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Another 3 points nearer Europe...


John
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Yesterday’s win took us into the top 6 and level on 39 points with 4th placed Liverpool who we next meet in what is now a 6-pointer!

Steve Coppell has done very well to keep this team of Championship standard players riding so high in our division and deserves a medal or the Newcastle job as reward for this! He has a hard working bunch of lads who know their jobs and perform them to the best of their abilities. But, did anyone see a player in a hooped blue and white shirt that they would have chosen instead of one of the players who lined up against them yesterday? A couple of players who might make it onto our bench like Doyle and Hunt perhaps. They also have a player in Shorey who looks pretty decent to me, but would he keep Bouma out of his claret & blue number 3 shirt?

So Coppell’s team came to face us yesterday and to be frank they were just the sort of team we would have chosen to face in front of another encouragingly large crowd at Villa Park, after what has come to be our annual disappointing FA Cup exit at the hands of Manchester United. We put on a thoroughly professional performance yesterday against admittedly the type of team we need to be beating at Villa Park to get any reward at the end of this season. This was an important win and one that has made us one of 4 clubs who are on 39 points and fill positions 4, 5, 6 & 7 in the league table. We also had a couple of players who were performing at their international best yesterday and very few defenders can come anywhere near to coping with either Laursen or Carew at their very hungriest, so what hope for Reading coping with both at the same time?

Reading just could not manage our goal threat from corners and free kicks. We do score a lot of our goals from set pieces and it would be nice to see a little bit more come from open play. But let’s not be greedy as there was also a time not long ago when we posed no real threat from a dead ball and we have clearly moved on since then following some hard work on the training ground. We are scoring goals and that is what matters and we are also playing at a level that only the big 4 and the likes of Manchester City, Everton and Portsmouth, with whom we are competing for a place in Europe can live. That is real progress!

My player ratings from a game that was won with some ease are:

Scott Carson - 6 – Juggled an early ball but was seldom asked a question by the Reading attack and when he was, on 67 minutes he pulled off a splendid reflex save to deny Gunnarsson who had flicked on a header that would otherwise have found the net.

Craig Gardner – 6 – Was Olof travel sick yesterday or suffering a reaction to a dodgy pasta or pizza? Craig was switched back at short notice to cover in Olof’s absence and did well. But, I would have hoped that a third of the way into this transfer window we would have a permanent right back in place by now and I’m sure Martin would be thinking much the same.

Curtis Davies – 7 – Did not put a foot wrong and is beginning to show why “The Baggies” rate him so highly. A future England central defender who might not be left too long waiting for a call from Fabio.

Martin Laursen – 8 – Left by Doyle on 22 minutes and was right to then resist the temptation to pull him back which would have surely led to a red card and that could have changed the course of this match. Made the game safe on 55 minutes with a fine header from Young’s inch perfect delivery that Martin made sure nobody else had any hope of getting before him! Forced a good stop by the keeper with another good header a couple of minutes later from another well placed corner

Wilfred Bouma – 7 – Another of his usual solid defensive displays.

Stiliyan Petrov – 7 – Hit a fierce shot on 12 minutes that the keeper pushed out for a corner and had another goal bound effort deflected for a corner that was not given on the half hour. Another very effective and encouraging midfield performance.

Nigel Reo Coker – 7 – A couple of decent forward runs although nothing ultimately came of them but he was once again solid in his midfield holding position.

Gareth Barry – 7 – Upped his performance in the second half and was unlucky to see a flicked header from Young’s corner go just over on 74 minutes. Immediately after that he was then twice in a minute in a goal scoring position and was almost found twice by Carew but could not quite reach each ball.

Ashley Young – 8 – Back to his best yesterday a constant wide threat and his delivery from set pieces was outstanding.

John Carew – 9 – MOTM – Nodded a Young free kick into the corner of the net for our opener on 22 minutes, stung the keeper’s hands with a rasping effort from close range on 80 minutes and then applied the appropriate finish to Gabby’s cross after Young had found him with a good pass on 88 minutes for our third. This performance had everything. Goals, a fine example of an old fashioned centre forward at his best and this outstanding display was far too hot for Reading’s defence to handle.

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 6 – Showed his pace but there was no tangible end product. On another day and a different referee, Hahnemann might have been sent off not because he was the last man but because of his wild challenge.

Substitutes:

Shaun Maloney replaced Ashley Young, Marlon Harewood came on for Gabby and Moustapha Salifou made his first Villa appearance in place of Big John Carew on 90 minutes, in a treble substitution that appeared to be the equivalent of a curtain call for the exiting players. Sadly they grabbed their soft consolation goal shortly afterwards in the resulting confusion. None of these were on long enough to earn a rating or to provide a reason for such wholesale changes being made so late in the game.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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