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Player Match Ratings: Yet another Christmas card!


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Our third red card of the festive season put us on the back foot once again yesterday. Match officials do currently seem to see us as the Estudiantes of the late 60s and our players as a cross between Norman “bites yer legs” Hunter and Ron “chopper” Harris of the same era.


But we have grown accustomed to finishing a game with ten men now and this was a game that in all honesty we did not really look like winning even when we had a full team on the field.


This was a game that few if any of us would have settled for a point from had we been offered one before kick-off. It was as is our next game one we needed to take three points from to extend the gap between us and the bottom dwellers. But at the end of the game it was one we were relieved to have held onto a point from after another battling performance.


Neither team were good enough to win this one. Sunderland arrived at Villa Park unbeaten in their last four away games and left happy enough to have extended that run. We did not really go for the win until near the end of the game and seemed content for too long to hold onto possession in areas where our opponents were content for us to do so.


This game provided little festive entertainment for both sets of supporters. The onus was on us to win it and we have for too long struggled to secure victories against opponents who are prepared to defend in numbers and to sit back inviting us to try to break them down.


There was little to choose between these two teams yesterday who both find scoring goals a daunting proposition and see safety as their ambition each season. This was the sort of game that is not going to see fans rushing through the turnstiles and it had the look of a stalemate about it throughout. It was a soporific and languid game. Our build up play was slow and had no end product because we lack the guile, creativity and finish that teams who play like this have which makes it work.                  


My player ratings from a game that brought a hard earned point without the hoped for festive cheer or a goal to add to our paltry total of 11 at the halfway stage of this season are:


Brad Guzan – 7 – Did everything we needed him to do well. Brad was well protected by the defence in front of him but did well early on to reach a Gomez cross that was on its way to Fletcher. Got a very important touch on an 89th minute Gomez shot that helped it onto the post.                                                               


Alan Hutton – 7 – Looked good when moving forward and solid at the back. Another top drawer performance and his consistency levels have been remarkable since he returned to our first team line up.                          


Ron Vlaar – 7 – A solid performance at the back and tried to move us forward on occasion. He made a good run to try to get a head to our first corner of the game on 75 minutes which flew towards goal off Brown’s shoulder and was kept out by Pantilimon at his near post. He also had earlier made a crucial challenge on Wickham as he was about to pull the trigger on 59 minutes.    


Ciaran Clark – 7 – Another very good and assured performance.                           


Aly Cissokho – 6 – A solid enough hard-working performance.                 


Charles N’Zogbia - 4 – Spurned another opportunity to prove he merits a regular start yesterday and surely Grealish has done enough to begin our next couple of home games now?  


Tom Cleverley – 6 – Worked hard without adding a bit of glitter to go with that before he made way for Jack.                                       


Carlos Sánchez – 8 – MOTM – Did not put a foot wrong throughout. Looked comfortable on the ball, made solid challenges and passed well. Outstanding!      


Fabian Delph – 6 – Was having a decent game until his rash challenge gave the referee a decision to make and made the wrong one giving our man a straight red rather than a yellow card for Christmas. We now face a run of games without him in much the same way as we did with Benteke shortly after he returned from injury.      


Andreas Weimann – 5 – Worked hard particularly when we were down to ten men but he failed to produce the cutting edge we needed when he was in our opponent’s half. Sánchez played a sweet ball to Hutton on 11 minutes who then played a one-two with Delph before finding Andi in the box who wanted too much time to get a shot in and was dispossessed by O’Shea. Andi was also found on the edge of the box on 49 minutes this time by Sánchez but he screwed his shot wide of the far post.        


Christian Benteke – 6 – Lacked both service and support. He failed to make enough of an impression on this game having been surprisingly easily marshalled by O’Shea and Brown throughout. Should have made a run to try to get on the end of a great Grealish cross on 75 minutes rather than linger on the edge of the box. Might have claimed a stoppage time winner had he not possibly understandably have taken his eye off the ball and failed to make connect with it as Pantilimon made a reckless rush towards him rather the ball and connected with him waist high with a raised leg.




Leandro Bacuna – 6 - Replaced N’Zogbia on 56 minutes and made a decent impact on the game. He started the move that could have given us an 89th minute winner with a ball out of defence for Benteke to run onto. Having brushed aside a defender’s challenge Christian found Weimann whose shot bounced off a defender to Sánchez who found Leo inside the box but his shot was kept out by Pantilimon at his near post. He has surely done enough to earn a start particularly given our lack of alternative options.      


Jores Okore – 6 - Replaced Clark on 61 minutes and again looked solid in the centre of our defence. Would have been exceedingly unlucky to have found himself relegated to the bench after just one game in which his performance level was less convincing than it has consistently been since his return to the side from injury. But I trust he was “rested” with a view to our crowded festive fixture list rather than dropped and his display yesterday demonstrated that he has earned the right to start games in the heart of our defence this season. Got a good block in on an on-target Fletcher shot on 64 minutes.   


Jack Grealish – 7 – Made a big impact on the game following his introduction for Cleverley on 68 minutes. Jack helped us press forward towards the end and was prepared to run at defenders. Curled a shot a yard or so wide of the far post on 74 minutes and produced some good crosses.  


Up the Villa and a Happy New Year to all readers!

John Lewis

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