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Villa Reserves vs. West Ham – a match report


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An adventure in Leicestershire for Kevin McDonald and his merry men; to Hinckley for a game against an exceptionally strong West Ham XI. Surely only an idiot would make a seventy mile round trip for a reserve game….

I set out from central Birmingham at half five and arrived five minutes before kick off, where I had the difficult choice between the seats of the main stand or the standing area opposite. It’s a nice little ground, and easy enough to find, and the locals seemed to understand English and couldn’t have been more helpful. I chose to stand.

The team sheet gave me a fright, with West Ham choosing to field a line up that included £6m man Kieron Dyer, Diego Tristan with 15 full international caps for Spain, Jonathon Spector a £500,000 signing with almost a hundred first team games under his belt, and their two bright prospects Sears and Tomkins, who already have 23 games under their belt.

Quite a challenge for a Villa side that lined up with Stuart Taylor in goal, a back four of (left to right) Lowry – Clark - Roome – Lichaj, with Tobias Mikaelsson rather surprisingly on the left of a midfield quartet that included Bannan, Hofbauer and Albrighton on the other flank, and completed by Sam Williams and Andy Weimann up front; an inexperienced but talented bunch.

Miss Amy Rayner, our referee for the evening got us underway on a good pitch in front of a small but lively crowd. From the off it was clear that whilst the lack of atmosphere from the stands wasn’t great for the players, for the fans it was fantastic as we could hear every word said on the pitch.

“Switch on early!” shouted Taylor and Villa did, with Bannan skipping past a man and shooting at the keeper, but West Ham were switched on too and the whole game was played at an incredible pace. The Hammers had a couple of half chances, and looked to be edging things wit Tristan heading over, then having an effort saved by Taylor.

Villa countered with a seventy yard lung busting run from Lichaj which ended with him tackled just outside the West Ham box, Williams picked up on the rebound and hit a shot which the keeper, Stech could only parry. Weimann pounced and stuck the rebound home, only to turn and find the linesman’s flag raised.

Tackles had been flying in throughout the half, and right in front of the dugouts, a West Ham player (possibly Jordan Spence) took a dislike to a fairly innocuous challenge by Clarke and appeared to throw an arm at him. MacDonald was furious, but Miss Rayner elected to take no action.

As the half hour mark arrived, Villa had a good spell of pressure, first Albrighton shooting over, then Williams into the keepers midriff. We were getting down the flanks and putting good crosses into the box, although to their credit, Stech and his central defenders were very solid when called upon.

With just a few minutes to go until half time, trouble flared again in front of the dugouts, this time Diego Tristan showing a very South American temperament in reacting to Clarke with an arm, then squaring up to him. They performed the traditional heads together ritual before being separated by other players.

Again there was no action from the referee, and again MacDonald was furious. He didn’t swear though, not in front of a lady; he’s the epitome of a big angry Scottish gentleman.

Half time, and the first half had flown by; fast, furious and occasionally fierce.

West Ham started the second half very brightly, with some crisp passing and good movement from Sears and co. but were struggling to break down the Villa back four.

Hofbauer had a half chance at the other end, but shot weakly at the keeper.

We had a very hopeful penalty shout shortly after, with a defender accused of bundling over Williams and although they sometimes get given, I don’t think this one was a penalty.

Albrighton almost broke the deadlock a moment later though, his shot deflected and looping over the keeper who pulled out an excellent save.

A half chance for Williams was spurned on the hour, and with West Ham again looking dangerous at the other end, Villa appeared to be tiring.

The keeper produced another block and Weimann volleyed wide from a corner however, as the chances kept on coming.

MacDonald switched Albrighton over to the left, and it seemed to provide us with renewed vigour.

A double substitution saw Kieron Dyer leave the field with a good run out under his belt, West Ham fans will be pleased about that, he looked bright, but the burst of pace he once had seemed to have gone.

Villa provided the moment of the match shortly afterward, a short corner found Hofbauer on the edge of the box, he crossed for Williams who powered a header to the top corner and Marek Stech pulled out an absolute wonder save to tip it over the bar.

His save from the resulting corner was altogether more regulation, Lowry not quite finding the direction he wanted.

Mikaelsson went off for Collins with ten minutes left, looking just about as tired as I’ve ever seen a footballer look.

Whilst it always looked like one or the other side might snatch it in the dying minutes, (and both sides had attempts) neither side could break the deadlock, and there was just time for Diego Tristan to have another hissy fit and wave his finger at Clark before the ref blew for full time.

A really good entertaining game of football this, despite the lack of goals, there was passion, skill, effort and chances galore. Villa’s youngsters can take great pride in having matched a much more experienced outfit.

On the way home I saw a pub with a windmill and a place where they make motorbikes.

Our next home game at Hinckley is next Monday, the 19th January. If you’re in the area (or even if you’re not) have a look.

Some ratings;

Taylor (7) Some good saves, although they were all of the sort you’d expect him to make. Looked commanding, and provided his usual full volume match commentary. “Firsts and seconds”, “Switch on”, “Get back in early” and “Get to the ball” will soon be the catchphrases on the lips of every Hinckley schoolboy.

Lichaj (7) It’s pronounced Lee-high I’ve discovered (Thanks shouting Stu!) and he gave a solid performance, rugged in defence and prone to the occasional lung busting gallop upfield, he’d have got an eight but for his inability to see Albrighton at any time.

Roome (8.) Solid tonight. Against Tristan and Sears, he showed a great deal of footballing intelligence and his positioning seemed excellent to me. He can be proud of this one.

Clark (8.) Did very well against a forward line that really doesn’t belong at this level. It was a real test for him, and Tristan’s frustration was a sign of how well Clark played. If I was being picky, I’d question his distribution, but I’m not. Well played.

Lowry (7) Booked in the second half for trying to drag Sears into the car park, he was an obstacle to him all night. He got forward more in the second half, but always looked more comfortable defending.

Mikaelsson (7) Not by any means a natural winger. He’s lightning slow and whilst he can beat a man with his quick feet, he’s usually got to beat him again in a few yards time. That said, he passed the ball well, always made himself available and supported Williams as often as possible. Still an enigma at times, somewhere in there lurks an extremely good footballer.

Hofbauer (6) Some good, some bad; he never looks to me to be a natural centre midfielder, but he works hard, he can pass a ball and gets forward well. Finishing wasn’t great this evening and at times he looked a little unsure. I might be being a bit harsh.

Bannan (7) Played in a deeper role than of late, from where we saw the usual range of passing, short, long, under pressure, easy passes, hard passes, it doesn’t seem to make any difference to him. He made a couple of excellent tackles too, and the quiet allowed us to hear the Glaswegian growl as Barry makes his way around the pitch, offering his opinions on this and that. He’s a spiky character. His set pieces weren’t too hot this evening though and he couldn’t really get forward into his more effective position.

Albrighton (7) Got better as the game went on, and looked very lively when he switched flanks late on. Beat his man seemingly every time he took him on, and on occasion produced some very good crosses. He maybe made a few poor choices tonight though, looking to shoot rather than whip a ball in, but looked good nonetheless.

Williams (7) Gave us something to hit, and as a target man he’s a handful. He got a few efforts in on goal, and was unlucky on at least one occasion to find Stech in form. He’s a grafter.

Weimann (7) Looks more an attacking midfielder than a forward, and couldn’t really get himself into tune with Williams. He moves the ball well though, and created problems for the West Ham back four. A good learning experience this, and physically he seemed more able to deal with an experienced back line than I’ve seen before.

Collins (6) No real impact in the ten minutes he was on.

Finally just a word for Marek Stech who produced an exceptional performance in the West Ham goal. If he’s like this every week, they can sell Green in confidence.

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:clap: Bravo Scott. Enjoyed that. Tell me, do you remember the chronology of each event in your head or do you take sneaky notes? There's no way I could recall that much stuff in that order without some help.
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I'm a secret scribbler BOF.

Once you're travelling seventy miles for the reserves, you may as well go the whole hog in giving in to your inner anorak.

Grand, I thought you were some kind of super genius !! (and you missed the opportunity to be accused as much :P)

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Fantastic report and really enjoyed it. As i live in Northern Ireland and am unable to get to the Villa reserve games, just wondered, apart from Bannan, who i would love to see more of in the first team with his performance against Hamburg, is there is a possibility of anyone else from the Villa reserves making the Villa first team? Regards, Ciaran.

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