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A very damp squib!


John
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Two successive league defeats have seen the gap that had developed between us and the likes of Everton shrink to almost nothing now. This is the second time in a week we have shunned the opportunity to climb back into the top 4. Will that opportunity come again this season? If it does will we grasp the opportunity at the third time of asking?

The last goal was always likely to settle a game in which (perhaps surprisingly) there was little to choose between the two teams. On another day we might have converted one of the chances we had to make it 2-1 before the 88th minute. But on another day we might also not have presented the game to them on a platter due to two defensive howlers, the second of which followed another error that Alves contrived to put wide. But sadly we did not heed that warning.

Those two embarrassing defensive lapses led to this first home league defeat of the season. Boro are a side we can beat for fun away but one that all too often we struggle to beat at Villa Park. I had hoped that this season would be different and that we could pull clear of the rest and possibly turn the big 4 into a big 5. But, the last two games were against opponents that the top 4 clubs would not have lost against or at the very least would not have lost both games against. November has been a bad month for us in the past and to stop it ruing our great start to the season we will now need points from our next two league games that we will start as underdogs having failed to get any from our last two games that we had started as clear favourites. Anyone want to bet against us?

Boro started the game with some neat work up front and proved a handful for our defence. They created the better chances and we had more than one player who was performing below par. We also sorely missed Big John up front, Young at the back and Petrov in the centre. Gabby on his own up front does not really work and Martin seems reluctant to play Marlon alongside him when John is missing. When Young is missing we have our failings of last season exposed once again. Cuellar like Gardner is not a right back (or a left back either) and they have both shown that more than once. Stiliyan has been our most influential and effective midfielder so far this season and his injury has disjointed our midfield unit. So was this result due to our European commitments? As half of the team did not play in Prague and as we are only just into November that argument does not really hold water (although there was plenty of that).

My player ratings from a game that not for the first time left me wondering why Martin prefers to take off a full back rather than to make a like for like substitution and that produced our fifth defeat on the trot with Styles in charge and Boro’s fifth win on the trot with him officiating (not that I am implying anything!) are:

Brad Friedel - 6 – Steady enough, but pushed a low shot straight at Alves who missed a golden opportunity to clinch the points from inside the 6 yard box on 82 minutes.

Carlos Cuellar – 5 – Did very well to take the ball from Tuncay’s feet on 22 minutes when he had looked likely to open the scoring before he actually did. But, he looked uncomfortable on the ball when moving forward and could not exploit the spaces that full backs need to.

Curtis Davies – 7 – A solid performance. We have three very good central defenders but that creates a problem when we can only play two at the same time.

Martin Laursen – 7 – MOTM - Near to his best at the back last night, it was a pity that their forwards kept him too busy to provide the level of threat he so often provides at the other end.

Nicky Shorey – 5 – Badly at fault on 34 minutes when his indecision left the ball at Tuncay’s feet for their opener. He seemed to be trying to chest the ball down with a view to controlling it in a dangerous position rather than taking the easy and obvious option of heading the ball back from where it had come. The error spoilt an otherwise reasonable performance.

James Milner – 7 – Hit a perfectly weighted cross for our equaliser and on about three occasions almost threaded the ball through their defence to feed Gabby.

Nigel Reo Coker – 6 – Not at his best last night.

Gareth Barry – 6 – Had his moments but we expect him to impose himself more on a game than he did last night

Steve Sidwell – 6 – From hero to villain? Steve applied the requisite finish to Milner’s cross on 37 minutes with a well placed header from close range. Got onto the end of a good Milner cross on 52 minutes but headed over where Carew would have probably buried what looked a more than decent opportunity. Glanced a header just wide in injury time and his only blot on the copy book was that moment of madness on 88 minutes when he hit a half pass into the box to nobody in particular without looking that led to their winner. It was a big blot and it cost him MOTM!

Ashley Young – 6 – Hit a free kick from the edge of the box that got a deflection off a defender’s outstretched arm in the wall that Turnbull needed to tip over on 27 minutes and he hit a shot from the edge of the box on 65 minutes that Turnbull needed to parry. Ash also did his bit at the back when he headed a Riggott header off the line when guarding the post in the second half. But, this was a below par performance for him.

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 6 – Held the ball up a little better than he has done sometimes in the past. Was put clear by Barry on 50 minutes but his last touch was too strong and he took it wide of the keeper to make a block all too easy for him. Also headed wide on 81 minutes when he really should have been on target.

Substitutes:

Marlon Harewood – 6 – Replaced Shorey on 70 minutes and should have done better when he was put clear but took too many touches in trying to get the ball onto his preferred foot.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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Hi John. A more than fair report on the Boro match. I however am going to be less diplomatic about the Boro and indeed Newcastle game. I have been frustrated watching our Villa team win and lose during the season. Although we have beaten the mighty, but now very average Ajax and and a very good, but unlucky Slavia Prague in Europe, our performances in the Premiership have been troubling me. I have watched the majority of our Premiership games and have waited on our team playing the kind of flowing football that would make 'Big Ron's' tan light up Villa Park! What i have seen is Martin O'Neill's Leicester playing in Villa's colours. Against Newcastle and Boro, we were full of spirit and endeavour, but without the one thing that all of the top four have, class! We struggle to keep hold of the ball and our midfield reminds me of Leicester's Robbie Savage and Muzzy Izzet, tenacious, but not having the class to trouble the top four. GB is probably an exception to this, but even he was totally outclassed against Chelsea's Lampard. Reo-Coker has been a really poor signing and the signing of Sidwell hasn't been much better. We also lack guile up front, with Agbonlahor unable to hold the ball up and we are too reliant on Carew, who is injury prone! I also want to know why MON bought Young and Shorey as our new fullbacks, and then doesn't seem to have the confidence to play both players together, now preferring to play one of our new centre backs (Cuellar) at right back. I thought i'd seen the last of that from MON. We now go to Arsenal on Sat Nov 15 and host Man U on Sat Nov29, which will tell us where we are after spending 50million in the summer. I certainly hope our last two Premiership defeats were just a nervous stumble, rather than a sign of things to come? Come on Villa, show us that against Arsenal and Man U that we are not the new Leicester, but Martin O'Neill's new Villa, full of, not only spirit and endeavour, but the one thing that has been missing this season, class! Ciaran Doherty.

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