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What a difference a goal makes!


John
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Until we scored Manchester City looked likely to be the third team in a row to win at Villa Park but our equalizer turned the tide and on balance we deserved more than a hard earned point.

Well we must be having a pretty decent season if we can avoid home defeat against Manchester City. We were slow starting again and when Bianchi opened the scoring things we had given ourselves a mountain to climb but Big John was not going to send us into Christmas with a defeat and his immense performance and splendid goal gave us a much needed point.

What a great crowd as well. 41,455 was very encouraging given the normal pull of Christmas shopping on crowds on the last Saturday before Christmas. We needed 3 points really. But, Manchester City are a tough nut to crack (particularly for us) and Sven returning to manage at Villa Park as the fake sheiks had always said he would has got them going places to show that money can buy success and that you really can make wholesale changes and get immediate rewards for such investment.

This was a very good game of football particularly in the first half. No quarter was given and none was asked for in what was a competitive battle. We like Manchester City are a vastly improved side who will be in the shake-up for a position somewhere between fifth and tenth this season but it is games like this that are effectively 6-pointers that we have to win if we are to climb higher and secure European football next season. Defeat against Portsmouth and dropping 2 points against City yesterday have not helped our cause but the right late Christmas presents in the January sales should give Martin the opportunity to show that he can mould new signings into the side and make it a better one.

My player ratings from a game that we deserved more from on balance were:

Scott Carson - 6 – Solid enough when tested, I hope that given time he will get over that England performance to exude the sort of confidence that he did before that game to our defence.

Olof Mellberg – 6 – A steady and whole hearted defensive display from a Villa man who has given his best in a position that he would prefer not to be occupying. Will he be pushed into the middle when the inevitable right back signing is made in a couple of week’s time or will he be left to practice his Italian on the bench?

Zat Knight – 6 – Steadier than of late. May find it difficult when playing alongside and so being compared with the performances of the polished diamond that is Martin Laursen.

Martin Laursen – 7 – Another pretty solid defensive display in the heart of our defence. Might have got more onto his header from a free-kick that was cleared away by a defender on 22 minutes and just wide with a header shortly after that. Will be disappointed that Bianchi got clear of him for their goal.

Wilfred Bouma – 7 – Another good performance and a couple of very important well timed interventions when danger reared its ugly head.

Shaun Maloney – 6 – Worked hard but did not make the impression he tends to when coming off the bench and is likely to find himself back on it now that Stiliyan is fit again.

Nigel Reo Coker - 6 – A solid display from our midfield enforcer. It was a pity he could not get the ball over to the unmarked Gabby on 83 minutes having drawn their defence but he did some very effective work over the 90 minutes in winning his midfield battles. Nigel was wrongly booked when their Petrov fell to the ground as if he had been shot and surely we should appeal this latest booking against a player who referees seem reluctant not to book each week?

Gareth Barry – 6 – Worked hard but did not get the opportunity to stamp his authority on the game that he normally does. I’m sure he would have loved to put one over on Sven but our captain didn’t quite manage it this time.

Ashley Young – 6 – Double teamed throughout. Sven clearly considered Ashley to be our main threat and yesterday he could not provide the service we have come to expect from him. When he did beat his man on 44 minutes after John had done well to find him near the touchline he hit an effort that was neither a cross nor a shot when cutting inside the box.

John Carew – 8 – MOTM – Big John is a throw back to the old fashioned centre forward and was a real handful for the City defence yesterday. Ran at their defence on 14 minutes and finished that one man show by seeing the ball deflected into the net past Hart. Unlucky on 32 minutes when the keeper pushed his shot onto the bar, although he was lucky that the referee missed his use of the hand in controlling the ball. I particularly enjoyed the one whole hearted battle for the ball near the touchline with Richards in the second half where both players acknowledged each other after a succession of meaty challenges between them.

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 5 – Really should have scored on 23 minutes but somehow a defender was able to clear the danger on the line as he failed to connect with an open goal before him. Did not make the sort of impression on the game that someone who is mentioned as being on the verge of an England call-up should.

Substitutes:

Stiliyan Petrov – 6 – Replaced Shaun on 75 minutes and looked our best midfielder in that last 18 minutes. Will surely deservedly start the next game and we have missed him.

Up the Villa and a Very Merry Christmas to all of my Readers!

John Lewis

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I think you've been a tad harsh on the ratings.

I can't see how any of our guys got under 7 let alone under 6. We played really well and, though we failed to put Citeh away, I don't think it is a case for marking everyone down. I think the game was an example of when we play well, don't have a few things go our way and then, infuriatingly, draw.

Gabby is not Terry Henry so shouldn't be expected to put away every chance - not that Mr Henry did BTW.

Coker was an arse with the through ball to Gabby but otherwise had an excellent game;

Young plays so much better on the left it is unbeleivable - though he was again very close to diving/hurdling/high jumping and I'd like to see him cut that crap out.

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