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Giants slain!


John
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So here ends another of our 90 minute cup runs and now all we have left to play for is the league, the UEFA Cup and the FA Cup!

Martin had been stung last season in this competition by Leicester when he rested players. He said of that, “Hindsight is a great old thing. I made some changes to the side and it didn’t work“. The same could be said of last night’s game against QPR. But, we cannot reasonably complain about Martin resting players last night given that this was our fourth game in nine days and that we face Sunderland on Saturday, Litex Thursday week and then a trip to Stamford Bridge three days later. But, last night proved that we have yet to reach the point which teams like Arsenal and Manchester United are at in that they are able to play teams that are unrecognisable from their normal starting line up and still win games against teams from the division below.

Yesterday proved that our starting line up is hard to beat but that although we have made great strides in the last transfer window we are not the same team when more than one or two of our first choice players are missing. Those who might question Nigel Reo-Coker’s contribution for example might look at how we performed without him and might wonder if he would not have stamped his authority on the midfield last night. For me the game also showed that we lack an alternative up front. Resting Gabby was a gamble as I think most of us wondered whether Marlon and John were too alike to play together up front. Was this the time to give our young prospect Delfounesco a game? And has the time also come to accept that we cannot persist with a makeshift right back particularly now we have a real one. But, as Martin said, hindsight is a great old thing.

I thought we never really got going in the first half and that this had another Leicester type performance written all over it. In the second half we did look a lot more lively but we never really threatened and their keeper did not really have a serious save to make throughout the game. We had chances but did not take them and so there was always a threat that one goal might settle this one and that it might not come from us. This was far from being a good night. Some might point to this trophy as being less prestigious than the others we are competing for but others might see this as having been our easiest route to a trophy. I see it as a mixture between the two. But, like the other 18,000 or so Villa fans who were there last night I’m never happy to lose a game, to go out of a competition or to surrender so meekly to a team that the clubs we aspire to join in the top 4 would rarely lose to at home.

My player ratings from a game that has left us more likely to attend a concert at Wembley next year than a Cup Final are:

Brad Guzan - 6 – Not a dream debut but that was not his fault. He shouts a lot which is good, he did well to come out and dive at a forward’s feet to prevent a possible second and also made a decent full length save shortly afterwards.

Craig Gardner – 4 – Looked like a fish out of water back in a position he was clearly uncomfortable in filling.

Zat Knight – 6 – Did well enough in what was a defence that had showed 4 changes from the back 5 that started against WBA.

Carlos Cuellar – 6 – Not the sort of home debut he would have been hoping for but he did reasonably well alongside a new central defensive partner in what had injuries forced the changes would have been considered a makeshift defence.

Nicky Shorey – 7 – MOTM - Our best defender last night. He looks increasingly good coming forward making some good runs and is generally steady in defence.

Isaiah Osbourne – 5 – Had his moments which included a decent run into the box on 17 minutes when he then looked to cross rather than to shoot which had looked to me the better option. Will have been happy with his new contract and with a rare start but has yet to really show in a first team shirt that he will fulfil the potential he has shown glimpses of and can have no real complaint with being replaced on 67 minutes.

Stiliyan Petrov – 6 – Another solid display in a difficult game to impress in.

Gareth Barry – 6 – Really should have equalised or at least been on target on 75 minutes when with just the keeper to beat he pushed his chip wide. Looked in need of a rest in the second half rather than the captain’s arm band but he did do some decent things in the first half.

Ashley Young – 7 – Not quite at his best but he was still our main threat. Hit a crisp effort just wide on 36 minutes and at times seemed to think he would have to win the game on his own by beating everyone in front of him rather than look around to see if someone was in a better position, in most cases nobody was though.

John Carew – 6 – Kept working without showing the end product and may have found the change of striking partner upset his rhythm.

Marlon Harewood – 5 – Given one of his rare starts but the fact that he was replaced on 67 minutes demonstrated that he did little to stake a claim for a starting place ahead of either of the present incumbents. Should have done better on 10 minutes with an effort that flew over the bar and really needs to put the chances he has away more often.

Substitutes:

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 5 – Replaced Marlon on 67 minutes with a view to his making a big difference to our previous minimal strike threat but he did not.

Wayne Routledge – 5 - A night to forget after replacing Isaiah for the last 23 minutes, particularly that late effort from a close range position in front of the goal that he somehow managed to screw wildly wide.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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