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Player Match Ratings: We’re going to Wembley!


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Villa fans will be heading for the Wembley arch next month after our second ding-dong derby win in a week against WBA. But the only arches that Albion fans will see are the Golden Arches at McDonald’s as they queue for their Unhappy Meals. I’m lovin’ it!


We were late coming out of the traps for this game. Albion were up for it from the start this time, they had the better of the first half by some distance and we were fortunate to go into the break still level. But the second half was a different story in much the same way as was the case in the previous round. After a brief chat with the boss it was our players who had the energy and that were prepared to make runs in the second half. Our pace proved too much for our visitors to handle and so their cup run came to an abrupt end as we brushed their challenge aside.


So it will be Tim Sherwood who will be leading out a team at Wembley just two months after his appointment as manager rather than the whinging Tony Pulis and Albion’s 90-year wait to knock us out of the FA Cup again continues to run and run!    


This second successive win and scoring two goals in each game in the process must add to our confidence for the coming league games. The same is the case at the back where a makeshift defence managed to keep a rare clean sheet for us. As the boss has said “I don’t care who the semi-final is against so long as it’s Bradford or Reading”. My growing confidence is such that I would even add Blackburn to that list!  


Sadly it is the pitch invasion before the end of the game that makes the news in the press today and will in the days to come rather than the team’s great second half performance. There were some mitigating factors such as the additional drinking that can be associated with the late kick-off for this derby game that was demanded for television purposes and the fact that fans who have been starved of success felt a need to take their rare celebrations onto the playing area. But we all know it is an offence to go onto the pitch. To do so after the game would be something that could be excusable although it did stop the players being able to thank and celebrate with the fans after their win. But to do so during it will lead to the Football Association investigating the incident and looking to punish our club for the action of those fans. It might even have led to the game being abandoned by the referee.  


The trouble caused by Albion fans in the lower Scottish Stand (DE) and the seats thrown by them will be brushed aside without a mention. The flare that was set off inside the ground will again lead to a fine for the club. But the pitch invasion before the final whistle will cost us. We should remember that there were calls for our expulsion from the European Cup in 1982 when just one supporter came onto the pitch in the semi-final and we did have to play our next home game behind closed doors as a result of that incident.


The regrettable thing is that this pitch invasion was avoidable. Fans had already twice come onto the playing area in the corner between the lower Scottish Stand and Holte End to celebrate our two goals. So clearly that rather than the lower North Stand where the available stewards were out in force was the main risk area for our fans. What police there were and there were not enough inside the ground for this high risk game were gathered around the Albion fans in the lower Scottish Stand. That left just a handful of stewards who were vastly outnumbered in the corner that the fans came onto the pitch from with the impossible job of keeping fans off the pitch.


This has detracted from our victory and the vast majority of supporters let those who had run onto the pitch know what they thought of them. But Pulis has already fanned the flames by calling the incident “disgraceful” and adding that “it put the players in danger”. Villa will now no doubt need to be seen to act swiftly with promises of banning orders to try to lessen the severity of the penalty they are destined to face from the FA. I have to admit though I wonder if the reaction to this would have been had it been Bradford fans on the pitch celebrating making an FA Cup semi-final trip to Wembley?                         


My player ratings from a game that will linger in the memory for both the right and wrong reasons (but predominantly for the right ones) are:


Shay Given – 7 – Shay got down well to keep out a Berahino shot on 6 minutes after a heavy touch from Lowton presented Gardner with a 50/50 challenge that he won before feeding the striker just outside of the box. Made a comfortable save from an Ideye header that deflected off a defender which took any pace off it on 33 minutes and tipped a deflected Brunt shot from the edge of the box over the bar 2 minutes later. Shay was grateful to gather an attempted Okore that deflected toward goal off Lescott on 56 minutes. He then did so well to anticipate the threat on the hour mark when he ran out to the edge of the box and spread himself on the ground sending the ball out of danger to his right to deny Berahino a goal scoring opportunity. We are fortunate to have two outstanding keepers to call upon and he deserves his semi-final appearance.                                                             


Leandro Bacuna – 6 – Leo is far more confident creating goals rather than stopping them but his performance got better as the game wore on.                           


Ciaran Clark – 7 – So very solid again alongside Jores in the heart of our defence.  


Jores Okore – 8 – Nothing and nobody was going to get past him last night. A solid totally committed central defensive display.                            


Matt Lowton – 6 – A decent display again.                


Charles N’Zogbia – 7 – Ran at players, showed good touches and wanted the ball. His best game for us and he showed signs of the player he has been in the past. Keep it up now Charles!      


Ashley Westwood - 6 – Had a shot deflected wide on 72 minutes after Delph had picked up a loose pass in the middle and fed Gabby who played it wide to N’Zogbia. Charles then hit a cross past three defenders that Gabby played back to Westwood for him to hit. Ash gave us a solid midfield display.                                        


Fabian Delph – 8 – Kept us moving forward particularly after the interval and put us a goal ahead on 51 minutes. Gabby headed a Bacuna throw on to N’Zogbia who ran from just inside his own half to the edge of the penalty area before playing the ball across to the unmarked Delph who drilled a low shot through Dawson, past Myhill and into the corner of the net.           


Tom Cleverley – 7 – His best performance in a Villa shirt. Tom gave everything he had prior to his substitution. Hit a nice cross in for Gabby on 23 minutes but he failed to look to get in front of his marker before the ball was hit and Gabby did not therefore get to the ball. Tom could not get high enough to a 57th minute Gardner corner and his near post header flashed across the goal to Lescott whose far post header for once against us was badly off target.       


Scott Sinclair – 8 – MOTM – Made several strong runs into the danger areas and his move looks like being a good one for both him and us. Scott made a good jinking run into the box in first half stoppage time but his cross which was deflected towards goal by Olsson was gathered by Myhill. He was again denied by the ex-Villa keeper on 69 minutes who rushed out to the ball after N’Zogbia had played Scott in. One minute later Gabby flicked on a ball from Given that Scott ran onto before pulling his shot wide of the post. Sánchez played a nice ball to him inside the box on 77 minutes his cross was headed back towards him only for Gardner to get a foot to it that touched the ball just over and onto the roof of the net.


Scott’s decisive goal came in the 85th minute when Grealish played the ball between two defenders just inside their half for him to run onto. He took the ball into the box before checking inside and hitting a sweetly curled shot past Myhill and into the corner of the net.     


Gabriel Agbonlahor – 6 – Gabby was quiet in the first half during which he lacked service and missed balls being played to him from Benteke to run onto. His performance in the second half improved no end as he like the team in general upped their game considerably.         




Carlos Sánchez – 6 – Replaced Cleverley on 65 minutes and did his bit to keep the midfield ticking.


Jack Grealish – Replaced N’Zogbia on 74 minutes. Did not have sufficient time on the field to earn a rating but he was on long enough to claim an assist for our decisive second goal and to pick up two yellow cards from a referee who had become card happy near the end.


Carles Gil – Replaced Gabby on 89 minutes so was not on long enough to gather a rating.    


Up for the Cup Villa!

John Lewis

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