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A better second half but the first was not hard to beat!


John
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We started the game needing three points, looked likely for a long time to get none and in the end should be grateful with one from what was an abject performance!

This result has made the dream of automatic European qualification look increasingly remote. We needed to close the gap on Everton and Liverpool and to stretch the gap between us and the likes of Blackburn and Manchester City. But, a point from a team who were humiliated at home by surprise FA Cup semi-finalists Cardiff last weekend leaves us trailing both of the Liverpool teams by 7 points and only 3 and 4 points clear of Blackburn and Manchester City respectively in the race for European qualification via the Intertoto Cup.

This draw will have provided new hope to Sven and Mark Hughes where a win might have left them feeling a 5 & 6 point gap may just prove too much to overhaul in the 9 remaining games, in much the same way that many of us may now feel that closing a 7-point gap will be likely to prove beyond us. But, a win for Portsmouth this weekend would see them having gone above us within a week by taking 5 points more than us over 2 games. So its not all over yet (either way) and conversely a win for us at Fratton Park would make up for last night’s dropped points and put us back on course for Europe one way or the other. Let’s hope that not for the first time this season our away form can compensate for dropped points at Villa Park.

Boro enjoy playing at Villa Park almost as much as we enjoy going up there and if they had not missed two great opportunities they could have been three up before our captain equalised from the spot. Gareth Southgate must have given them the hair dryer treatment after their cup exit because they worked very hard last night and for most of the game held the upper hand. They often seemed to have more players on the field but I suspect that as a unit they just worked harder and wanted it more.

My player ratings from a game that may ultimately provide the players with a longer summer break than they might currently be looking at are:

Scott Carson - 6 – Quickly off his line twice during this game to save what would have been likely goal scoring opportunities, on 62 minutes when first to the ball with a strong challenge on the edge of his box and earlier on 10 minutes when he did well to get down to block a shot from Tuncay before Mido somehow placed the rebound wide.

Craig Gardner – 4 – Missed a couple of early challenges and then allowed Downing to ease past him for their goal. Very dissappointing .

Zat Knight – 4 – Gift wrapped the ball for Downing to open the scoring on 23 minutes and looked far from the assured player that had kept Curtis on the bench for much of this season. This needs to be just a blip as he has a vital role to play in the run-in and we can’t play Olof at centre half and at right back!

Martin Laursen – 7 – Not quite at his immaculate best but Martin was still easily our best defender and provided some much needed solidity to our central defence.

Wilfred Bouma – 6 – A solid enough performance and unlike some of our players last night looked comfortable enough on the ball when moving forward and found other Villa shirts with his passes.

Shaun Maloney – 4 – Made very little impression on the game before his half time substitution.

Nigel Reo Coker – 7 – MOTM – Held our midfield together and it would have been overrun without his whole hearted and fully committed contribution.

Gareth Barry – 5 – Did not exert anything approaching his usual commanding influence on the game particularly in the first half. Had two moments of note, being unlucky to see his chip beat the keeper on 63 minutes but go just over and he did well to convert his 74th minute penalty and so put his previous penalty miss behind him.

Ashley Young – 6 – Kept working although not at his best either last night, did provide a regular if muted threat and his effort did lead to our penalty.

John Carew – 5 – Got very little change out of one time Villa target Huth and failed to get anywhere approaching the hat trick form he produced during his last Villa Park outing.

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 4 – So, so quiet, posed no goal threat last night and must have been hoping that Fabio was not watching this one.

Substitutes:

Olof Mellberg – 5 – Looked ring rusty on his return to first team action but was still an improvement on Craig who he replaced for the second half and he did pretty much plug up that flank.

Marlon Harewood – 6 – Replaced Shaun at half time and once again offered something from the bench that had been missing up front before his appearance. Marlon’s confidence is high and he troubles defenders, I think the time has come when he should start a game.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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We need to try and put pressure on teams at home in the first 30 minutes. First 10 might be asking a little much as players need to settle down and get hold of the game. But I certainly think at Villa Park they need to really push teams back into their halves regardless of who they are. I also think that the crowd sometimes can be a bit tepid, I for one really do give it my all and yes sometimes I do look like a fool chanting stuff that no one else has any idea (songs etc that I make up) but the point is I am making noise. The away fans should rarely be heard but more often than not they are the ones making the noise.

That said yesterdays game didn't really give us much to cheer about, but I do think for the first 15 minutes the noise level in the ground should be bordering on mental.

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