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Bittersweet Symphony - Middlesbrough Away report


blandy
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Posted by blandy

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

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

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

The day didn't start with these thoughts in my head, it started rather bleary eyed after an excellent friday night seeing Half Man Half Biscuit in Blackpool.

The problem was cured by a restorative breakfast of Sausage and mushroom butties and a mug of tea. Works wonders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So with Scott redeemed, how did the others do?

Not brilliantly, it has to be admitted. But not badly either.

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

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

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

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

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

For Boro, Boateng was trying to turn the tide, Johnson was playing very well, and with spirit, but the rest....

They'd started off using the flanks well, Alliadiere was like a proto-Bergkamp at times, one turn was glorious, but as the game went on, it was clearly a lost cause.

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

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

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

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

Some marks

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

Olly - 7 - up against Downing who was good, done a couple of times, but solid, and one extra for the lovely goal.

Freddie Bouma - 7. Just a really sound defender, and helped with the first goal.

Zat - solid. 6

Martin Laursen - Ditto. (Curtis Davies, confident, but not on long enough to mark)

Ash - bright, 6

NRC - worked hard, not the best passing at times, but did his job effectively. 6

GB - 6. Not at his best, but fine.

Stan Petrov - 6. Looking sorted, now. (Craig Gardner - bright when he came on. it would have been his sort of game, 6)

Big John - 6. Stuggled for a while, but battled hard, nice goal. (Wee Shaun, nice touches, didn't get the ball so much, though.)

Gabby - 7. He earned his goal by his performance, and in the actual move itself. Man Of the Match.

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

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Edited to change "Downing was playing very well" (for Boro to "Johnson was...") after watching MoTD - I got the wrong bloke at number 28 for them.

And it was not Bouma involved in the first goal (with the header back), but Gabby.

I blame beer, and 100 yards. Sorry.

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Top report as per usual Pete, the sight of those coppers jogging along the touchline everytime we scored still amuses me now

Other highlights were the changing of the Paul McGrath song (Kumbaya) to empty seats my lord

Still haven't worked out what the waving of the shoes in the air was about unless it was something to do with Boateng

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I can see by your marks and your quotes on the players that you talk sense. What did you think of the change of tactics in midfield and how it worked?

Not so sure about the first bit at all, but thanks.

On the change of tactics - moving Ash to the right - It did work. It made the difference that we looked better balanced. I thought that Ashley Young just wasn't getting any ball, on the left, and we were a bit wonky on the right. After MON changed it, it wasn't spectacular or anything, but the shape of the team was better - as much because of GB's ability to play anywhere as because of Ashley Young, or Luke Young, or whoever their left back was.

Anyway, though it only maybe made us 5 or 10% better, it was that 5% that nudged us past Boro in that game. They're very fragile, and us getting better and then scoring the first goal did for them, basically.

As we all do, I was thinking (before the change) "got to get Ashley Young more involved", but I wasn't thinking "switch him over" as the solution.

Now I know now't, - I could see what was wrong, but hadn't thought of changing it like that. That's because I'm dumb, but MO'N did it, and it worked.

Looks easy with hindsight, but people who have hindsight in advance (foresight) are valuable.

In the match reports I try to remember what happened, and write it down. Occasionally I let some daft theory come out, but mostly it's just writing down what I remember of what I saw, or thought about what I saw.

So basically I didn't think it was a massive tactical change, just a tweak, but it worked a treat.

You're right to point it out, though, because if he changes stuff at some point in the future and we then get worse, or lose, we'll be there going " he did this... and it cost us the game". I will anyway...:)

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Thanks, Pete. Wasn't able to see the game up here, as the internet and me apparently aren't good mates at the moment, so a thorough report from the wise man of VillaTalk was very helpful.

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Lincolnshire Ale. Nothing to do with Abraham Lincoln, does it? Lincolnshire must be a place then.

How about the pies...I hope you'll get some pies on the next trip.

I was interested in this one because it followed that crap loss to Croatia.

Thanks as always, blandy!

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