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Oh for a Russian linesman!


John
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So we are safe with 5 games to spare, but it would have been nice to have done it with a bit of style.

We just can’t put a run of good results together can we? Too often this season a good result has been followed up by a poor one and on this occasion we followed up a great win at Blackburn with 2 dropped points against a poor Wigan outfit that spent the last two thirds of the game down to 10 men. We should be able to break down teams like this particularly when we dominate the possession as we did yesterday but currently we are not although we have proved that we are able to come back into a game after being a goal behind, its just a pity that our set piece defending has given us so many opportunities to prove this in recent games. Yesterday, Wigan just put 9 men behind the ball and invited us to come at them. But we lacked the guile and ideas to do so and allowed them to niggle and waste time for the last hour, as did the referee who allowed Filan to run down the clock for too long before showing him a yellow card.

The game will be remembered as one of two goal line clearances; one for our equalizer which was given as the ball had clearly crossed the line before Baines kicked it out and another that Filan pushed onto a post and then hooked out from behind his goal line which the linesman decided would be one too many such calls to make in one game.

My player ratings from a game during which we huffed and puffed but just could not get the end result our domination of possession warranted are:

Thomas Sorensen - 6 – Steady enough and could not do much to stop their goal from his position on the floor. Normally when a keeper goes down in such circumstances the referee has no hesitation and stops play, I wonder why it did not happen this time?

Phil Bardsley - 6 – Tentative on occasion at the back but worked hard and got forward to good affect on a couple of occasions.

Olof Mellberg - 7 – Solid enough particularly when faced by Emile the defective striker at the back who once again showed that at diving he has few piers. Olof flicked on a header that was cleared and was then unlucky to see a header pushed onto the post and then cleared from what seemed a foot behind the line by Filan.

Martin Laursen - 7 – Some early problems with his distribution but became more steady as the game progressed and did what we have come to expect of him on those rare occasions that he needed to at the back.

Wilfred Bouma – 6 – Replaced due to the injury that Valencia’s mad two footed lunge led to on 38 minutes but had looked his usual competent self up until then and even had time to have a pop at goal that sailed just over after listening to the fans call for him to pull the trigger.

Gareth Barry – 7 – Worked hard, kept the midfield ticking and kept probing for opportunities. On the downside Gareth also lost McCullock at the far post who then headed the ball back across the goal for a forward whose name escapes me to force home their goal. Unlucky to see a measured shot go just wide on 90 minutes.

Gabriel Agbonlahor - 7 – MOTM - Three goals in three games! What happened to the player who looked in desperate need of a rest a few weeks ago? Plenty of pace and he looks so much more of a threat in the middle. Early on he made some good runs out wide but we lacked someone like Luke to get on the end of the balls he fed into the box. Berger found him well on 7 minutes but his first touch let him down and then left defenders for dead on 15 minutes but had his effort smothered by the keeper who came out to avert the danger when a goal looked likely. Somehow got something on the end of a Berger cross after Barry had done well to find him and the ball had clearly gone over the line before it was cleared.

Shaun Maloney - 6 – Quick feet, nice touches and worked hard before being substituted by Luke as we searched for a deserved winner on 73 minutes.

Stiliyan Petrov – 6 – Played a deep lying role for much of the game from where he pulled the strings and hit the odd good through ball, such as the one which found Young early in the second half to offer him a good goal scoring opportunity.

Patrick Berger – 7 – Another good display and showed he can still last 90 minutes. Unlucky to see a deflected shot pushed out by the keeper on 8 minutes but hit a lovely cross for our equalizer albeit having took the pass from Barry in a position that was some way beyond the last defender.

Craig Gardner - 6 – Gavin McCann may find it harder to regain his place than to put his name to a new contract as Craig looks a match for him on their respective current form. Might have scored on another day with a couple of good runs into the box but his task is now to kick on and go up another gear to make himself difficult to rest.

Substitutes:

Ashley Young - 6 – If he was fit to come on to replace Bouma in the first half the question has to be asked why he did not start, as although I can appreciate Martin’s desire to pick an unchanged starting eleven as a reward for a previous good result, this formation has failed at home more than once. Two good openings early in the second half, one a header forced a one handed save and another cross come shot ended comfortably in the keeper’s hands after Berger had put him in. Was a threat out wide and hit a good cross for Gabby that hit his standing leg rather than the one he was looking to connect with.

Luke Moore - 6 – A welcome return after a 6-month absence, a great reception and for me should have probably started the game alongside Gabby as we need to force the game at home against sides like this and starting with one striker tends to send out the wrong signals even to sides who come looking for just a point. Looked sharp and keen to impress in the 20 minutes that was available to him. Is Martin just determined not to rush him back after his injury?

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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