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Our dynamic duo strike back!


John
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So we did not stall at home this time and we took the opportunity to go 4th and to set up a potential 6 pointer against Arsenal on Boxing Day, which subject to our result next week at West Ham could see us pulling away from the Wenger boys to make it happy holidays for one and all at B6.

This time we followed a bright away performance with an equally dazzling home one. That is what we need to do consistently to build on our challenge to the big four and to make it a big 5, if Arsenal are good enough to stay in the leading pack!

Bolton hit an early goal and on the back of a recent winning away record would have probably backed themselves to keep a blank sheet against us at Villa Park as have Fulham among others in past weeks. But, games between there two sides often provide more goals than one would expect and yesterday the lions share of the 6 goals belonged to us. Bolton just could not cope with Ashley & Gabby’s well timed runs. But, before we opened our account they had rattled the woodwork 4 minutes after they had taken the league and would we have come back so surely from a 2 goal deficit as we did from a one goal one? But, having stung November’s Manager of the Month, Megson with our two goal reply, had it not been for referee Probert’s incompetence the game would most likely have been won before half time but he missed Cahill’s clear hand ball inside the box, as he did more than one strong challenge by desperate Bolton defenders on Ashley Young. Still no matter we can win games despite the referee’s intervention and too often need to do so.

Performances like this will have the rest of the country and particularly our opponents on Boxing Day feeling that we might just be the real deal this season. Going fourth on the back of a 4 goal thumping of The Trotters makes waves where a one nil victory would not. We now need to carry on this good run into the festive games and that game against West Ham (another side who we often share the odd goal or four with) needs to be one that we take 3 points from to keep this impetus going. But, before that we have the tasty treat of a trip to Hamburg, the result of which could go a long way to making our chances of success in the next round more likely. So, do we play an under strength team in Germany and risk defeat and a tie against a Champions League side in the next round? Or do we play our full strength team with a view to ending in the top 2 of the group and placing our performance against West Ham at risk due to tired legs? Or do we do something between these two options? I would go for option 3 myself.

My player ratings from a game that ended in a comprehensive win that put one of the so called big four under real pressure are:

Brad Friedel - 6 – Picked the ball out of the net twice but had a quiet day otherwise.

Carlos Cuellar – 7 – Seems to be becoming more familiar with this role. Likely to get another game in the centre in Hamburg I suspect and I liked his back header on 64 minutes that tested the keeper.

Curtis Davies – 7 – Placed a header wide on 23 minutes that he would have liked to have got on target and probably should have. Very solid at the back throughout.

Martin Laursen – 7 – Has had more commanding games at the back but got to work up front again and it was the strong challenge on him that led to Davies scoring once again at Villa Park (but this time for us).

Luke Young - 7 – At times shows he wants the ball to be on his other foot and I’m sure he would be more comfortable on the right but he is doing an increasingly good job on his wrong side and thus accommodating Carlos in the team at Shorey’s expense. Might be due a game on the right in midweek?

James Milner – 6 – Did well to make the side and was clearly not 100%.

Stiliyan Petrov – 7 – Another 110% display from Stiliyan.

Gareth Barry – 7 – Hit a good cross that would have found Laursen but did find Davies for our equaliser. Played his usual key role in our midfield.

Steve Sidwell – 6 – Better than of late but just failed on a couple of occasions to get that vital touch that could have produced goals, most noticeably when Marlon squared the ball late on, but the positive is that he got into the positions.

Ashley Young – 8 – Too hot for the Bolton defence to handle throughout. He worked so well with Gabby today. Hit our fourth on 78 minutes when Gabby did well to tee him up and his bullet shot from the edge of the box beat the keeper with the assistance of a deflection.

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 9 – MOTM – If he could maintain this level of performance week in and week out Villa would have the next first choice England striker on our hands. The challenge is out for you Gabby grab it! Started with an early effort into the side netting from a Ashley Young cross and then nodded the ball up and hit it on the volley when it came down into the corner of the net for our equaliser. That was some goal and some performance! Then on 35 minutes having again run through he slotted the ball through Cahill and but for the outstretched arm of Jaaskelainen would have had a second before he did. Gabby completed his brace on 67 minutes when he applied a lovely finish to Young’s terrific cross for our third.

Substitutes:

Nigel Reo Coker – 7 – Replaced Milner on 68 minutes. A very strong performance and I thought that he added something to our midfield in those last twenty odd minutes. I would start him against Hamburg but in the middle rather than at full back.

Marlon Harewood – 7 - Replaced Ashley on 81 minutes and did well to chase down the ball near the end and to beat Jaaskelainen to a ball he had no right to win. Looked like he was enjoying this brief outing.

Nicky Shorey – Replaced Gabby on 87 minutes for a rare run out but was not on long enough to earn a rating. Must be itching to get a try again in the left back slot as is Luke is to get back to the other flank.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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Hi John. Another fab report on what was a fantastic performance by the lads, in particular, Gabby and Messi, oh sorry, i mean Young! Thought that the way Bolton were set up on Saturday, holding a high line, was ideal for our counter attacking football and both Gabby and our Messi took full advantage. Silly boy Megson. Not going to be manager of the month, eh, next month? Agree with your comment about Sidwell. Played better and i still say we look a better team with him in our midfield, instead of Reo-Coker, although i'm still not a great fan of either! Also noted your concerns about the team for the Hamburg game and again i agree with your comments. Our second string are not going to be good enough for this game, but i believe that after the Everton and Bolton results, our first team's confidence should pull us through the next three games ok. All professional footballers want to play in a winning team and our lot should be no different. Remember the old Shanks and Paisely Liverpool teams who played many matches in the space of 14 days due to their success. If we stay free of injuries and MON is active in the January transfer window, with two forwards, a creative midfielder purchased and cover purchased for the fullback positions, then we can give Gabby, the two Youngs and Bary a well earned rest! Ciaran.

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Thanks Ciaran. I hope you are right about these next 3 games because with Arsenal playing Liverpool when we take on West Ham we might still have the edge on them come Boxing Day and how happy would we all be with a 7 point gap between us and them come Boxing Night? But, of course that is the perfect case scenario & most likely more than we can really expect Santa to give us but who knows?

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Must mention I do like the reports you put in, and would agree to pretty much the whole of this one.

Just one thing, is you seem to mention the comming game against arsenal as a kind of look over the shoulder thing, whereas I`d itteate the fact we`ve overtaken them (for now) and should be concentrating more on those teams in front of us (such as Man U, one point and a game in hand).

If we can keep up the fine displays week in, week out, 4th position should not be an issue, rather 2nd or 3rd (both Chelsea and Man U are slipping on the form they`ve enjoyed in previous years).

Hamburg shouldn`t really be an issue, as both teams are through, and it`s basicly a game running out the winter season for them (Bundesliga finnished on Sunday for a couple of months, so playing up a handfull of our second guard isn`t as unreasonable as it may seem at first glance, as match practice is a welcome change for some of them, and a chance to prove themselves for the real league starting line up.

Will be driving up to the game on Wednesday (800KM), not really expecting a thriller though.

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Hi John. Many thanks for your comments. Sometimes it may seem that i critisize a little too much, but it is only due to the fact that, like you, i am passionate about 'The Villa' and we have a great opportunity to do something really great this year. I also feel MON is doing a great job with Villa, although i haven't agreed with some of his signings. However, you simply can't argue with fourth place, athough this may also be partly due to the top four not being as consistent as usual and yes, we have also improved with the additional signings! Lets hope the lads don't falter on tired legs and we can set ourselves up for a fantastic season ahead with a few quality January signings. Regards, Ciaran.

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Thanks for the kind words and I love your confidence Overdubber. We are only a point in front of Arsenal and face a game against them that could either stretch our lead to the sort of point that we could really think that fourth can be ours or they could win and push past us again. I think the battle is for fourth. Anything else would be a bonus and come to think of it I was saying 4th would be a bonus at the start of the season. That we can talk seriously about a top 4 place shows how far we have come but I won't stop looking over my shoulder until we have 10 points on Arsenal but if doing that puts us above one of the present top 3 then so be it. :winkold:

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