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Raining Champions: Villa Reserves vs. Arsenal – match report


bickster
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The season is coming to an end for both the first team and the Stiffs, which is sad as I'll miss our fantastic reserve reports from OBE but here is one of the final match reports of the season, savour it, summer is nearly here...........

Villa’s second string lifted the Premier Reserve League South trophy at Villa Park in monsoon conditions tonight after a one all draw with ten-man Arsenal.

I watched from a padded seat.

On nights like this it can’t be easy being a footballer, it was cold, and it rained from 10 minutes before kick off until…well it hasn’t stopped yet. Not a light drizzle either, proper rain; heavy banks of big wet rain, coming in relentlessly from the darkest cloudiest sky you could hope to see. No fun to play in I’m sure.

I couldn’t help but think that as I wandered up and down the corridor of the Park Suite in the Trinity Road Stand, admiring the photomontages of great players from Villa’s history and the depth of the carpet beneath my feet. The rain had got no better by the time I returned to the bar and was pouring down over Aston Park which lay sodden beneath me and my pint of Guinness in the relaxed confines of the lounge.

I’m not sure who I and the other forty or fifty contented Villans have to thank for the privilege of our executive experience, but it was a fantastic idea by the club and I’m going to credit the very enthusiastic Lee Preece and the very lovely Katrina.

Anyway, enough of my comforts, on the pitch Villa lined up with Taylor in goal, a back four (from left to right) of Baker, Lowry, Roome and Lund, Bannan, Osbourne, Salifou and Herd were our midfield quartet and Andreas Weimann the surprise starter up front with Sam Williams.

From the moment I settled in to the luxurious padded seats behind the press area it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a classic game to watch; conditions were treacherous and players from both sides were losing their footing.

Villa looked the brighter though, without creating much in the way of chances, Williams almost playing Weimann in and Salifou having a penalty shout turned down. We were on top without a cutting edge.

A Bannan free kick whistled a yard over and Weinmann headed wide when he might have done better, but the game looked all set to drift into half time at nil-nil until Osbourne’s through ball found Williams bounding through. Arsenals keeper came rushing a long way out of his goal and with the conditions making it impossible for him to stop Williams found it a simple enough task to slip it past him and find the foul.

A pretty straightforward red card for Vito Mannone delivered promptly by the referee who was of course immediately surrounded by half of the Arsenal team.

Wojciech Szczesny who had done well in the academy game on Saturday came on and Arsenal went to a four-four-one.

Bannan put the resulting free quick over again, but a little closer this time. Sadly he didn’t get another go.

The players trudged off looking for all the world like they’d be quite happy not to come out again as the rain roared on unabated.

Villa again started brightly with Weimann shooting over after a good run as Nathan Delfouneso was cajoled out of the dry cover of the dug out to warm up.

He came on just after the hour for Weimann and soon had a run at the Arsenal defence who crowded him out before he could get a shot away.

Barry Bannan who had spent much of the second half as a lonely spectator on the left wing was finally remembered by a colleague and cut inside before shooting just wide with the outside of his foot.

Forrester was the next Villa sub on, replacing Bannan on 75 minutes.

Delfouneso won a corner with a strong run and Herd headed just over from Forrester’s ball in, but a goal was starting to look unlikely.

Lowry tried a turn and shot next, but fired wide, before Salifou played in Albrighton, on as a sub for Roome, his shot was saved by the keeper.

Into the last ten minutes and from the resulting corner Baker’s header was very well saved by the hard to spell Arsenal number one, the second corner was headed out toward the sideline by an Arsenal defender but fell to Herd who banged it across for Nathan Delfouneso to finish neatly and give us a one nil lead with just a couple of minutes left.

The goal brought a flurry of Villa attacks, with Forrester shooting first over the bar and then into the keeper’s arms and Albrightons ball almost finding the head of Herd.

With seconds left though, Osbourne and Herd dallied with Herd getting caught on the ball by Kieren Gibbs. The Arsenal forward avoided Herd’s last ditch rugby tackle and beat Taylor with a firm finish to win an unlikely point for his team, who in truth perhaps deserved some reward for their efforts with ten men.

The ref blew up immediately (not exploded you understand, I mean gave a blast on his whistle) and the Villa celebrations began.

I’m always surprised at the size of this trophy, and the lads certainly looked delighted with it. Long term injury victim Stephen O’Halloran and Mustapha Salifou lifting it up to warm applause from the cheap seats and comfortable murmuring from those of us in more luxurious surrounds.

The subs, all back from the dressing room after a good drying off were sprayed with the water bottles of the soaked through but happy Champions, Harry Forrester led a heart warming rendition of Queens “We are the Champions” and we were.

Congratulations to everyone involved in the reserve teams success this season, I wish them all the best of luck in the play off game against Liverpool next week, and as I left Villa Park, passing former hero Ian Taylor on the stairs, I couldn’t help but think that this might not be the last time we see some of these future heroes with a trophy.

Some ratings:

Taylor (7): Solid and reassuring like a big oak table, he couldn’t quite get to the late equaliser but dealt with the conditions very well.

Lund (8.): A really good game for Eric the Viking despite the fact that he struggled for footing for most of it, his tacking and anticipation were excellent tonight and he looked like he thoroughly enjoyed planting a big smacker on the trophy.

Lowry (7): A good solid performance and there didn’t look a way past him, looks much better at centre half.

Roome (7): Not a regular starter for the reserves but did very well. Not the tallest of centre backs but he’s a tough beggar and tackled like a lion whenever he got the chance.

Baker (6): Quieter game for the youngster on the left but was still unlucky not to score late on with a fine header.

Bannan (7): A quieter game too for the mighty atom, he had half the field to himself for much of the second half but sadly despite waving his arms like a demented windmill seemed unable to attract the attentions of his team mates. When he did get it he did well.

Salifou (7): A sensible performance of effort rather than style in a difficult game for midfielders. Got into shooting positions on a couple of occasions but seems to have forgotten the cannon shot we saw earlier in the year.

Osbourne (6): Struggled with the conditions and seemed a little off his best tonight, his through ball to Williams that led to the sending off was the high point.

Herd (7): Likes to get involved in everything and was up and down the field all night, creating a goal and looking the pick of our midfield for 90 minutes. Hopefully he’ll learn from the daft error he made in the 91st minute.

Weimann (7): Looks clever, bright and inventive. He’s still only young and I have high hopes for him next year.

Williams (7): Worked his socks off, did really well in the air and held the ball up very well. He’s your archetypal big man up front, and even if it’s not with us I’ll be surprised if there isn’t a future in football for big Sam somewhere.

Subs.

Delfouneso (7): Looks fabulous with the ball at his feet and occasionally not so bright when he hasn’t got it; you can forgive him that though just for the simple fact that if the ball comes anywhere near him in the box he finds the back of the net. Next year could be Nathan’s.

Albrighton (7): Worked the Arsenal left back from the moment he came on and whipped in a couple of excellent balls. He’s a proper winger and great to watch; I wish there were more of them about.

Forrester (7): Harry Cool, he never looks flustered, always seems to have a bit of space and tends to make the right decisions. Suffered like Bannan before him from being a little isolated on the left but managed to get a couple of efforts on goal away during the short time he was on.

That’s your lot. It’s been a cracking season for these boys, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself, the reserves is a fantastic place to watch your football and these lads have certainly lived up to their billing, there’s certainly enough talent here to suggest we could repeat this feat next season, but for now I hope they just enjoy that winning feeling.

All together now, sing it with Harry…

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