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This was what European nights at Villa Park are all about, illustrious opponents, exciting football, an animated crowd and a Villa victory!

This was a very important win against one of the very biggest European names. They might not be quite the Ajax of old at the moment but they would still prove difficult opposition for any club in Europe. Our victory against them leaves us able to hold our heads high today. That we were up for the challenge, even without John Carew says a lot for the potential impact that we could have on this competition. It also shows how big European nights at Villa Park can still raise the players who turn out in Villa shirts in the way they have done so often in the past.

What Ajax fans there were (and I had expected more) made a lot of good early sustained noise. Their team also looked bright particularly when moving forward. They were as we would have anticipated technically adept. They kept the ball well, made incisive runs (both with and without the ball), passed smoothly and looked dangerous as they moved towards our box and particularly from well delivered whipped in corners that their players ran into the box to meet and that our defenders found some difficulty in dealing with.

But, their defence proved to be their Achilles heel and in particular their keeper Vermeer struggled to master the art of dealing with crosses in the first half. This led to our early opener and we might just have run riot had Big John been available for selection and to get on the end of inviting balls that were played into their box in the first 45 minutes that caused great uncertainty to their defence. But, in the same way that our captain hit home a solid header from a corner when scarcely challenged on 8 minutes, Vermaelen did the same 14 minutes later from one of their many impressive corners. The next goal then looked crucial in deciding the game and so it proved when our former captain scored our winner on the stroke of half time to deflate Ajax as they entered their dressing room. The perfect time to score!

Martin changed things around at half time. He made sure we did not allow them the same space we had given them in the first half by pushing our defensive line further up the field when they were in possession and by getting our team to pressure Ajax more when they had the ball at their feet. He also changed the team formation back to what it had been up until last weekend before the game. These changes played a big part in our win, as did that late goal at the end of the first half and so the second half ended up a smoother less nervous affair than we may have feared. Those Ajax fans grew quieter as the Villa fans turned up the volume and as our visitors realised that the game was slowly drifting away from them.

My player ratings from a game that left us joint top of our group with Hamburg and I would suggest possibly just one more home win from qualifying from this group are:

Brad Friedel - 6 – A good low save from a goal bound effort as the game drew near to its close, otherwise he was less tested than he may have anticipated he would have been.

Luke Young – 7 – I was much relieved to see Luke starting as one of two specialist full backs for this stern test. He had a solid game at the back and also looked useful when moving forward.

Carlos Cuellar – 7 – Deserved an opportunity in the centre after his last appearance left him deputising in an unaccustomed full back berth. Looked confident at the back and handled Ajax’s forward threat well. Curtis will have been naturally upset not to start but I assume Martin was looking for Carlos’ greater European experience to help hold the defence together for this one.

Martin Laursen – 8 – Solid at the back a big threat in the air up front and he showed Ajax’s defence that you cannot give him a free header from a corner and not expect to pay the price.

Nicky Shorey – 7 – Solid in defence and did some good stuff as he moved forward, including testing their keeper with a second half effort from the edge of the box.

Nigel Reo Coker – 7 – Worked very hard as he always does.

Stiliyan Petrov – 9 – MOTM – Ran the show in the middle and looks a steal this season for the fee we paid for him. Never put a foot wrong and worked very, very, hard throughout.

Gareth Barry – 7 – Looked off the pace early on but he got better and better as the game progressed and he applied a nice finish on 45 minutes to a deflected Young cross which evaded a couple of their defenders before reaching his left foot with which he secured our win by hitting the ball into the corner of the net. He also hit a firm shot on 88 minutes when Milner fed him following a good run that the keeper needed to be alert to stop.

Ashley Young – 7 – His pace was a constant threat but his end product was not always up to its usual high standard and he needs to remember that the obvious ball may sometimes be the right one. Snatched at a good opportunity on 35 minutes from a good Milner cross, but it was his balls into the box that led to both of our goals.

James Milner – 6 – Another performance that was a little below par. James can do better and will but he is finding it harder to settle into our side than might have been expected given his previous spell with the club. But, he was unlucky to have not been given a penalty near the end when he was brought down inside the box only to be given a free-kick outside of it that led to nothing.

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 7 – Worked very hard and ran tirelessly as our lone striker until a challenge from their keeper outside the box led to his being carried off with a minute of injury time remaining.


Craig Gardner – Replaced Reo on 82 minutes not on long enough to earn a rating although was able to receive a booking.

Curtis Davies – Replaced Gabby for the last minute or so following his injury but that was not long enough to earn a rating.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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Great result for the Villa and with a little luck, we should now qualify from the group. However, i'm still a little concerned about our lack of strikers, which may catch up with us before the next transfer window in January! I do hope though that talk of us buying Doyle from Reading is a long way off the mark? To push for a top six place again in the premiership, we need quality up front and Doyle, although doing well at Reading, is not of the same quality, as say Cruz at Blackburn, or a little Russian called Arshavin!

I'm also more than a little concerned that Heskey from Wigan has been mentioned. He simply doesn't score enough goals and it worries me greatly, that MON likes him. Why? Lets hope that all this is just paper talk and Gabby recovers quickly from his knee injury. I also hope that Carew's illness will stop him from going to any more Strip Clubs the night before an important match? Ciaran

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