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Villa Reserves vs. small heath – Match Report


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by OutByEaster?

Five times now this season at all levels small heath have taken Villa on and on five occasions now they’ve fallen short as Villa’s reserves kept up our perfect record with a one nil victory, courtesy of the man that time forgot.

A fair crowd in the Trinity Road and isn’t it nice to see a game kick off in the warmth of a spring evenings sunshine; a real treat for the small group of small heath fans who won’t have seen sunshine before. (Except written on the side of a minibus obviously.)

Team news first and the shock of the night – Sam Williams is alive! Back from a full season and a bit of serious injury to lead the line in the absence of Nathan Delfouneso, away on England duty and Tobias Mikaelsson, out injured; he looked fit as a fiddle and raring to go.

Taylor in goal for us, with a back four from left to right of Lowry (also returning from injury), Clark, Knight and Lund behind Bannan, Salifou, Osbourne and Routledge with Berger playing in behind Lazarus Williams.

small heath gave Colin Doyle, Martin Taylor, Rafael Schmitz, Daniel De Ridder and Garry O’Connor a chance to play on the big stage.

Messrs O’Neill and McLeish took their seats in the stand, with Ian Taylor and Roy Aitken between them just in case and the game kicked off.

We started brightly with Routledge forcing an early corner and looking lively. Williams also looked sharp and straight back into his game.

Sadly, Shane Lowry took a good twenty minutes to shake off the rust and looked like a man who’d thrown one too many shrimp on the barbie early on.

A good stop from Taylor at his near post covered an early slip, before Martin Taylor somehow found himself in yards of space on the edge of our 6 yard box and put his header straight down the keepers throat.

For Villa, Barry Bannan tricked and jinked his way to the corner of the area and curled a delightful effort just wide.

De Ridder was next to have a go for them, breaking from inside his own half and beating two men before belting a ball into the Holte End from the edge of the box.

The goal came after twenty minutes with a determined Routledge winning the ball back in midfield and playing it on to Berger. Berger slipped the ball to Williams in the area who shimmied around Schmitz and placed the ball into the top corner. A really good goal, and in all honesty a finish he’d shown no signs that he was capable of before the injury. I think they’ve had him improved.

Bannan had another go shortly after but shot wide as we started to get more of a grip, but our defence was still more than a little suspect.

First Salifou was caught in possession; De Ridder went past Lowry and cut the ball across to where Jake Jervis found himself all alone on the edge of the box with only the keeper to beat.

He put it a couple of yards wide.

Taylor appeared flabbergasted.

So much so that soon after he elected to kick the ball from inside his six yard box directly to the feet of the hapless Mr Jervis ten yards away from him, and with just the two of them in our box and Taylor stranded near one of the posts, the striker managed to force a save out of him.

It seemed we felt we’d tested their shooting enough just prior to half time and we managed to regain some composure and put them on the back foot, the ball pinging around their box on a couple of occasions but refusing to fall to a Villa man.

There was just time for Taylor to show his athleticism in palming over a long-range effort from Newbury before the half time whistle. So he did.

Zat Knight managed to get back onto the field just as the referee set us off in the second half, and we seemed to be a bit more comfortable at the back. Lowry seemed much more his old self and although Clark had picked up a case of the jitters we seemed solid enough.

Berger had our first chance of the half with a free kick that was deflected wide. It led to a series of corners that saw Osbourne’s shot saved, Bannan’s volley blocked and Zat Knight almost score with an outrageous back heel.

small heath were being kept quiet at the other end and with Routledge becoming increasingly dominant down our right we were looking in good shape.

Sam Williams’s spinach ran out on the hour and James Collins, who became the third member of our league winning youth team on the pitch, replaced him. Williams was warmly applauded as he left the field. It’s good to have him back.

Osbourne’s engine allied to Berger’s brain created a couple of chances for us down our left with Osbourne sadly unable to provide a killer touch on either, and similarly Routledge’s energy and endeavour down the right weren’t matched by his finishing as he put one volley straight at the keeper then another wide.

We looked in control though and though De Ridder had a chance with a free kick from 25 yards out on 90 minutes; we never really looked like giving it up once darkness had fallen.

Back to the top of the table for our reserves and just one more derby game to go this season, let’s hope it goes as well as this one.

Some ratings;

Taylor (6) – Some good things and some bad things. He made a couple of decent saves and handled reasonably, but the kicking error he made was a stinker and his concentration generally wasn’t quite there.

Lund (7) – Solid as always, and possibly the only member of our defensive unit who didn’t manage a howler at some point in the evening. Eric just quietly goes about his job from week to week, efficiently Scandinavian and with very clean looking hair.

Knight (7) – A decent performance and other than one alarming free kick across the field he was calmness personified. If his back heel had come off I think we’d be hearing about it for weeks.

Clark (6) – Looked less assured than I’ve seen him look before and seemed to let an early error affect him, on a couple of occasions he got into excellent defensive positions before mis-hitting his clearances. The good news is that the hard bit is teaching defenders how to be in excellent defensive positions. He’s a very young man and an excellent prospect; he’ll have ups and downs along the way.

Lowry (6) – Hasn’t played for a while and looked shattered in the warm up, it’s testimony to his mental strength and determination that he actually got better as the game went on and by the end had small heaths right winger in his pocket. I’m sure he’d have preferred to be playing centre half, but this 90 minutes will have done him good.

Routledge (8) – Our best player on the night I thought, just edging Bannan, he looked a lot livelier and a lot sharper than when I’ve seen him before and as the game wore on some of the confidence started to visibly reappear in his game. A shame he didn’t pick up a goal, but this was a much much better performance.

Salifou and Osbourne (7) – I’ve grouped them together as I thought they played similarly in some ways, they both grafted all night and Salifou in particular showed defensive qualities I didn’t know he had. They both did their fair share of getting forward too, but what they mostly brought to the game was control, either with their harrying, their passing or their movement, they seemed involved in absolutely everything that happened.

Bannan – (8) There’s a chance that Barry Bannan’s size might stop him making it at the highest level. Just in case it does, you should get down to a reserve game and catch him while you can. I love watching Barry play it’s an absolute joy. He plays like you do in your head. He keeps the ball moving constantly, he’s got tricks, his passing is fantastic and he never ever stops running. He was the liveliest man on the park for much of the game and he’d played and scored twice the day before yesterday.

Berger – (7) Like Jerry Jagger, the legs aren’t what they once were but he can still put on a show of elegance. It’s just a shame his body can’t keep up with his football brain anymore because he still has the ability to see a game three steps ahead of anyone else. Worked hard tonight and excelled in flashes.

Williams - (8) A really good performance from a player who in all honesty I didn’t think would ever pull on the Claret and Blue again. He disappeared at least a year ago and yet he came back tonight not just back to his former levels, but better than I’ve seem him. Good with his back to goal and in the air he might well have solved our striking crisis for the reserves and could yet find himself a most unlikely title winner.

Collins – (6) James huffed and puffed tonight but couldn’t find a chance, but he again showed his willingness to work for the team and give his midfield options.

Next up for the second string on the title trail, Portsmouth at Villa Park on the 9th April.

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