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Swede things aren’t made of this!


John
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We saved our worst for last as the pale imitation of the Aston Villa team that had surrendered to Sunderland 6 weeks ago again reared its ugly head to appear in place of the one that had scored 17 goals in our last four games!

So a game that could have produced a fitting farewell for Olof, that should have piled the pressure on Everton as their grip on fifth place was wrestled from their grasp in the penultimate weekend of the season and that would have secured at worst Intertoto qualification did nothing of the sort. It did guarantee Premier League football for yesterday’s opponents although the result at Craven Cottage was always likely to secure that, it also was met with a sigh of relief on the blue side of Liverpool and it allowed Mark Hughes to dream of Intertoto football in front of packed houses at Ewood Park, where up until yesterday the hopes of a full house at Blackburn looked equally unlikely as their piping us to that one Intertoto place.

So, where did it all go wrong? Well Mr Potato Head had done his homework. His sides do not play pretty football and Wigan have got unlikely results at Villa Park in the past by putting men behind the ball and pressurising better players with whole hearted effort and hard running. They identified and all but nullified our key players so that Carew and Young rarely posed a threat and as we know when Young does not play nor do we. Oh and Rafa’s unwelcome attention towards our captain can’t have helped.

So, where do we go from here? Well 3 points at West Ham would still put a positive slant on this season during which we have exceeded any reasonable expectations. It would take us over the 60 point barrier for the first time in many a year, it would secure our place in the Intertoto Cup and it would secure our place in the top six. It might even still give us fifth place if Newcastle took 3 points from Goodison Park on the last day of the season and I along with Kevin Keegan would really love it for that to happen!

My player ratings from a game that reminded us that we still have a long way to go, that demonstrated our lack of consistency, that did little to merit the maximum crowd we attracted and that gave us an opportunity to say a fond farewell to Olof, Tommy and I suspect our captain in that subdued lap of appreciation are:

Scott Carson - 6 – Did well to stop a goal bound effort on 70 minutes and so deny Valencia a hat trick (now he might be one for Martin’s shopping list) but I suspect our current loathing for all things Liverpool makes the chances of agreeing a figure with them for his services in the summer look less likely than it had before their unwelcome bid for our skipper. On the day it could be said that Kirkland seemed the more convincing of these two former Liverpool goalkeepers and that Wigan is the place we might want to look to resolve our goalkeeping question if the Liverpool option is one Martin decides not to take up. If this was to be Scott’s last game, then I hope he can restore his confidence elsewhere and he should remember that the likes of David James have come back from low points in the past.

Olof Mellberg – 8 – MOTM – Olof really wanted to go out on a high but it was not to be although not due to any lack of effort on his part. Finished the game in the central role he has filled with such competence in his time with us having again started the game in the right back role he was forced into this season. On a par with Southgate for me as our best central defender since Macca. Juve been great in our shirt Olof, thanks for the memories and we will always have those heady days against Small Heath when 3-1 & 5-1 wins put the record straight once and for all to remember together.

Zat Knight – 6 – The victim of a tactical substitution on 61 minutes and had done pretty well up until then. Glanced a header on from a Young free kick on 19 minutes that forced a stop from Kirkland. The gamble of going all out for an equaliser did not work as within 2 minutes of his going off Wigan had stretched their lead to two.

Martin Laursen – 6 – Our star defensive performer this season was also not at his usual commanding best yesterday.

Wilfred Bouma – 6 – Also not at his best before making way for Marlon, but who was? Unlucky to play a part in their freak goal on 52 minutes when his deflection made the up until likely goalless draw into a sad last home defeat. No further delays in agreeing a contract with Freddy now Martin, as we cannot afford to see a left back added to the list of players we need to bring in this summer.

Stygian Petrov – 5 – Failed to hit the level of performance he had shown in recent weeks but he was not alone in this.

Nigel Reo Coker – 5 – Some strong challenges and unfortunately was again pushed back to spend a lot of time at the back in the last half hour to cover for departing defenders.

Gareth Barry – 6 – Made some good runs in the first half and worked hard for 45 minutes but faded in the second when as captain he needed to lead from the front. Was his mind elsewhere, as it seemed to be after the game? If so, that is a real pity as he will be making a big mistake if he should ultimately decide to jump ship and not play the role he had seemed destined to in making our bright future a reality. I also suspect that within two years we will have overtaken Liverpool so think on that Gareth and on the status you have at our great football club as well as upon the feeling you could enjoy when in a few years time you stand proud in a Villa shirt with another cup in your hand and with Charlie Aitken’s appearance record in sight. For me there would be no choice, how about you?

Ashley Young – 6 – Kept working but Wigan were able to stop him by fair means and foul.

John Carew – 5 – Lacked service and was another who was allowed to give only rare glimpses of the player we know he is because of the close attention of defenders. Wasted the one opportunity he had when he miss headed a good ball from Petrov on 73 minutes. We need more out balls and threats from more areas, if teams like this are not to stop Villa in the future by closing down the supply from Ashley and the end product from Big John.

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 4 – Anonymous for too much of this game. Had a looping header pushed over the bar on 68 minutes but never looked likely to add to his recent goal tally and was another striker who suffered from a lack of service. Gabby really needs to start imposing himself during games like this and go looking for the ball when it does not find him if he is to make the England breakthrough he seeks. Marking a player with his pace should be a real headache rather than a cake walk.

Substitutes:

Patrik Berger – 4 – Replaced Zat for the last half hour and hit one terrific ball within a minute of coming on which Barry hit just wide, but for the rest of the time showed a real lack of energy and looked what he now is a player who is seeing his career flash before him as it winds down to its conclusion. We really needed another option on the bench yesterday.

Marlon Harewood – 5 – Replaced Freddy on 69 minutes but was rarely fed, so for once failed to score.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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