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A stalemate, but the positives are claret & blue ones!


John
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Well we have been looking for a clean sheet and now we have one, unfortunately that coincided with our own strike force drawing a rare blank!

I approached today’s game hoping with more cause than for many a season that we could get that long awaited home win against Liverpool. After all, Rafa was missing two first choice midfield players in Stevie Gerrard and his alleged mate who was appearing against them in a Villa shirt rather than in the red one that it had seemed all summer long that he would have been wearing by yesterday (Fashion tip Gareth - Claret & Blue is this year’s colour all of the best young English players are now wearing it!).

I looked at today’s teams on paper before the game and for the first time in a long time I considered we looked more than a match for them. After all, we had outspent them in the summer after running them close for much of last season with what was then but no longer is a small squad. They had brought in a striker who had been denied his dream move to us many years ago from Wolves because we had not matched his selling club’s asking price and in doing so, they had left themselves without enough money or was it the will, to secure what had once been said to be their main summer transfer target’s dream move from us. But, this was no dream move. It was a prolonged flirtation that did neither player nor potential purchasing club anything other than harm. By the end of this season, I trust that Gareth will see that the dream may have in reality proved to be a nightmare and surely he will see that Randy & Martin’s transfer dealings this summer do demonstrate the ambition he had been reportedly been looking to see at our football club before he committed himself to it’s future. Martin had asked him to give it until the end of this season to decide. If Gareth needs that long then fair enough, but I would suspect that our performances will as the season progresses make him happy that he is still in our shirt rather than in their’s and looking at the shirt they turned out in yesterday few would disagree.

I really think this season may put us on the verge of something special in the same way as the late seventies did. We have a young team that will only get better as they develop together over the next couple of seasons and as they become accustomed to playing with each other during this one. We will have good games and bad along the way as we did under Ron Saunders. But, I suspect the good days will be more frequent than the bad ones as they were then. Our target this season should be 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th with a good cup run or two as well as getting into the groups stages in Europe. Challenging Manchester United and Chelsea for the title at home and abroad will come later, but I now think it will come and that the club that won both the title and the European Cup in the early eighties might just do the same with a manager that did it shortly before we did as a player. I might be proved wrong, but as Ron Saunders once asked, do you want to bet against us?

My player ratings from a game that left us seventh, still ahead of last season’s champions, with competition for places almost throughout the team that makes players pull out all of the stops to make the starting eleven and with Liverpool more happy than we were with a point; are:

Brad Friedel - 6 – Rarely tested but he did what was expected of him when he was although he might be less than pleased with some of his kicking.

Luke Young – 6 – Unlucky to be replaced following what had been an encouraging performance and having been crying out for a right back for so long, I was a little concerned to see him on the bench for the last 25 minutes when Liverpool might have been expected to see this tactical and positive substitution as representing a potential defensive weakness.

Curtis Davies – 8 – Responded very well to the prospect of losing his place today and stood out in a defence that did very well. On this form he will be very, very difficult to leave out when Carlos is fit to compete for one of the two central defensive positions.

Martin Laursen – 7 – I have had some concerns about the potential impact on his exemplary performances of last season of his appointment as skipper but he was steady enough today against opponents who rarely fail to hit the target at least once in 90 minutes. Martin told Ashley just where and how he wanted the ball presented to him from a free kick with 5 minutes remaining but headed wide when it was placed there invitingly.

Nicky Shorey – 6 – Steady enough but needs to work on his distribution which was a big part of his game at Reading and which I’m sure will improve as he becomes more familiar with his new colleagues.

Nigel Reo Coker – 8 – MOTM – Considering the number of different positions he was expected to fill during this game this was some performance. Had a terrific run from one end of the field to another in the first half to win a corner and prevented Keane pulling the trigger on 73 minutes with a match saving challenge when the ex-Villa target had run clear with only Brad to beat and he does not miss many of those.

Stiliyan Petrov – 7 – Another good display. The fierce competition for places in our midfield is clearly now having the desired affect not just for Stiliyan but for the midfield as a whole.

Gareth Barry – 6 – Will have been glad to get this game over with. Not yet at his sublime best but he now needs to get over the disruptive summer and focus on performing to the level he did last season with us as well as with England.

Ashley Young – 6 – Kept all too quiet yesterday. Rafa clearly recognised the potent threat that Ashley represents and how keeping him quiet does much the same to the strike force as a whole, particularly in the absence of the threat on the other side that Milner will provide. Ashley would have wanted to show more to show how wrong Fabio was to leave him out of a second England squad.

John Carew – 6 – Young pulled the ball back for him from what had looked an offside position on 34 minutes but John’s shot was straight at the keeper whose legs prevented what had looked a good opportunity for an opener.

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 4 – Disappointing and might he have been the one to make room for Milner? Was he distracted by press reports today or was this a repeat of his performance against Manchester City without the 7 minutes of magic that led to one recent hat-trick he could take pride in? Gabby really needs to build upon what he had shown against Mark Hughes’ team, to produce what he did then on a regular basis and to let his football earn him the headlines which need to be on the back page rather than elsewhere. Can do a lot better than this.

Substitutes:

James Milner – 6 – Welcome back James! Our record signing replaced Luke Young on 65 minutes, I suspect because the midfield had been performing too well to replace him with one of them. Did well enough in what time he had and hit a shot on 82 minutes that might have just have given him a dream return had the keeper not got to it but he will become a tremendous asset as he and his new colleagues become increasingly familiar with each other.

Craig Gardner – Replaced Shorey on 79 minutes to leave us with two temporary full backs (although surprisingly he was not one of them) as we went in search of a late winner and so at an increased risk of a late defeat.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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As far as Gabby is concerned, I think we should probably accept that his skill is as a scorer, purely and simply. He has proved that he can be lethal in that department, and if more chances were got to him everyone would be praising him, I'm sure. Don't forget, what did Jimmy Greaves ever do but score pots of goals ... Some say he never took a shot outside of the penalty area - well, I think Gabby is a similar breed.

Not a bad performance at all - a half-time lead would have made the world of difference.

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Lets hold on here a minute. I got increasingly fustrated at our inability to break down what was the worst Liverpool side i have ever seen. They were without their two best attacking players and were obviously playing for a draw. It was as well Liverpool were playing us and not any other of the top three!

I think what this game has told us, is that, even after 40 odd million spent, we still lack the creativity in midfield to break top four defences down.

We are certainly without a Wayne Rooney type of player, who can play behind a striker, or strikers and play a defence spliting pass to them.

However, there is one available in Russia at the moment, called Arshavin, who would do this for us and can play the final quality ball.

The Liverpool game also told me that Carew, who played like a tooth fairy, without any aggression, is not going to score the 20 goals a season to allow us to break into the top four and neither is Gabby, who, still has difficulty holding the ball up!

Why oh why, MON, did we not buy Crouch and Defoe, who are off and running with Portsmouth?

Before the transfer window closes today MON, can we please have Arshavin, plus a quality striker and please, please, please, not Doyle from Reading?

Ciaran Doherty.

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Nice to hear from you again John, I'm sure Gabby would love to think that he might one day be compared to Greavsie seriously. I would be happy if he turned out half the player that Jimmy was.

Ciaran, I would have loved us to have gone for Defoe (I suspect we once did but he could not see the lure of a move up North as he might have seen it), as for Crouch I did not really want him back again and I think he too may have preferred to ply his trade with Harry. Arshavin would be a super signing but I think he is destined to go elsewhere. I will wait and see but I'm happy with how far we have moved forward already in this window and another signing would be the icing on the cake.

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I think that it's still far too early days to judge the situation anyway.

Barry, I feel, has still a way to go before he gets truly back on song, and we have several new players who have got to learn how to gel. Our longer term prospects are, imo, better than Portsmouth's.

The main worry for me was that Carew looked like a bit of a carthouse, and he missed one excellent chance and also another earlier in the game when the keeper sent a clearance straight to him, and which he somehow contrived to send back for a goalkick.

We're doing OK, but a new striker and two or three more matches should see a world of difference.

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