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One, Two, Three? No, there was Four Kevin Keegan!


John
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So having finished yesterday’s game on the bench it looks like Joey Barton might find himself in front of one again, this time for felling Shaun Maloney inside the box.

Barton must hope that he will have yesterday’s referee Lee Mason (or was it Lee Marvin as it seems he was born with a wandering eye!) on any panel that might sit to look at the incident that led to Shaun Maloney winding up on the deck on 14 minutes as he could do no wrong in his eyes yesterday. He must have borrowed Wenger’s spectacles when he missed that incident within the box and then when Barton’s hand make contact with Barry’s shot to prevent what seemed a likely equaliser for us, with Shaun still on the floor in front of him. He also missed him connect with Ashley Young’s leg rather than the ball when he jinked inside the box later in the same half and waved away our penalty claims. This was also not the only time that Ashley was denied any reasonable protection by this inept official.

But, to the game itself and what a game it was. Yes, this was without doubt a game of two halves. In the first we gave a more than passable impersonation of the dreadful performance at Fulham that had led to our second away defeat of the season. But, in the second we swept aside Keegan’s Newcastle with some splendid attacking football against what is admittedly a fragile Newcastle defence. Half time boos were replaced by full time cheers and Newcastle half time smiles became Newcastle grimaces by full time.

What brought about this transformation? Well Martin replaced our two most ineffective players in the first half with two players who gave bright impressive second half performances. Whether Martin had decided to make that change for tactical reasons, because they had an open argument with each other during the second half or because things got heated in the dressing room I do not know. But, what I do know is that these changes and what Martin must have said to the team in that dressing room in I suspect no uncertain terms had the desired affect. The donkeys that had played in the first half in Villa shirts were transformed into lions by the second half and within 6 minutes we were in front instead of behind.

My player ratings from a game that ensured that we maintained our top 6 standing rather than lose ground for a second weekend against another team that just can’t win are:

Scott Carson - 7 – A very solid display and a good save near the end.

Olof Mellberg – 4 – A 45 minute performance that was so far away from the ones we have come to expect from him that some fans are now beginning to question whether it is his commitment to the team that is suddenly lacking and it is this that led to such a blip rather than the distraction that his dispute with the even less effective Petrov caused. I think it was all brought to a point with a dreadful attempted back heal near their penalty area that if it had come off would have been around 15 yards from any team mate.

Curtis Davies – 7 – Possibly shaded Laursen yesterday as our best defender and that is saying a lot.

Martin Laursen – 7 – A couple of uncharacteristic lapses but generally a good performance if not one that quite reached his usual exceptional level, but his less effective performances are better than most central defenders best.

Wilfred Bouma – 7 – Got that all important equaliser on 48 minutes. Found by Maloney on the edge of the box and hit a speculative shot that was deflected to leave Given flat footed and a spectator as the ball went in at the near post. Nice…I also loved that moment in the second half when he stood his ground and Butt bounced off him looking for a free-kick!

Shaun Maloney – 7 – 100 % better than his Craven Cottage outing. Worked hard and produced Young like crosses in the second half after he changed sides with our new England player. Looks well worth another start at Reading next week.

Nigel Reo Coker - 7 – Held things together very, very well in our midfield. It was a pity to see him booked again for a reaction to a challenge that went unpunished and we will miss him badly when he is suspended again. Did very well to claim the ball back after a Mellberg slip on 19 minutes threatened to give Newcastle a chance for a second.

Stiliyan Petrov – 4 – Just could not find a way into this game and his only contributions to it in the 45 minutes he was on the field was the part he played in unsettling team spirit due to his dispute with Juve bound Olaf and by making way for Big Marlon at half time. Had been performing better up until the last copuple of games but performances like these must make it hard for Martin to continue to back him to come good in the long term.

Gareth Barry – 7 – A good solid performance by Gareth particularly in the second half and was unlucky to see Barton‘s hand divert his goal bound shot on 14 minutes.

Ashley Young – 7 – A welcome return and caused the Newcastle defence headaches before they realised the referee was not adverse to them stopping him by illegal methods eventually substituted on 90 minutes with the job done bruised but a winner.

John Carew – 9 – MOTM – For a player who was supposed not to way in with his fare share of goals and to have itchy feet. This hat-trick that brought his goal tally to 9 this season and his reaction to the fans adulation put any such claims to bed once and for all for me. Big John nearly broke the back of the net with well hit penalty on 90 minutes after Carr had handled inside the box. Had a flicked header saved easily enough by Given on 41 minutes but had him well beaten on 51 minutes with a nice back header that went in past a statuesque Duff (whatever happened to the player he once was?) and into the net at the far post. He was then unlucky to see a glancing header sail just wide of the far post on 54 minutes but his second followed a scramble inside the box on 72 minutes when he was Johnny on the spot with an instinctive header to secure our win with his second and our third of the day.

Substitutes:

Marlon Harewood – 8 – A fully committed, whole hearted, enthusiastic, hard running second half performance. Replaced Petrov at half time, worked well in combination with Big John and his appearance along with that of Gardner played a big part in the reversal of our fortunes in the last 45 minutes.

Craig Gardner – 7 – Did everything that could have been asked of him defensively after replacing Olof at half time and was so unlucky not to get himself among our scorers on 70 minutes when Harper denied him twice within a minute. His first was a nice voley that looked like it was going just inside the post until the keeper pushed it for a corner. Craig then hit a scorcher that Harper managed to get his face in the way of to deflect it for another corner that then led to our third goal. Martin might now be seriously thinking that Craig might be the one to fill in at right back during the season run in.

Isaiah Osbourne - Replaced Ashley on 90 minutes not on long enough to rate.

And so to Reading and the opportunity to do Small Heath a big favour?

Up the Villa !

John Lewis

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I have to say, watching the game from 13000 miles from Villa park I thought we were going to throw it all away again. After we went 2-1 up we relaxed and very nearly let them into the game again. Fortunately, common sense prevailed largely thanks to Craig Gardner.I also think that apart from his occassional brain explosion, Reo Coker really does look very very good.MON has done a fantastic job so far. Keep it up.

Passionately Villa

Des

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It's never safe with just the one goal lead Des even against a dispirited Newcastle outfit so the third was crucial. But, I felt reasonably safe at 2-1 this time as I felt we had deflated their fragile belief in their ability to get the points by then.

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