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Villa fail to move into the top four!


John
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I think players, management and fans had expected rather than hoped that playing a team we thrashed 4-0 on their own ground at home would produce the 3 points needed to put us into the top 4 but it was not to be!

Expectation levels have been rising since we reached the 40 point safety target some 3 – 4 months earlier than we have in other recent seasons and those expectations were not doused by a fine point from Anfield on Monday. This was the day that Mark Hughes’ Blackburn would turn up like lambs to the slaughter and allow us to walk all over them and leap-frog Everton and Liverpool who were not playing this weekend to take our place among the top 4. But, although at times our players appeared to think that all they needed to do was to be there to make it happen Blackburn had other ideas.

Blackburn are currently on a good run and Mark Hughes had done his homework after we had embarrassed them on their own patch. He stifled one of our main goal scoring threats by putting big Samba on Martin Laursen at set pieces and he also had Emerton employ strong arm tactics on Ashley Young that were only legal in the eyes of the inept officials who were in charge of yesterday’s proceedings. Ashley although to some extent shackled in outfield play still had a deadly weapon to employ from set pieces and it was that free kick wizardry that gave us the point to keep the gap between Blackburn and us in place which could prove so important when the EUFA Cup places are handed out in May. Oh and they also had Small Heath reject David Dunn giving a passable impression of the player he once was to the near 40,000 crowd at Villa Park who had turned up anticipating a win but left accepting that our point was probably as much as our performance deserved. But, on the positive side this kept our unbeaten run going, we again showed spirit to come back from a goal down and we now have a splendid opportunity to make up lost ground again next weekend at beleaguered Fulham.

What this game showed is that we still have a small squad and an honest bunch of lads! The players we have available have done brilliantly to put us in a position where we could push on in our remaining games in the reasonable expectation of ending the season in a high enough league position to enter competitive European football again after what has been too long an absence from it. But, we need to ensure that opportunity is taken and that this season is not allowed to go out on a whimper as have others in the past under previous management. For that to happen we need to be bringing in some players in the dwindling days that remain of this transfer window that will create some competition for places where none now exists, to give the whole thing a shot in the arm and so Martin can rest players occasionally when necessary and not need to rush them back after injury as we did Barry today when he was less than 100%. We also need to stop talking about the prospect of letting Olof leave for a paltry £700,000 or so. Failure to qualify for Europe by weakening an already small squad would cost much more than that and we really can’t entertain the prospect of letting him go until a replacement is signed and that at present does not look too likely to happen does it?

My player ratings from a game that took us above Liverpool but which failed to give us a 3-point cushion that they may have found less easy to bridge are:

Scott Carson - 7 – Will have impressed Fabio when he pulled off a fine save on 24 minutes from one of the few England U21 players we have yet to sign or be linked with. Why not Martin? Will have impressed the England boss less with a fumble from an innocuous ball on 38 minutes that led to the ball escaping his grip, but this was a good all round display.

Olof Mellberg – 6 – Was this his last game in a Villa shirt? I hope not but if it was he was solid as ever and he remains the best right back at our football club. For me he joins Southgate as our best central defender since Lord Paul and before anyone mentions it Laursen will be rated when his Villa days draw nearer to their conclusion, which I hope will be many years in the future. If it is to be arrivederci, then thanks for the memories, for your years of exemplary service and the best of luck at pastures new (other than when we face you and Juve in the Champions League sometime soon)!

Curtis Davies – 6 – Will not have been happy that Dunn got past him to fire the shot that led to their goal on 68 minutes but otherwise dealt pretty well with what is a decent Blackburn forward line.

Martin Laursen – 7 – A great third minute tackle to dispossess Dunn inside the box when he was about to pull the trigger set the tone for another fine defensive performance but on this occasion his attacking threat was largely nullified.

Wilfred Bouma – 7 – Another very solid defensive performance.

Stiliyan Petrov – 6 – Did reasonably well for me before his tactical substitution on 60 minutes, but for some supporters even his best (which this was not) would not be good enough.

Nigel Reo Coker – 6 – Can usually get away with the sort of clumsy looking challenge that led to Bentley gaining a penalty on 68 minutes but not inside the box and not with this referee. Otherwise gave his usual committed performance in the holding role.

Gareth Barry – 6 – A bright start and a welcome return, but his fitness was not really there for a 90 minute blood and thunder game and try as he did he was unable to maintain the usual grip he exerts on our games. Would have benefited from another week off, but our squad does not allow such luxuries.

Ashley Young – 8 – MOTM – Given very little protection from the Blackburn defence and particularly from Emerton’s at times crude attempts to stop him in open play. Our main if not only threat yesterday. Hit a great dead ball that looked likely to produce a goal but a Blackburn leg got to it first on 31 minutes. Might have earned a penalty on 54 minutes when challenged by Dunn inside the box had he not leapt quite so high after it. Scored a fine equaliser on 73 minutes when he picked his spot from a free kick on the edge of the box to leave the ball in the corner of the net and Freidel well beaten. Might even have won it for us with a late free kick that went just wide with the keeper again beaten.

John Carew – 7 – Started very brightly but became increasingly embroiled in his personal battle with Samba and although he worked very hard did not have his usual impact where it matters.

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 5 – Had a couple of moments but will not have done much to impress the watching Fabio. Looks in need of a rest, provided no real threat and seems to go down too easily when challenged in what would be good positions if he stayed on his feet.

Substitutes:

Marlon Harewood – 7 – Replaced Petrov on the hour and looked lively on coming off the bench. Tested Friedel with what was our first real shot on target on 63 minutes but the keeper was able to get his body behind his powerful shot. Marlon was then unlucky to see his header from a Young free kick on 77 minutes hit the bar and did have the ball in the net on 88 minutes but offside had already been flagged for.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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expected rather than hoped that playing a team we thrashed 4-0 on their own ground at home would produce the 3 points needed

in the premiership its hard to expect any game to give us three points.... the league is very close this season.. no one team can expect to win

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no one team can expect to win

The big 4 do nm4733 and I think that Manchester City and Everton expect to win most of their home games. We like Portsmouth seem to be more effective away from home but these are the sort of games we need to win.

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