box well over the bar. Jack Grealish – 7 – MOTM – Took some time during the first half to refamiliarize himself with his positional change but he grew into the role and created so many match winning opportunities, that went begging. Shot into the side netting himself on 76 minutes having received the ball from El Ghazi. Ran into the box on 89 minutes and pulled the trigger, we expected the ball to hit the back of the net for one of our late winners, but this time the ball flew over the bar. Bertrand Traore – 5 – Did some decent tracking back and put in some challenges last night, which was encouraging to see. Flashed a shot wide of Pope’s left-hand post from outside of the box on 5 minutes. Took a touch, rather than hitting a sweet 22nd minute El Ghazi cross to the far post first time. That shot was blocked and when the ball came back to him his ball back into the middle found a defender. Made a run into the box, but his 27th minute shot was easily gathered at the near post by Pope. Grealish made a run before feeding Bert inside the box, but he chose to cross rather than to shoot and that cross was blocked. Had a 78th minute shot from the middle of the area blocked by a defender before his substitution on 80 minutes. Ollie Watkins – 5 – A quiet game from Ollie. I cannot help but think that had a couple more of those 27 opportunities have fallen to him, we might well have another two points in the bag. Lacked the sort of and amount of service that he thrives upon last night. Hit an 8th minute shot from the right across the face of the goal. Got a touch on a 30th minute Elmo shot, which Lowton cleared off the line. Had a 53rd minute header saved by Pope at the right post. Substitute: Keinan Davis – Replaced Traore on 80 minutes but did not do enough during the limited time he had available to do so, to earn a rating. Happy Christmas to all my readers! John Lewis
  15. Villa were denied a late opportunity to twice comeback from a goal behind yesterday, after VAR reared its ugly head again. Following 90-seconds of scrutiny, someone who apparently must be obeyed at Stockley Park, decided to instruct the match referee to take another look at the penalty decision that he had given in stoppage time! VAR very rarely fails to support a decision made by a referee and it should only do so when a clear and obvious error has occurred. Yesterday precedent was ignored by VAR. The decision to award a penalty was obviously not a clear and obvious error, as March clearly made contact with Trezeguet’s leg inside of the box. VAR therefore had no reasonable grounds to intervene or to scrutinise the referee’s decision. Having wrongly been asked to view the incident on the pitch side monitor referee Michael Oliver then took all of 20 seconds to view the incident, before failing to stand by his own original decision. He instead chose to meekly succumb to a suggestion made at Stockley Park that he was wrong to award a penalty, giving that opinion more weight and prominence than his own. Of course, we may have missed the penalty and by so doing not avoided our first ever defeat at Villa Park against yesterday’s visitors, but we should not have been denied an opportunity to take it! I suggested before the game that Graham Potter might need to be Harry Potter, to get Brighton a second win of the season yesterday. As it was, it was VAR that provided the magic-trick by making our late penalty disappear before our very eyes! Yesterday made it three consecutive home defeats for us and we have now conceded nine goals in those three games. You do not win home games, if you ship an average of three goals in every game played at Villa Park. We also do not win games unless we are at our absolute best, which we were not yesterday. Our home results are now dragging us down the table. Once again, we had an opportunity to be sitting on top of the league if we could get the right result yesterday, but we again missed the chance to reach the summit. In losing, we also threw away the three points that we had gained at Arsenal in our last game. Brighton did their homework on us and deserved to get something out of this very entertaining game. We really should have scored more than one goal in 90 minutes, although they too could quite easily have scored more themselves. Brighton clung onto all three points, despite the constant pressure that we put their resolute and uncompromising defence under towards the end of the game. Did VAR pip Welbeck to their MOTM award? Probably, but he really is a thorn in our side, isn’t he? He has won every game he has played against us and yesterday’s opening goal, was the fifth he has scored against us. My player ratings from a game that VAR rather than football, will be the talking point after are: Emiliano Matinez – 7 – MOTM – Welbeck chipped the ball over the advancing keeper for their opening goal at the end of his unchallenged run from the half-way line, which was a product of our high press. Did very well to get out of his box and block a 24th minute Maupay shot and also beat Welbeck to a ball played into the box for him by Lamptey on 54 minutes. Stood no chance with their winner 2 minutes later, which was hit into the top left-hand corner of his net by the unmarked March, from the edge of the box. Matty Cash – 5 – Had a fair game. Ezri Konsa – 6 – Made a nice run and hit Traore’s 46th minute cross into the net nicely, from the edge of the 6-yard box to level the score. Tyrone Mings – 5 – Connected with a 38th minute Grealish free-kick and the ball looped off his leg towards the goal, only for Ryan to manage to keep the ball out with his leg at his left-hand post. Matt Targett – 5 – Like Matty also had a reasonable game. John McGinn - 5 – Not quite on a par with his recent performances for us, following his exertions with Scotland. Lost the ball to Lamptey on the right after 21 minutes, but Mings got back to make a challenge on the edge of the box and McGinn was able to reclaim the ball as a result. John was not the only one to have been feeling the efforts he had made for his country during the international break. Douglas Luiz – 5 – Had a 55th minute shot from the edge of the box comfortably held by Ryan and hit another shot from a similar spot over the bar 3 minutes later. Ross Barclay – Pulled a hamstring and was therefore substituted in the 5th minute, without having had the time to earn any rating. His early injury will have done for much of our pre-match planning. Jack Grealish – 5 – Unable to reproduce the scintillating form that he had shown in his last three England games yesterday. Hit a 27th minute shot from just outside of the left edge of the box that Ryan pushed wide of the far post for a corner. Was fortunate not to be punished when an ill judged 72nd minute back heel inside his own box was picked up by Maupay, whose shot was blocked before Welbeck hit the ball wide. Mahmoud Trezeguet – 6 – Worked exceptionally hard as he always does, but did not have his shooting boots on yesterday, and he squandered more than one decent scoring opportunity with off target shots. Had a 9th minute shot from a Traore free kick blocked by White and another shot from an 18th minute Grealish cross also blocked. He then reached the loose ball before hitting it wildly over the bar from about 8 yards out. Hit a 35th minute shot from just inside the left-hand side of the box, just over and then hit a ball that had fallen to him on the edge of the box harmlessly over on 87 minutes. Went down on 93 minutes when March struck his leg inside the box (slightly later than getting the slightest of touches on the ball). He may have gone down rather theatrically, but had he not, he would have been asked why he had not. if a penalty had not been given. As it was it became the penalty that never was, but it undoubtably would have been given, had it happened at Anfield or Old Trafford! Ollie Watkins – 5 – If only a couple of the opportunities that fell to Trez had fallen to Ollie! Jack hit a nice 40th minute cross from the right that only needed a touch from him, but White managed to reach the ball first to prevent a certain equalizer. Hit a splendid cross into the goalmouth in the second half, but sadly nobody was there to finish the move off. Substitutes: Bertrand Traore – 5 - Replaced the injured Barclay after just 5 minutes, when most of us (including Conor himself, I suspect) were expecting Hourihane to do so. Hit a couple of decent dead balls, including a nicely placed one for our goal and hit a 23rd minute shot from the edge of the box that Ryan saved at the foot of his left-hand post. Hit a loose ball after 16 minutes in the middle of his own half that was picked up by Lamptey, who ran forward before squaring the ball for Welbeck, whose heavy first touch fortunately enabled Martinez to claim the ball. Seemed too ready to take the easier option of an easy short pass, rather than to make runs towards goal, take on defenders, or look to get crosses into the box on a regular basis. Has yet to show enough to justify getting a regular starting place (which for me, should be a minimum expectation for someone for whom we paid a large fee). He also did not show enough in this game to support the decision that he rather than Conor, should have been the one to come off the bench yesterday. Achieved the rare fete of being a substitute, who was himself, substituted yesterday. Anwar El Ghazi – 6 – Came on for Douglas on 74 minutes. Looked keen to make an impact on this occasion and did put in a couple of decent crosses. Conor Hourihane – Replaced Traore on 75 minutes and did not show quite enough to gather a rating during the limited time he had available to do so. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  16. We picked up exactly where we had left off, in the second half of our previous home game against Leeds yesterday. At the end of the first half, we were three goals down and that had made it 0-6 during our last 90 minutes of football at Villa Park. We really do need to not take a half off during home games, as we have now done in our last two! It was therefore to be a matter of damage limitation in the second half, as it is not often that teams recover from a three-goal deficit. We were better in the second half, although it could be argued that it would have been difficult for us to be any worse. We did actually win the second half 3-1, thanks to two stoppage time goals. The score does not therefore look too bad on paper, but it does not really give a true reflection on the game. We can take some crumbs of comfort from the fact that we did at least show some spirit in the second half and we gave the score a more respectable, and a less embarrassing look. Southampton assumed their job was done after they had added their fourth. Had we played on for another two or three minutes, or scored from one or two more second half opportunities, we might even have stolen an unlikely late point from them. After all this will be a season of unusual scores, as the current league champions found quite recently at Villa Park. Southampton have now won three successive games at Villa Park comfortably. They did so yesterday by executing their plan to beat us exceptionally well and they were again like our previous visitors, dominant for at least 45 minutes. When you score three goals without reply during those 45 minutes, that is more often than not, all it takes to leave with all the points, and it cannot be argued that we were again second best on Sunday afternoon. This was an afternoon when every shot the in-form visitors hit, landed smack on target. Two consecutive home defeats have put a large dent in our tremendous start to this season, but thankfully we do have those twelve points in the bag, and they cannot take those away from us. We started this game, as if we were still nursing the hangover from our last one. We just did not get started during the first half and we paid the penalty for that, against well organised opponents, who have now leapfrogged us in the table. We failed to react to the early warning we received after just 3 minutes, when a slide rule VAR decision, thankfully denied the visitors an early lead. Villa then went behind after 20 minutes when unsurprisingly, Vestergaard headed them ahead, when marked by the comparatively diminutive McGinn. We then gift wrapped two first-half free kicks for birthday boy, Ward-Prowse. They were both on the edge of the box and the dead-ball specialist hit what even for him, were two exceptional strikes past the wall and into the left-hand corner of the net past Martinez. Ings added a fourth on 58 minutes (his 5th in his last 6 games against us), hitting another unstoppable shot, this time into the right-hand corner, to put the game beyond any reasonable doubt. To be honest, at half time I thought that the full-time score could have ended up as anything. I had not then guessed it might end up 3-4 though! We are now outside of the top four and could well be down to eighth tonight, but we do still have a game in hand (although that is admittedly at Manchester City). Our confidence has been dealt a body blow by back to back home defeats. Opponents will now view us as a team that can be beaten and one that may be on the slide, rather than as one that wins games for fun and will be hard to get anything out of. Our team now needs to turn things around quickly. As Billy Ocean once said, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” and it will be tough to make amends for these two home performances, for our shell-shocked players. They got themselves into a great league position, they now need to fight to recover their lost match-winning form and to stop leaking goals, by looking again at how we are conceding them (as we did during lockdown). My player ratings from a game of two halves (for both teams), that has left us needing to stop the rot (at Arsenal of all places) are: Emiliano Matinez – 5 – One of those days when a keeper has little to do other than to retrieve the ball from the back of his net. Had little chance of stopping Vestergaard’s 20th minute header into the left-hand corner of his net and the same was the case when Ward-Prowse hit their second and third from around 3 yards outside of the box, and from the edge of the box respectively into the left hand corner of the net with unerring accuracy. Ings added a fourth hitting a screamer from the edge of the box that he could also do nothing about, as it flew into the top left-hand corner of his net. Matty Cash – 4 – Stopped an Adams cross reaching the unmarked Walcott on the very edge of the box to earn himself a booking and to concede the free kick that produced their third goal. Ezri Konsa – 5 – Ings flicked a 3rd minute corner on at the near post towards Adams at the other post. Ezri got back to reach the ball first with an outstretched leg but the ball bounced onto his arm and into the net. Fortunately, Adams was adjudged to be marginally offside by VAR to prevent Ezri from being credited with their opening goal. Tyrone Mings – 6 – Did well to block a 2nd minute Ings cross on the left edge of the 6-yard box. Headed Jack’s cross from the left of the box, between McCarthy and his left-hand post from just inside the 6-yard box, to open our scoring after 62 minutes. Nearly scored a second when his 80th minute header from a Barclay corner was tipped over the bar by McCarthy. Matt Targett – 5 – Hit a couple of measured crosses that on another day may have produced a goal. Unfortunate to concede the foul that led to their first, when Walker-Peters took the opportunity to tumble over his leg, after he had hit his cross. John McGinn - 4 – Why he wound up marking Vestergaard (who stands ten inches taller than him) when he headed home their first from a precise Ward-Prowse free kick is beyond me. Some way off his best. Douglas Luiz – 5 – Had an 89th minute shot from outside of the box saved by McCarthy. Walcott did not need an invitation to go to ground to claim the free-kick that Ward-Prowse scored their second from, when the two players ran together towards the box. Ross Barclay – 4 – Hit a 74th minute shot over the bar from outside of the box. Not his sort of game yesterday, with the ball he can make it talk, without it he can sometimes let a game like this one pass him by. Jack Grealish – 7 – MOTM – Had a 10th minute shot deflected just wide of the far post off Bednarek, having been found by Targett inside the left of the box. His 52nd minute header from a Douglas cross was saved by McCarthy diving to his left. Having crossed for our first and been brought down for our penalty, he then scored our third himself on 97 minutes. Douglas hit a ball from the right of the field to find Jack on the left, he then moved on to the edge of the box and placed a shot just inside the left-hand post, that left McCarthy flat footed. Bertrand Traore – 4 – Substituted on 29 minutes, having himself kicked the ball out of play after an innocuous turn, to the apparent incredulity of his manager on the touchline. Found by Barclay in space on the edge of the penalty area with a 24th minute free kick, but his shot which was already going wide of the post, was deflected further wide by a defender for a corner. Did disappointingly little to stake a claim for a regular starting place in the short time he was on. Ollie Watkins – 5 – Quiet again during the 90 minutes, but finally came to life in stoppage time. Made a 91st minute run into the left of the box and hit a shot that McCarthy blocked at his near post. Jack was then brought down as he moved towards the resultant loose ball for our penalty. Ollie then demonstrated admirable confidence in demanding the ball from Captain Jack, and he sent McCarthy the wrong way from the spot, hitting the ball into the left of the net on 93 minutes. Substitute: Mahmoud Trezeguet – 6 - Replaced Traore after 29 minutes and did enough to regain his starting place, in my opinion. His diving header from a 52nd minute Grealish cross, was only kept out by McCarthy’s left leg at the near post. Chested down a 69th minute Targett cross, but his shot was blocked by Vestergaard just inside the 6-yard box before it could test the keeper. Chested down another Targett cross just 2 minutes later in much the same position within the right-hand side of the box, but McCarthy gathered the ball at the near post at the second attempt. Chested down another cross, this time from Watkins, that had been headed on by a defender, but his 76th minute shot was again kept out by McCarthy. Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Came on for Cash on 67 minutes and did well enough. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  17. Our 100%-win record and unbeaten run of 8 games, came to a grinding halt last night. As has happened on each of the previous occasions, that we had won our first four games of the season, we went on to lose our fifth. We missed the chance to climb to the top of the table and we also failed to set a new club record, last night. It could have been so different though, had the referee not applied the “Vidic rule” that a player should not be sent off too early, whether it was merited or not, in a game against Aston Villa (Struijk was the beneficiary on this occasion, as his foul on Douglas warranted a second yellow after just 11 minutes). Or had Ayling not somehow managed to scoop Grealish’s 26th minute shot off the goal line. Or had Costa been adjudged to have brought Grealish down just inside the box on 42 minutes (I have seen penalties given for less at Anfield and Old Trafford) but VAR said no. Or had Jack’s terrific 52nd minute run from well inside his own half to the edge of the 6-yard box, ended in the match-winning goal that it was so worthy of. Oh, and it just had to be a Bamford hat-trick that won it for them didn’t it? Once again, he demonstrated last night that he is not averse to cheating. Firstly, he theatrically went down inside the box in an attempt to win a penalty, after his foot had brushed the foot of the falling Mings after 64 minutes. He then tumbled to the ground and had prolonged treatment for a non-existent injury, in the hope that would influence VAR’s decisions on the penalty and on the possible dismissal of Mings. His melodramatic, dishonest, and unsporting behaviour shows no sign of changing on this evidence. Opposing supporters claim that Jack goes down easily, but Bamford is like Bambi on ice, inside the penalty area by comparison. His team were once called “Dirty Leeds”, but players like Norman Hunter and Jack Charlton who were part of that excellent team, would have had the same furious reaction as Tyrone Mings had last night to Bamford’s dishonourable attempt to get a fellow professional sent off. Newly promoted Leeds started strongly and despite being without Phillips and Cooper, were clearly intent on going toe to toe, with a team that had won every game up until then this season and had dispatched the current league champions 7-2 in their last home game. They are not suffering from any inferiority complex on their return to the top-flight. They shaded the first half and ran away with the game in the second once they had gone ahead, after we had ourselves made a bright start to the second half. What this game shows is that our team must be performing at their best to win games and cannot take any game for granted. This game was decided by the first goal. It deflated us alarmingly and it invigorated our already lively visitors, who went on to dominate the second half. Had we scored first; it may have had the reverse impact upon the two teams. Leeds broke swiftly and in numbers, particularly during the second half. They are a fit outfit, and they did a number on us yesterday. Our defences were breeched too regularly and too easily. They exposed us on both flanks at will and they moved forward with pace and movement, past our tiring players. Bielsa had spotted a way to put pressure on us in much the same way that we had done, in our last home game against Liverpool and his team put it into practice, as well as we had done. This was undoubtably a bad result, but it does not end our hopes for the season. It was 3-0, rather than 2-7 and if Liverpool can regard that defeat as a blip, we can do the same with this one. We were never going to win every game. This will not be the last surprising result this season. We would all have happily taken 12 points from our first five games, at the start of the season. We are still second in the league and a point behind the leaders with a game in hand. We also are 2 points ahead of Leeds with a game in hand, so although they deserved this win, we can still regroup and finish above them. We do need to formulate a Plan B for when games like this one, need pulling out of the fire though! My player ratings from a game that we now need to bounce back from are: Emiliano Matinez – 6 – Saved low at his near post from Harrison on 47 minutes. Got a hand to Rodrigo’s 55th minute shot, which had gone past two defenders, after he had run into the left of the box, but the loose ball fell to Bamford inside the 6-yard box. He steered the ball inside the near post to the left of Mings and Emiliano for their first. Had no chance with the 67th minute second from the same player, who powered a shot into the top right-hand corner from the edge of the box. Bamford was found in space inside the box on 74 minutes and neither Targett or Mings challenged him, before he threaded the ball between Konsa and Mings, into the top left hand corner of the net, past Emiliano’s despairing dive for their third. Saved a 71st minute shot from the edge of the box from Klitch, low at his right-hand post and easily gathered an effort from within the box from Dallas a minute later. Easily held an 86th minute Bamford header that was straight at him. Matty Cash – 7 – His defending was certainly put to a stern test last night by Harrison and he passed that test doing well when under considerable pressure. Ezri Konsa – 6 – The better of our two central defenders last night. Hit a 54th minute Barclay corner on the volley, that the alert Meslier tipped over the bar Tyrone Mings – 5 – Could have received his marching orders on 64 minutes, when understandably seeing red and lifting Bamford up off the ground by his shirt, after the striker had embarrassed himself once again, by seeking an unjustified penalty. Matt Targett – 5 – Helder Costa was at his best last night and Matt found coping with him to be a difficult task. Found inside the box by Jack on 75 minutes, he turned and hit a shot that deflected off a defender that was positioned a couple of yards in front of him. John McGinn - 5 – Made a couple of good forward runs. Skied a 26th minute shot over from outside the box, after Douglas had headed the ball to him and hit a 94th minute shot just over from the edge of the area. Douglas Luiz – 7 – Had an exceptional first half. Ross Barclay – 5 – Had a 30-yard shot comfortably saved by Meslier on 17 minutes and hit a 76th minute shot from outside of the box wide of the left-hand post. Jack Grealish – 7 – MOTM – Watkins did well to win the ball on the right, leaving Ayling behind him as he moved into the box. He then played the ball into the middle for Trez who only got the faintest of touches on the ball when trying to turn it in from 8 yards out, the ball then ran to the left hand side of the 6-yard box, where Jack turned and hit a shot past Meslier, only for Ayling to clear the ball off the line. Jack picked up the ball on the edge of the box on 42 minutes and had moved just inside the area, when Costa ran behind him and made contact with him. That contact may have only been slight, but VAR seemed very content to determine that it was insufficient to have unbalanced Jack, who went to ground. Won a challenge with Costa a few yards outside his own box on 52 minutes and then went on a fantastic run to the edge of the box and then from the left of the box to the right edge of the 6-yard box having ran past a number of opponents who were unable to prevent his progress, where he hit a shot that Meslier blocked with his legs at the near post. Mahmoud Trezeguet – 5 – Worked hard enough, but there was no end product. Ollie Watkins – 6 – Had an opportunity to get a late consolation goal in the 90th minute. McGinn was fouled as he made a strong forward run, but the referee played advantage and Barclay picked up the ball and ran towards the edge of the box. He then played the ball into the area for Ollie, who took a touch before hitting a shot from the right edge of the 6-yard box past Meslier, but also wide of the far post. Substitute: Bertrand Traore – 5 - Replaced Trez on 66 minutes and failed to make any positive impression on the game during the time he was on the field. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  18. Kenny Daglish, Kevin Keegan, Ian Rush, Graeme Souness, Jurgen Klopp, John Barnes, Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson, Robbie Fowler, Bruce Grobbelaar, Phil Thompson, John Aldridge, Michael Owen, Danny Murphy, Steve McManaman, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, John Bishop, Jimmy Tarbuck, Yosser Hughes. Your boys took a hell of a beating! This was a night to remember and to tell your grandchildren about. It is a great pity that we could not have been there, and it is almost as much of a pity, that the Liverpool fans could not have been there to see this one. This result like the one in 1976, that I was lucky enough to witness, will send shock waves across the country, nay around the world! There would have been no wild celebrations into the night around Anfield last night and there is to be no long run of games without defeat from the start of this season for the Reds. The reigning champions were mauled, soundly thrashed, humbled, and humiliated last night. The Liver bird was plucked, stuffed, and then deep fried too. Unbelievable Jeff? No, because the best team won on the night at a canter. Liverpool were not at their best, but they were not allowed to be, by a Villa team that executed their well-prepared plans exquisitely. This was a night when we extended our unbeaten league record to 7 games and we have now won our first three games of the season for the first time since 1962. This was the first time since 1952 that the reigning league champions have conceded 7 goals and the first time since 1963 that Liverpool have done so. It was the visitors first league defeat at Villa Park since 2011 and only their second league defeat in their last twenty league visits to us. Back in 1976 we were 5-1 up at half time against the current league champions, this time it was 4-1 and we went on to grab another 3 goals in the second half. There were no television cameras at the game back in 1976 and so 44 years on, we are reliant upon press reports, photographs and the lingering memories, of those of us that were there on that incredible night, to tell the story. This time there were live television cameras and the game was shown, as well as no doubt recorded around the world, so we and future Villa fans, will be able to watch the goals go in and in, and in, during the years that are to come. Liverpool played a high line last night and that was undone from start to finish, because we utterly dominated the midfield and were able to play balls past their usually solid defence, that had become shell-shocked well before the end of the game. The Villa players fought, pressed, and worked incredibly hard throughout. They have made us proud, one and all. They have put smiles on our faces that will be there for many days to come. There was to be no late comeback for Liverpool this season and fair play to Klopp, he took this heavy defeat on the chin and with good grace. Aston Villa have climbed to second in the league table after winning this top of the table 6-pointer. We are three points behind the early leaders, with a game in hand and a plus nine goal difference. It is great to be a Villa fan isn’t it? Will being at the top of the table now become the “new normal” for us? One thing that is for sure, is that we could do without the International break, although I am sure that Jack and Tyrone will enjoy meeting up with the Liverpool players again, as will John. My player ratings from a game that finished Villa 7 (seven) Salah 2 are: Emiliano Matinez – 9 – Did well to block Firmino’s 15th minute shot on the left of the 6-yard box, after Salah had played a ball into the box past Targett. Konsa played a ball back to him and he played the ball to his left and behind Mings. Douglas spared his blushes when the loose ball found its way to Keita, by blocking his shot. Did well to block a 21st minute Firmino shot at the near post, after he had made a run into the area. Tipped a 28th minute Jota shot from the edge of the box over. Salah played the ball across to the left of the box to find an unmarked Robertson in the first minute of first half stoppage time, but Martinez did well to block his fierce shot at the near post. Reacted quickly on 59 minutes to gather a ball that had come off Minamino at his right-hand post and saved a Jota header at his right-hand post on 83 minutes. Matty Cash – 8 – He will only get better, an outstanding signing. Ezri Konsa – 9 – Gets better with every game. Tyrone Mings – 9 – Solid and will have been wearing his kit on the way home, after this one. Matt Targett – 8 – Faced a tough job and did it rather well. John McGinn - 8 – John added a third on 35 minutes to restore our two-goal advantage, hitting a partially cleared corner from just outside the area, that took a deflection off van Dijk that sent it past the hapless Adrian. Hit an 82nd minute shot, after Jack had found him inside the area, that lacked pace, but that Adrian was only able to push away. So busy throughout. Douglas Luiz – 8 – He is rather good, isn’t he? Ross Barclay – 9 – Jack ran into the left of the box and hit the ball through Van Dijk’s legs to Barclay, who swept an 8th minute shot through Robertson’s legs but wide of the right-hand post from around 8 yards. Jack played a ball to the edge of the box for Barclay who had made a nicely timed run between van Dijk and Gomez, his 31st minute shot was just wide of the far post. Cash played a 34th minute ball onto him that he picked up on the edge of the box, before continuing his run and hitting a shot, which Adrian luckily blocked with his trailing left leg at the near post, as he was moving in the other direction. Got the goal he was looking for on 55 minutes and there was to be no coming back for Liverpool after that. He had a nice interchange of passes with Jack before hitting a shot from the edge of the box that took a deflection off Alexander-Arnold and flew over Adrian into the top right-hand corner. I loved Carragher’s comment following the goal, “He’s not the most popular with Evertonians, but he will be after that!” Jack Grealish – 10 – Got into the scoring act himself on 66 minutes, when Watkins won the ball before finding Jack on the edge of the box. He then ran into the area and hit a shot that was heading towards the right post, before taking a deflection off Fabinho and going in at the other side of the goal. He hit our seventh on 75 minutes. McGinn played a nice ball from inside his own half that Alexander-Arnold was unable to cut out near the half-way line and Jack had a clear run to the edge of the box. He then placed the ball sweetly to Adrian’s right and into the net. Mahmoud Trezeguet – 8 – Claimed an assist for the fourth and ran to the edge of the box before hitting a shot that had any pace took off it by striking a defender on its way to Adrian, who gathered it at his right-hand post. He is not going to give up his starting place too easily. Ollie Watkins – 10 – MOTM – Ollie bagged a perfect hat-trick last night, his first goal and then his first hat-trick in the Premier League came in the first 39 minutes of this memorable game. His first came after just 4 minutes, after Adrian had seemed hurried in controlling a long pass back into the box from Robertson, when under pressure from the fast advancing Ollie. Adrian played the ball across the face of his goal, intended for Gomez, which was inaccurate and pounced upon by Jack, who squared the ball to the unmarked Ollie, who steered the ball past the keeper and into the right of the net from 10 yards. Ollie hit his second on 22 minutes. Jack played a ball for him to run with on the left, he moved into the box and hit the ball into the far corner sweetly, with his right foot. His third followed a Barclay free kick that was played behind the wall and reached Trez on the left, whose 39th minute cross was headed home from close range by the unmarked Ollie. He might even have scored two more. Trez hit a ball from inside his own half that found Ollie unmarked, he ran just inside of the box and hit a 72nd minute shot, that Adrian blocked with his right foot. Mings found Trez on the right on 84 minutes and Ollie met his cross with his outstretched right foot, but the ball thudded against the crossbar with Adrian nowhere. Substitutes: Marvelous Nakamba – Replaced Douglas on 80 minutes. Hit an 82nd minute shot from outside of the box that lacked the pace to prevent Adrian from collecting it relatively comfortably. Not on long enough to gather a rating. Ahmed Elmohamady – Replaced Cash on 80 minutes. Not on long enough to get a rating. Bertrand Traore – Came on for Trezeguet on 87 minutes. Mings took a quick free kick on 90 minutes which found Traore on the left edge of the box. A nice touch took him past Fabinho, but Milner got back to put the ball out at the near post to deny him a possible eighth Villa goal. Not on long enough to earn a rating, but he and his fellow substitutes will be able to say that they played, on the night that Liverpool were beaten by 5 clear goals in the future. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  19. Our makeshift second XI demonstrated exactly why they are our second choices last night. They seemed to be going through the motions and failed abjectly to press any individual claims for a starting place, that they may have had prior to last night, in all but a couple of cases. This was a bitterly disappointing performance and we got what we deserved from the game, a humiliating cup exit. Eleven team changes proved to be our undoing. We might have got away with playing 3 or 4 of our first team, but there was no experienced player who was on the field to take this game or even a couple of our under-performing starting line-up by the scruff of the neck! The question is, were we right to make such wholesale team changes? Games are coming thick and fast, so something had to give, it turned out to be our involvement in this cup competition. It should not have been our first team players, who cannot be expected to play three games a week and to maintain the terrific start that we have made in the league. Making a lot of changes worked at Ashton Gate, it could also have worked last night, had we had any sharpness up front and had we taken one or two of the three very good scoring opportunities that Davis, Lansbury and El Ghazi squandered. Players who do not in my opinion, share the responsibility for this defeat are few. Steer did nothing wrong and demonstrated on his return to fitness that he is a reliable keeper to have on our bench. The three substitutes had limited time to pull this game out of the fire, but they all improved us. Ramsey cannot yet be expected to make a midfield tick without adequate assistance at this early point in his career (although he did well enough himself) and Traore deserves the benefit of any doubt, given he is so new to those around him. The rest could and should have done much better. Stoke deserved their home tie with Spurs last night. They did what Stoke teams so often do against us’ They had a solid defence, were well organised, kept their shape and did what was expected of each of them. They had the will to win that we did not. They unlike us, had players such as Campbell, Powell, and Souttar that looked good and were up for this game. Would we have lifted the trophy had we have won last night? Probably not and us fans, would have been highly unlikely to have got a trip to Wembley had we got there, in any case. It was the way that we went out, that was the issue for me. We started the game as if those wearing claret & blue, were disinterested in the game. Having a crowd there would have made it less likely that our players would not be shaken out of any complacency. There was a slight improvement in the second half, although it was not a significant one and I would have expected more reaction to what should have been a lot of cups being thrown around the dressing room, during the interval. One bleak performance from a second choice starting line-up should not in any way tarnish the great start that our first team have made to this season. They bare no responsibility for this, and their confidence will remain intact. This was a night to forget and that is what we all need to do, we are now free to concentrate on the league. My player ratings from a game that did for our hopes of a second successive cup final in this competition are: Jed Steer – 6 - MOTM – Did well to push a 25th minute Powell shot from a Brown cross over the bar for the corner from which they scored their winner. Vokes left three defenders behind him, as he moved to the right edge of the 6-yard box, where he glanced the ball between Jed and Elmo into the net. Would have loved this one to have gone to penalties! Frederic Guilbert – 4 – Some way below last season’s best. Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Did as well as could be expected, playing in what was an unaccustomed position. Kortney Hause – 4 – Missed having the reassurance of having someone of the experience of Mings alongside him. Was only able to watch the ball fly over him, when an unchallenged Vokes headed a 54th minute Tymon cross wide of the left-hand post, when he so easily could have extended their lead. Neil Taylor – 4 – Has performed better than this and a lack of experience, is something he does not suffer from. Bertrand Traore - 5 – Needs to improve on this and I am sure he will. He looked understandably frustrated but seemed a touch too ready to let this game drift by him. These are early days for Bert though and he will not have been at all familiar with what to expect or not to expect, from the players that were around him last night. Will hopefully react positively to playing alongside our first-choice selections. Marvelous Nakamba – 4 – I expected a bigger impact on a game than this, when things were going wrong around him. Jacob Ramsey – 6 – Unable to get enough on an 9th minute header from a Taylor cross, which was gathered by Davies. Did well to bring a 22nd minute El Ghazi cross under control, but his shot was easily gathered by Davies at the near post. Substituted on 71 minutes. Henri Lansbury – 3 – Skied a shot from the edge of the box well over the bar on 12 minutes. Totally mistimed a header from a 31st minute Guilbert cross, sending the ball harmlessly wide of the keeper’s left-hand post and a golden opportunity for an early equaliser was gone. Anwar El Ghazi – 5 – Hit a 45th minute free kick from outside of the box that was comfortably gathered by Davies at the left post. Failed to reach or stretch for a cross from Davis on the hour that just needed prodding in, he reacted slowly to the chance and showed no anticipation. Made a good run into the box on 67 minutes, through a Stoke defence that parted before him, but the shot at the end of the run was easily gathered by Davies at his left. Had some bright moments again, but not enough of them. Keinan Davis – 4 – Traore found El Ghazi who hit a nice 39th minute cross to the far post that just needed a finish, sadly Davis was only able to steer the ball wide of the post. Not a lot of service, but he could have been expected to have made life more difficult for the defenders he was up against. Substitute: Ezri Konsa – 6 – Replaced the injured Hause on 58 minutes. Made a noticeable positive improvement on our defence. Ollie Watkins – 6 - Came on for Ramsey on 71 minutes and hit a sweet 72nd minute shot from the edge of the box that was destined for the top right-hand corner, before Davies tipped it over. Jota – 6 - Replaced Traore on 77 minutes and with hindsight probably should have started. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  20. Villa started the new season with a win, a penalty save and a clean sheet. This win also gave us three successive home wins for the first time since 2007. What is not to like about that? Chris Wilder really lives up to his surname when he visits Villa Park. Once again, he was raging about decisions made, or not made by the referee and by VAR, after the game. Does he reserve these displays of umbrage for his annual visits to Villa Park, or does he react the same way everywhere else? Villa started well and had the better of the early minutes. The first of the decisions that left Wilder fuming came after just 12 minutes and it left The Blades down to ten men. Watkins and Egan both ran alongside each other in chase of a ball played out of defence by Mings. Ollie appeared destined to outpace the defender, but Egan grappled with him like a wrestler in an attempt to hold him back. Ramsdale came out of his area to collect the ball, but had the defender not prevented Watkins getting ahead of him, I doubt he would have reached it before our new striker would have. Referee Graham Scott agreed and gave Egan a red card for preventing a clear goal scoring opportunity. Sheffield United initially reacted to this by increasing their foul count, but were given an opportunity against the run of play, to go ahead after 33 minutes when they were awarded a penalty, after a slight touch by Targett felled Basham inside the box. Would Wilder be happy with that decision? Of course not, a penalty was insufficient punishment in his opinion. He had decided from his touchline vantage point, that Targett had deliberately brought his player down, without attempting to reach the ball, so should have been sent off to level up the numbers. The fine penalty save by Martinez must have heightened his feelings of injustice. This was not a great Villa performance, but it was a winning one. Our players will benefit from this match. It will give us some of the sharpness, that we were lacking last night, that a run of pre-season friendlies would normally have given us by the time that the opening game of the season was upon us. We have often struggled of late, against teams that are reduced to ten men and that proved to be the case again yesterday. The Blades put men behind the ball and their target became a clean sheet and a point, as soon as Egan departed (if not before). Our visitors are a well organised and combative team. Going down to ten men did not change that and we struggled to break down their resolute defence. We had the possession, but we lacked the spark and invention to make the clear chances, that would see us comfortable winners, until we did create a couple of late opportunities, as they tired near the end. We needed something different to break down a defence that was determined to frustrate us. That was either sitting in the stands or still waiting to become a Villa player last night. The goal did come though, from a set piece on a night when it had seemed one goal might well be enough and so it proved. This win has taken us three points above yesterday’s visitors and into the top half of the fledgling league table. We are six points ahead of WBA and ahead of the mighty Leeds as well as last season’s high-flying Wanderers. Mind the gap!! My player ratings from a game that has left us undefeated in our last five league games are: Emiliano Matinez – 8 – MOTM – Saved a penalty on his league debut and he has clearly carried the confidence he had gained from his recent performances for Arsenal with him to B6. Showed he is comfortable with the ball at his feet and this was tested early into the game, with some back passes that would have had us on the edge of our seats (had we been able to be there). Dived to his right to push Lundstram’s penalty around the post. As Tyrone told him after the penalty save, “F****** brilliant” Matty Cash – 6 – Hit some nice crosses and made a confident debut. Ezri Konsa – 7 – Scored our winner, which was his second goal in his last four games. He is becoming almost as prolific a scorer as Trez lately isn’t he? Mings made a clever run from the centre of the 6-yard box to level with the near post, where he flicked on Targett’s 63rd minute corner for Ezri to head home our winner. He climbed above Stevens on the right of the 6-yard box and directed the ball just inside the far post past Ramsdale. Tyrone Mings – 7 – Terrific news that like Jack, he has also signed a new contract. Dominant in the air and a solid performance. Hit a long ball for Watkins to run onto from level with his own box, so might have a valid claim for an assist for the sending off, as well as the winner? Matt Targett – 5 – Conceded a penalty on 33 minutes, when Basham who had run unseen behind him onto a Burke cross, fell when moving in front of him, having had his back foot clipped by the defender. John McGinn - 5 – Hit a 1st minute Cash cross first time from the far edge of the 6-yard box, which went over. Trez played a nice ball back to him on 85 minutes, but his shot from outside the box went wide of the right-hand post. He has not been at his best since his return from injury really, but I have no doubt that he will get back to his best shortly. Douglas Luiz – 7 – Another good solid display. Conor Hourihane – 5 – Headed the ball to Jack inside the box on 41 minutes, who played the ball back to him on the edge of the box, but he lifted his shot over the bar. Jack Grealish – 7 –Watkins ran just inside the left of the box, before he pulled the ball back to Jack whose 68th minute shot was a yard wide of the far post. Hit a shot a couple of feet wide of the near post from the edge of the area on 81 minutes. Watkins played a 92nd minute ball across the area for Jack, who aimed a shot for the far corner, but a block took it over the bar. Mahmoud Trezeguet – 5 – Jack played a 77th minute ball from the left of the box to the right, which he met with a volley that bounced a couple of yards in front of him and went harmlessly wide of the far post. Ollie Watkins – 7 – Ran strongly onto a ball played out of defence by Mings on the 12th minute and would have reached the ball, had Egan not been holding and pulling him back. The linesman who had the best view kept the flag down, but the referee was prepared to show Egan red for denying Ollie the opportunity of netting his first league goal for us. Curled a nice 78th minute shot from just inside the left-hand side of the area for the far top corner, which went just over. Substitute: Keinan Davis – 5 – Replaced Hourihane on 62 minutes. Did not make a noticeable impression on the game, during the time he had available to do so. Up the Villa! John Lewis
  21. Villa gloriously clambered out of the relegation places last night, leaving Troy Deeney’s Watford and Bournemouth trailing behind them at the trap door. Our new-found goal machine, Mahmoud Trezeguet again scored our winner, his third goal in our last three games. Our Premier League survival is now in our own hands, we have taken it to the last day, so let us finish the job on Sunday! A courageous, hard working and determined team performance last night ended 22 years of hurt. Our first home win against the visitors since 1998 and Manchester City’s welcome earlier heavy win at Vicarage Road, has left us favourites to stay up. We also have found our smiles again! Watford would need an unlikely win at Arsenal and West Ham to beat us on Sunday to leapfrog us. Bournemouth would need both Watford and us to lose, as well as to win themselves at Everton to stay up. We just need to do no worse than these clubs do at the weekend. What had seemed a mission impossible a fortnight ago, is now on the verge of becoming a great escape. I can hear Steve McQueen revving his motor bike’s engine, as I write! Arsenal fresh from an FA Cup semi-final win at the weekend, were not at their absolute best last night. Previously this season, they would not have necessarily needed to have been to beat us. Last night was a different matter. They faced a resolute, heroic, and resilient Villa team, that had seen an opportunity to stay up against the odds and yearned to take it. Arsenal had the possession, but we had the all-important goal. Our resolute defence knew what they had to do, and they did it. Our midfield pressed and got in front of their opponents, at every opportunity. Arsenal have very clinical finishers, but our team battled to starve them of any decent service and got the result that their efforts merited, another clean sheet and a famous victory. Our opportunities to score were not plentiful, but we put one of our two clear chances away. They almost got a late point, but that would have been too cruel to have happened to us in successive games. Thankfully, the ball bounced to safety off the inside of the post, rather than into the net, with only 13 minutes of the 90 remaining and we were almost able to breathe again. What a stirring performance from the lads. They stood up to be counted when it really mattered. They followed their instructions to the letter and our management team also deserve credit for this result and their game management. Against the odds, although many of us feared that getting out of the mess that we had gotten ourselves into, might prove to be beyond us, we stand on the brink of safety today. Let us grab this chance with both hands and make sure that we do not find ourselves in this situation again any time soon, if ever. The last couple of weeks has produced quite a reversal of fortune for clubs at the bottom. Let us hope that Sunday does not put us on the verge of a visit to A & E again and that we can survive without too much cause for concern. We do not want to be doing a Dustin Hoffman and asking, “is it safe?” from behind the sofa in the closing minutes on Sunday. The plump lady cleared her throat and left Villa Park last night. She was headed for Troy Denney’s house and was then due to visit the South coast at the weekend. My player ratings from a game, that will have caused great angst from Bournemouth to Watford, as well as in Wolverhampton, West Bromwich, and Small Heath, are: Pepe Reina – 7 – Nketiah jumped in front of Mings to head a 77th minute corner towards the far post. Fortunately, the ball bounced off the inside of the post towards Pepe, who grasped at the ball in relief and then smothered it on the ground. Surprisingly, Pepe had a quiet night, thanks to the “they must not pass” attitude of the players in front of him. He did, however, offer them both assurance and organisation last night. Ahmed Elmohamady – 6 - Substituted after 25 minutes, having gamely but unsuccessfully been unable to run off an earlier injury. Ezri Konsa – 8 - MOTM – Had a very solid game and he kept a lot cooler, than those of us who were watching did. Looked to have an old head on young shoulders last night and was not in any way overawed by the quality of the strikers, that he was up against. He can develop into a tremendous buy. Tyrone Mings – 7 – A 54th minute ball played into the box from Nketiah, evaded his attempted flick at it and the ball ran onto Aubameyang, whose shot on the turn was well blocked by Konsa on the edge of the 6-yard box. Otherwise, he marshalled the defence well and dealt with their forwards very well alongside Ezri. Matt Targett – 7 – Matt was another vital cog in our impressive newly designed defensive engine last night. John McGinn - 7 – Headed a 7th minute Elmo cross well over from near the penalty spot. Jack found him on the edge of the box after 78 minutes and his firm shot was blocked by Martinez and then cleared to safety by Tierney. Getting nearer and nearer to his best with each game, which is so nice to see and so vital to us. Douglas Luiz – 8 – Did not put a foot wrong throughout. He will play in the PL next season. With us! Conor Hourihane – 6 – Worked hard for the cause. Jack Grealish – 8 – Flashed a shot a couple of feet over the upright on 45 minutes, after Trez had fed him just inside their half on the left and he had run on to the edge of their box. Made some nice runs and got into their half regularly. This was so much nearer to the Jack, that we have grown accustomed to seeing in our shirt. He is going nowhere in the window, not even round to see his pal Ross! Mahmoud Trezeguet – 8 – Met a 42nd minute Grealish ball into the box but was unable to get enough pace on his header from around 12 yards and Martinez gathered the ball comfortably. Hit our winner on 27 minutes, to send us all into ecstasy. Hourihane’s out swinging corner got a slight touch at the near post from Mings and fell to him level with the far corner of the 6-yard box, around 12 yards from goal. He then proceeded to drill the ball low and inside of the near post with what was a quality finish. Mbwana Samatta – 6 – Outnumbered by the visitor’s central defenders, worked hard, but lacked service and does not pose the potent goal threat that we had hoped he would, yet. Substitutes: Frederic Guilbert – 7 - Replaced Elmo after 25 minutes, in his first restart appearance and proved to be a very adequate replacement. McGinn headed a half clearance back into the box on 56 minutes, Konsa attempted to chest it down and the ball ran off a defender, to Frederic whose shot, was deflected for a corner off the same defender. I like his will to win and his competitive edge. Keinan Davis – 5 - Came on for Samatta on 72 minutes. Missed a golden opportunity to give us a late two-goal cushion on 75 minutes, but unlike El Ghazi at Everton, it did not cost us the win that it could all so easily have done. Grealish made a powerful run from well inside his own half and played a sweet ball for Keinan, who ran onto it on the edge of the box. Having taken it into the box, he then screwed his shot past Martinez but also wide of the far post. This was a chance that needed to be taken and although the rest of his game can often be impressive, he does also need to be able to take clear chances like these, more often than not. Marvelous Nakamba – Replaced Hourihane on 73 minutes. Not on quite long enough to earn a rating. Henri Lansbury - Replaced McGinn in the third minute of first half stoppage time. Not on long enough to merit a rating, but he was on long enough to be on the winning side against his former club. Stay up Villa! John Lewis
  22. Dare we dream, that Villa could now go on to rise like a Phoenix from the flames? Our first win following the restart and our first league win since January, has at least given us back a little hope. Norwich were predictably relegated following another defeat, this time against fellow relegation strugglers West Ham on Saturday. But who would have guessed that the three teams above them would all win this weekend, as well? Watford and Bournemouth came back from behind thanks to two penalties and a Leicester team that are in freefall, respectively. We are therefore as we were, after this weekend. The positive for us is, that had we not won, we would have now been cut adrift. This was so much better. We probably shaded the first half, but our attack had continued to look punch less, as it had proved to be, in our last three goalless games. Our opening goal came in the fourth minute of first half stoppage time and it gave the players, a much-needed shot of confidence, to take with them into the dressing room. We proceeded to dominate the second half, against a Palace side that thankfully did not offer too much resistance. We added a well-merited second on 59 minutes, which gave us a valuable two goal cushion, that provided some breathing space, when the visitors came more into the game, during what would otherwise have been a tense last 15 minutes. Our confidence flowed back, with that second goal and we moved forward with purpose, I have not seen us do that for a long, long time! Should the very worst still happen, at least we won a game again yesterday and we had a smile on our faces once again on Sunday evening. We have shown we are not quite prepared to go down meekly and without putting up any fight. A little bit like our former striker Benteke, was not yesterday! It may prove to be too little too late, but the players showed some fight and belief yesterday at long last. Let them do the same at Everton and then again against Arsenal. These are two teams, who might just be on the beach when we play them, we can but hope. The same may be the case for West Ham on the last day, or we may face them in a winner takes all game. If we have managed to get the points that would still give us something to play for on that last day, then I suspect that we would be up for it and that they would be worried. VAR again played a part yesterday and twice overturned the referee’s decision. Palace had a goal disallowed after just 7 minutes, when Sakho turned the ball in, with the top of his arm, rather than with his shoulder. It again intervened on 46 minutes to deny us a penalty award, after Jack had rather theatrically, gone to ground, having trodden on van Aanholt’s foot as he ran past him, rather than having been brought down by him. Shades of a recent penalty awarded against us there! For once, I think VAR got things right yesterday. It still owes us though! Our under-pressure manager’s plans were scuppered before kick-off, when Kortney Hause had to be pulled out of the game, following the warm-up. That led to Elmo coming in and Ezri moving into the centre. We then also lost Neil Taylor after 37 minutes, but Targett proved up to the job. Those changes worked out rather well though, given we managed a rare and most welcome clean sheet and both Elmo and Targett, offer us something in the opponent’s half. We will need to win one and draw two, probably win two and quite possibly draw the other one, or win every one of our last three games, to avoid the drop. We cannot afford to lose games now and we really need a win on Thursday, to bring ourselves within a point, of both Watford and West Ham, by the time they meet the following day. It will not be easy, but it is not impossible. A run of three wins would do it, and we did win ten on the trot at the end of last season, after all! My player ratings from a game, that gave us our first win on a Sunday since 2014, are: Pepe Reina – 7 – Made a double save from Benteke on 42 minutes. The first with his legs at the near post from a shot from the edge of the 6-yard box and the second, from the rebound, a dive to his right to save comfortably. Gathered a sharp shot from Ayew, at the second attempt on 43 minutes. Saved a Benteke shot from the right-hand side of the box, at his near post a minute after we had gone ahead. Blocked a 75th minute van Aanholt shot on the edge of the 6-yard box with his right foot, at his left-hand post. This is the Pepe that we want to see! Ahmed Elmohamady - 6 – Did well and hit some nice crosses. Ezri Konsa – 6 – So unlucky not to have added a second on 58 minutes. Elmo nodded on Jack’s corner at the edge of the 6-yard box and it fell to Ezri, he got his foot to it before a defender, but it hit the fortunate Guaita on his goal line and bounced to safety. Benteke did not seem to get on with him. Tyrone Mings – 6 – A solid and error free performance. Neil Taylor – 6 – Did well to move across and beat Benteke to the ball, on the edge of the box, before prodding it back to Reyna on 19 minutes. Substituted on 37 minutes, having picked up an early knock. John McGinn - 5 – Showed more signs that he may soon be back to his best, he is not there yet though. Douglas Luiz – 7 – Another very good display. Conor Hourihane – 7 – Played a one-two with Jack, before hitting a 3rd minute shot that was blocked by Ward on the edge of the box, deflecting it past the left-hand post. Curled a 58th minute free kick from the edge of the box around the wall, which Guaita pushed around his left-hand post for a corner. Had a 63rd minute shot from outside of the box, pushed wide of his left-hand post by Guaita, at full stretch. A welcome return to the team and to form. We need his dead ball delivery and his eye for goal. Jack Grealish – 6 – Had a 38th minute volley from a nicely floated Elmo cross, kept out by Guaita at his near post and hit a 63rd minute shot from the edge of the box, that Guaita easily gathered in the centre of his goal. An improvement on his recent performances. Mahmoud Trezeguet – 7 – MOTM – Gave us our two goals, say no more! Hourihane hit a free-kick from the left, it flicked Ward’s head on its way to Trez, who had drifted unmarked to the far post and he threaded the ball through the gap between Guaita and a defender, to give us the vital opening goal, in the 4th minute of first half stoppage time. Hourihane headed a Ward header out of the box back into it and it seemed to take a slight touch off Elmo on its way through to Trez, who coolly slotted the ball past Guaita, who had advanced to the edge of the 6-yard box, for our 59th minute second. Missed an opportunity to claim a hat-trick on 86 minutes, when Targett’s fine cross, eluded him. Mbwana Samatta – 5 – Appeared to duck under the ball, as it made its way past him towards Sakho’s arm, whose 7th minute “goal” was chalked off by VAR. Missed a good chance when he failed to direct his header from a sweet 31st minute Elmo cross, which flew over the crossbar. Played a nice ball from the half-way line, down the right flank for Trezeguet to run onto, but his 61st minute shot was gathered at the near post by Guaita. Substitutes: Matt Targett – 6 - Replaced Taylor after 37 minutes. Hit a superb 86th minute cross into the box from a quickly taken Douglas free kick, that only needed a touch, but Trezeguet and then Davis behind him, failed to get a foot to it. Marvelous Nakamba – Came on for Hourihane on 80 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating. Keinan Davis – Replaced Samatta on 80 minutes. Not on long enough to gather a rating either. Anwar El Ghazi - Replaced Trezeguet on 88 minutes. Not on long enough to merit a rating. Stay up Villa! John Lewis
  23. We took the game to our visitors during the first quarter of last night’s game. Manchester United had looked below par and we had shaded the early minutes. With a little luck, we might even have gone ahead after 25 minutes when a Trezeguet shot struck the post, but a minute later, a referee’s poor decision, gifted the visitors their 13th penalty of the season and with it the game. Martial aimed a ball towards Fernandez on the edge of the box, it took a touch off Hause and Konsa stuck out a leg to try to intercept. Bruno jumped up and got his right foot onto the ball, and tried to turn, but his foot landed on Ezri’s shin. He then fell in a heap and cynically claimed a penalty. Referee Moss could not wait to give it, there was not a moment’s hesitation. The decision went to VAR, why bother? A referee’s decision is invariably supported by the official at Stockley Park and so it proved again with Graham Scott on this occasion. The decision was wrong, it was not a penalty, was it a clear and obvious error? Is anything in VAR’s opinion? Solskjaer said “I think it’s a penalty” but he would say that wouldn’t he? The Premier League match centre had a different opinion, telling MOTD “It was the wrong decision. It should have been overturned by VAR but wasn't and should actually have been a foul on Konsa”. How will that that help us at the end of the season? The decision proved costly for us last night, whether we would have got a result or not at the end of the day, is open to question. One thing that is for certain, is that we would have had a better chance, had a penalty not been wrongly awarded and had it not then been decided, not to correct that hasty decision. Another is that VAR has not been our friend this season! Clubs at the foot of the table do not often have their fair share of luck, other than in the case of Bournemouth last night. Villa certainly did not last night. We hit the post, within a minute had a penalty wrongly awarded against us and then conceded a second with the last kick of first half stoppage time, but the game was all but over by then. Once we go behind that is it and that was sadly again the case last night. Manchester United are winning games for fun currently. They did not need the help of the referee or Stockley Park, but they got it. They played much of the game at walking pace, but they were dominant and could easily have won this by an embarrassing margin. Villa started brightly enough but were so deflated by going behind, and the players heads soon dropped. At the end we looked like a team that have accepted relegation. Rather than to try to get back into the game, we seemed to focus on damage limitation immediately, possibly because the players themselves, accept that the chances of us scoring one, let alone two goals were close to zero. Defeat always seemed inevitable before the game, but we seemed too ready to accept this, once we had gone behind, due to an appalling decision by the referee, which was rubber stamped by VAR. This game was done after 27 minutes and it made painful watching after that. Sunday’s game with Palace will now determine whether our season will be done by this weekend. This really is a must win game, if we are to have any slender chance of taking our relegation struggle to the last game. As things stand, each game brings us slowly, but surely nearer to the drop and we seem to be going down without a fight, in empty grounds that lack any sort of match atmosphere. Still at least the integrity of the game has been preserved! My player ratings from a game that has left the stout lady clearing her throat, is: Pepe Reina – 6 – Sent the wrong way from the spot by Fernandes on 27 minutes and had no chance of getting to Greenwood’s powerful shot into the left-hand corner of his net, from the edge of the box. Pepe was also unsighted for their third, when Pogba curled a shot from the edge of the box into the right-hand corner of his net. Gathered a 35th minute Martial shot from the edge of the area, low to his left and then pushed a Greenwood shot from the edge of the box to his left and Taylor cleared the loose ball. Stopped Rashford adding a fourth on 94 minutes, saving his shot with his right foot. Ezri Konsa - 6 – Had a good game, one of the few. Kortney Hause – 6 – A solid display. Tyrone Mings – 4 – Lacked concentration when a Pogba ball into the box, went through his legs on 12 minutes. Picked up a clearance inside their half and was then outbattled by Martial, which led to their second, ran back quickly but could do nothing to prevent the goal. Needs to iron out these lapses, which can prove so costly and that so detract from his otherwise solid work. Neil Taylor – 6 – Did well to get back and take the ball off Martial near the 6-yard box on 57minutes, as he was about to pull the trigger. Anwar El Ghazi - 3 – Hit a wayward first half shot from outside of the box that went well wide of the left post, he was again very disappointing. John McGinn – 4 – Trezeguet played the ball to him on 54 minutes, but his shot from outside of the box was easily gathered by de Gea. Showed a couple of signs that he might be soon able to regain some of his earlier season form. Oh, how we need him to do so quickly! Douglas Luiz – 7 – MOTM – The one player that looked like he was not in any way overawed by the team that he was facing. Jack Grealish – 4 – Misjudged a nice 18th minute cross from Konsa, which found him on the far edge of the 6-yard box, but he hit his first time shot over the bar. Could have done more to close down Pogba, who had been left unmarked on the edge of the box, when he took a touch from the corner before hitting their third. Drifted too deep and played too wide to have the influence that we needed him to have last night. We have come to expect a lot more than we have been getting from Jack since restart. It does not help that opponent’s know that he is our only threat, but his performances of late will not keep us up and they will not tempt prospective new employers to make offers, that his current football club would consider acceptable, either. Mahmoud Trezeguet – 6 – Did at least chase after the ball, make the odd challenge, and look up for it. He was unlucky to see his 25th minute shot hit the post, rather than the back of the net. Having dispossessed Pogba, he ran to the edge of the area before curling a shot past de Gea that struck his left-hand post. Mbwana Samatta – 5 – Lacked service, support, and his earlier sharpness. Substitutes: Conor Hourihane – 4 - Replaced El Ghazi after 58 minutes. Had an 82nd minute shot blocked by Williams, after Douglas had squared the ball back to him at the far post, made no telling impression on the game during the time he was on. Marvelous Nakamba – 4 - Came on for McGinn on 59 minutes with a view to keeping the score to three, I assume. Currently a shadow of the player, that we were impressed by during his early games. Keinan Davis – 5 – Replaced Konsa on 59 minutes. How he and we, need him to find the net on Sunday. Indiana Vassilev - Replaced Davis on 84 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating in another brief appearance. Stay up Villa! John Lewis
  24. Wolves last managed a league double against us in 1963. That they were able to do it again, so easily this afternoon, was nothing short of embarrassing. There was not a lot between the two sides during the first quarter, but the visitors became increasingly dangerous in the second and winning this game, was far too easy for them during the second half, when they were able to sit back and see the game out. We did not look like scoring at any time and one goal is usually more than enough to give our opponents three points, so it proved today. We did not create anything, we did not have any cutting edge or movement up front, dead balls were often miscued, and what crosses there were, did not trouble the Wolves defence at all. Our defence does look stronger of late, but a clean sheet is a rarity for us, and it always seemed inevitable that we would concede at least one goal today. Two points from four games since the restart is clearly relegation form. Things would look even more bleak, if the teams that are around us were not treading water too. We cannot rely on our fellow strugglers continuing to be quite so obliging. Four games coming in such quick succession, was always going to be a real test for our squad. One thing that today demonstrated, is that we do not have the sort of squad from which, you can pluck players to be able to rest our regular first team starters and still expect to win games. We may not be mathematically down yet, but with only six games remaining and with Liverpool, and then Manchester United up next, we do look like we are going to need an awful lot of points from our last four games, to make any sort of fight of it. We have missed the encouragement of the fans at our three home games since the restart. What ever happened to the passion of the Villa team that beat both Everton and Newcastle 2-0 at Villa Park last year? Our realistic target at the start of this season was 17th place, it is now looking increasingly likely that we will not achieve that target. I am beginning to wonder if we might have done much the same this season, had we not replaced the bulk of the team that got us promotion last year. After all they did play as a team. As things stand, I would be more than happy, if we still had something to play for on the last day of the season! My player ratings from a game that increased our relegation fears and left PL safety slowly ebbing away from us, are: Orjan Nyland – 3 – He once again demonstrated on the rare occasions he was tested, that he always has a mistake in him. Made an awful error on 42 minutes, that so very nearly gave Wolves a first half lead out of nothing. He shaped to throw the ball to the left, but somehow it slipped out of his hand straight to Jota on the edge of the box. Fortunately, Jota was as shocked as everyone else and hit a rushed shot from the edge of the box over the bar. Gathered a 19th minute Jimenez header at the near post at the second attempt. Beaten from the edge of the box by a Dendonker shot into the left-hand corner of his net on 62 minutes. How we are missing Steer and the assurance of Heaton. Ezri Konsa - 5 – Did well enough again in this role. Kortney Hause – 6 – Did well alongside Tyrone in the centre of defence but looked something less than a threat when in the other box. Tyrone Mings – 6 – Solid at the back. Matt Targett – Substituted on 11 minutes, having tweaked a hamstring in making a simple side footed pass. Not on long enough to merit any rating. Marvelous Nakamba - 4 – Either side of the first half drinks break, the ball bounced off him for an opponent to run clear to the right-hand edge of the box, fortunately we were not punished on those occasions. Sadly, some way off being “marvellous” again today. Conor Hourihane – 4 – Not even his dead balls were up to scratch today. Douglas Luiz – 7 – MOTM – He did not do anything wrong and looks increasingly a comfortable PL player. Hit a shot a couple of yards wide of the post on the hour mark. Jack Grealish – 6 – If anyone was going to get us anything out of this game, it was going to be Jack. He was unable to do it against a well organised outfit. Had a low 37th minute shot from the edge of the box saved by Patricio, who was otherwise mainly a spectator. Mbwana Samatta – 5 – Did not look particularly sharp today, I was hoping to see more energy from him and for him play off Davis, which rarely looked like happening. Keinan Davis – 6 – Worked hard and did hold the ball up at times. Playing with another striker made no positive impact on our longstanding lack of a goal threat, but they lacked any decent service today. Substitutes: Neil Taylor – 5 - Replaced Targett after 11 minutes. Did better than many of us, might have anticipated. John McGinn – 5 - Came on for Hourihane on 60 minutes. Time is running out for him to make a positive late contribution to our season, following his long absence. Ahmed Elmohamady – 5 – Replaced Konsa on the hour. Did what we have come to expect well enough. Mahmoud Trezeguet – Replaced Marvelous on 82 minutes. Not on long enough to earn any rating. Anwar El Ghazi - Replaced Davis on 82 minutes. Did he touch the ball? Not on long enough to earn a rating, in any case. Stay up Villa! John Lewis
  25. Their two goals may have had varying slices of luck about them, but they dominated this game from start to finish. We have got to be more positive from now, we probably would have been ripped apart yesterday, had we tried to take the game to our visitors. Instead, we appeared to bank on getting a second successive clean sheet within a week and perhaps even scoring a goal against the run of play, ourselves. We achieved the second of those two objectives when Hause scored on 43 minutes. The chances of our team, which have conceded the most goals in the Premier League, achieving the first objective yesterday, was always slim to none. We put men behind the ball, but it was too easy for the visitors and we only succeeded in delaying the inevitable for an hour, at the end of the day. At half time, some of us dared to dream for a moment, that we might beat a top four team for the first time, since we beat yesterday’s visitors in 2014. Reality soon kicked in though. The ball hitting the back of our net during the second half looked inevitable. The longer we could keep them out, the better our chances, would be of just conceding one goal and of hanging on grimly to a precious point. Things were going to plan for an hour and then in two painful minutes, our cunning plan was left in tatters. Dean surprisingly fielded an unchanged team yesterday. The new rule which allows two extra substitutes, was seen to work well for Chelsea yesterday. Had they only been able to have brought on 3 substitutes, they might not have made a double substitution as early as they did, on 55 minutes and within 5 minutes one of those substitutes had brought them level. The ruling helps the big sides and does nothing positive for the rest. Just look at the options that they had on their bench, compared to the ones that were available to us. A goal was always going to come for Chelsea yesterday. Unfortunately, like the Clapham omnibus, you wait an hour for one and then two come together. We just sat back and invited them forward. They had 74% possession, 19 shots to our 8 and 10 corners to our two. There are lies, dammed lies and statistics. Yesterday the stats showed there was only ever going to be one winner and it was not going to be us. At half time we were outside of the bottom three, will we be able to get ourselves out of it again this season and if we do, can we keep outside it? To have any chance of doing both, we will need to win a couple of games and to gather around 10 points from our remaining 8 games. Games will start running out fast now. We could really do with winning on Wednesday, but we will need to play for a win, and we face a team that won 3-0 yesterday, which will have given our next opponents confidence. Hopefully, our former manager, will choose to play for a draw! My player ratings from a game that would have left the crowd restless very soon after the start, had there been one, are: Orjan Nyland – 5 – Saved with his right hand on 20 minutes, from a Mount shot which was hit from just outside of the box. Pushed out a 31st minute Mount cross at his near post. Fumbled a 32nd minute Kovacic shot from just outside of the box and having failed to catch it, gathered the loose ball at the second attempt. Pulisic was unmarked at the far post when he somehow hit Azpilicueta’s 60th minute cross in the space between Nyland and the crossbar. He was left static on the line, when Giroud turned inside the box and hit a 62nd minute shot that deflected off Hourihane, past Mings behind him (who might otherwise have blocked it) and into the net for their winner. Touched an 84th minute Willian shot from outside of the area over the bar. Ezri Konsa - 5 – Doing as well as can reasonably be expected in his present role. Kortney Hause – 6 – MOTM – Put us ahead against the run of play (to put it mildly) after 43 minutes. Douglas hit a nice ball towards the far post that he stretched a foot to reach, Arrizabalaga blocked it at close range, but Kortney reacted quickly to hit the ball into the far side of the net. Could not quite get over the ball when he headed a 68th minute free kick, that Grealish had flighted into the box over the bar. Tyrone Mings – 6 – Had a solid game in the centre of a defence that was under constant pressure. Matt Targett – 4 – Too many crosses came into the box from his side of the field yesterday. Anwar El Ghazi - 4 – Hit a 32nd minute shot from outside of the penalty area that Arrizabalaga parried at his right-hand post. Anwar was again disappointing. His starting place should be in jeopardy by now, but no-one has consistently impressed in a wide role this season. Perhaps, we should take a leaf out of Sir Alf’s book and try being wingless? John McGinn – 4 – We needed John to hit the ground running, with hindsight that was never likely to happen following a six-month absence. John could still make the difference in the games that are to come, but he again ran out of steam today and was unable to play the all action role that he played so well at the beginning of this season and last. Could not get enough on his 34th minute header on a nice cross from El Ghazi that drifted well wide of the far post. Douglas Luiz – 6 – He is looking increasingly like the player that we had hoped that we had signed, since the restart. If only he could add a couple of those tremendous goals that he scored earlier this season, to what is a quickly improving midfield contribution. Jack Grealish – 5 – He really needs to play in the centre, where he will be more involved. We are currently wasting him; he is not a wide player! He is the player, that is most likely to unlock a defence, but he does not look likely to do that, too often currently. He can do much more than this. Chelsea appeared to be under instruction, to take turns to bring him down, during the game. Conor Hourihane – 4 – Quite a drop in his performance from what he produced on Sunday, but if we were going to attempt to play like this, then surely Marvelous would have been the right choice from the start. Keinan Davis – 5 – Put himself about, but he needs someone playing alongside him if we are to score the goals that we need to. I would have started Samatta, in a game like this myself. Substitutes: Mbwana Samatta – 5 - Replaced Davis after 57 minutes. Needs to start games now. Mahmoud Trezeguet – 5 - Came on for El Ghazi again, this time a minute later, on 70 minutes. Was not able to make any positive impact during the time that he had on the pitch. Marvelous Nakamba – 5 - Replaced Hourihane on 70 minutes and did not make a noticeable difference when added to our non-existent midfield. Jota - Replaced the usually irreplaceable John McGinn on 87 minutes. He was not on long enough to earn a rating, but he did have a late opportunity to steal us a point, with his first touch of the game on 87 minutes. Mings hit a free kick from just inside his own half, that Samatta headed into the box and Jota hit the ball inches wide of the far post. Stay up Villa! John Lewis
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