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Wigan expose our Achilles’ heel!


John
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We have 9 wins away from home. Had we managed the same at Villa Park by converting draws against Portsmouth, Fulham and Wigan, along with defeat to Middlesbrough into victories, we would now stand top of the league and 4 points ahead of Manchester United.

Arsenal missed an opportunity yesterday. A win would have brought them within 3 points of us. But, they could not take advantage of the points we dropped at home and may rue that when the season comes to the end of its marathon course. But, we missed an opportunity too, like we had missed the opportunity to go fourth in the past, we missed the opportunity to go second yesterday. Will that opportunity come again for us to take it as we now have fourth spot?

Wigan was never going to be an easy game for us at Villa Park. We have yet to beat them at home since they were promoted, they like us were on a good run, Bruce will have had them well prepared for this one and we struggle to break teams down at home who sit back and invite us to come onto them. We were also without Ashley Young and he does so much to get behind defences like these. We have drawn more games than we have won at Villa Park and bottom dwellers Stoke have won more home games than we have. We will now need to look to the away game at Blackburn to extend our winning away record and to once again compensate for more points dropped that could have extended the gap between Arsenal and ourselves still further.

So it is at what should be fortress Villa Park that our final placing this season is being placed in jeopardy. Our Achilles’ heel is becoming obvious and whilst teams will go to those teams whose company we now share in the top 4 the likes of Stoke, West Ham, Hull and Newcastle will be aware that putting men behind the ball can lead to bringing something back from their forthcoming games at Villa Park.

The lucky Villa tag did not apply yesterday. We have won games away from home when not playing particularly well. We knew the time would come when we failed to win a game that we played well in and deserved the points from. The first half was lack lustre, we did very little and but for two great stops from Friedel we could have gone in at half time behind. But, the second half was a different story. We pounded Wigan and were often denied by desperate goal line clearances. We also got nothing from the officials, other than a free kick from inside the box following a back pass that so rarely leads to a goal (the only one I recall seeing was one at Anfield against us). We clearly should have had a penalty for hand ball. I also thought Kirkland’s cynical time wasting merited a booking and more than 3 minutes of injury time, after all the delay in taking that free kick following the back pass must have eaten up over a minute on its own. But, in the long run, we created nothing in that extra 3 minutes and all of the action was in our half.

My player ratings from a game that we needed to win and deserved to win are:

Brad Friedel - 8 – Kept us in the game in the first half with a great save with his legs on 27 minutes after De Ridder had gone clear and particularly on the stoke of half time when he somehow when going backwards managed to push Figueroa’s goal bound effort over.

Carlos Cuellar – 6 – His distribution remains the problem and he still looks like a centre half playing full back, which of course he is.

Curtis Davies – 6 – Unlucky to see a header hit the post on 55 minutes.

Zat Knight – 6 – Steady at the back and looked confident enough.

Luke Young - 7 – Unlucky to see his excellent volley cleared off the line on 75 minutes and looked a threat when he came forward.

James Milner – 6 – Needed to step up to the plate a little more than he did in Ashley’s absence and this display would not have been the one he would have chosen to put before the watching England manager. His cross was the one that led to the hand ball that both referee and linesman missed.

Stiliyan Petrov – 7 – A very good first half and provided Barry with effective support.

Gareth Barry – 8 – MOTM – Exceptional from start to finish and deserved to be on the winning team after this whole hearted performance. A great run from inside his own half which led to a goal bound shot that was deflected away for what should clearly have been a corner on 8 minutes

Craig Gardner – 5 – Inches wide with an effort on 55 minutes but made only a limited impression prior to his replacement by Carew on 62 minutes. Needs to show more to claim a starting place ahead of Sidwell or to give Martin a headache concerning whether to play an extra forward where he might offer the alternative.

Emile Heskey – 6 – Headed a good Barry cross straight at the keeper where putting it anywhere else may have given us a lead. Did not greatly trouble his former team mates perhaps they know him too well?

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 6 – Did not look overly happy at times out wide and his barren spell continues in front of goal. Hit a good first half cross that Garner stretched and pushed wide when he had time to take a touch first. Also had a first half header that was cleared from behind the goal line by a defender but which for some reason was disallowed for some earlier phantom infringement. Then had a header blocked on the line and deflected onto a post on 75 minutes. Needs a goal.

Substitutes:

John Carew – 6 - Replaced Craig for the last half hour of the game. Looked not unsurprisingly not quite up to the pace of the match as this was a very early return but nice to see him back and the question is will John or Emile be first choice starter for us?

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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Agree on some of the points but it has to be said that it wasn't really our fault yesterday - 4 goal line clearances, 2 times we hit the woodwork and some decent shouts for penalties means that I can't see how Wigan 'exposed our achilles' heel' whatsoever. Its a negative spin on yesterdays game and entirely unnecessary. Milner and Knight were better than 6s too.

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I can't see how Wigan 'exposed our achilles' heel' whatsoever

My point is that Wigan along with other sides have taken points from us at home and the home results do not measure up to our away ones Lexicon.

To maintain our position we will need to be able to combat teams who come to sit back as we can't always expect our away results to always compensate for the home ones. Yes, we had the opportunities yesterday and on another day we could have scored 4 but unless chances are converted they don't win games.

As far as being negative, I can't see much positive about dropping points at home and as far as Milner and Knight are concerned 6 is how I called it. Your opinion rates them higher than I did and your opinion on how they did is just as valid as is my own.

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Hi John. As usual, a great, and indeed very honest report! Our first half performance was simply not good enough! The second half performance was much better, but as Martin said, we couldn't force the ball over Wigan's goal line. No-one can say 'lucky Villa' as we did everything but score, but, alas, it was not to be. However, we are still five points clear of the Arsenal, and if the Villa groundsman had put one less coat of paint on the goalposts, then we would have been ahead of Arsenal by a further two. Agree with your comments about Gardner and i feel we are still some way short in the midfield positions. Actually very angry that we did not even try to sign Jimmy Bullard when Fulham made him available. Bullard is a set piece specialist, is creative midfielder and scores goals. He was the main reason why Fulham are still playing in the Premiership and would have been a terrific signing for us! Our Achilles Heel this season has been a lack of creativity in the central midfield positions and if Martin had signed Bullard, it would have gone a long way to solve this! Some Villa fans might disagree with giving a 30 year old player a four year contract, but we have just given a 31 year old striker a three year contract, therefore i don;'t think that argument would stack up! I believe Martin is now looking for another central defender to cover for Laursen. Do we not have enough centre backs already, who, thankfully, are doing a fantastic job? Quite clearly, we need a creative midfielder to help open up Premiership defences, who defend deep against us. Martin actually stated this in last year's January transfer window while being interviewed by MOTD. He has still not addressed this issue, so why not? We also need another striker, to cover for Gabby Agbonlahor, who is now showing all the signs of hitting that brick wall that all strikers do from time to time! I will therefore wait until the end of the transfer window with interest, in the hope that we have the addition of a creative midfielder, another striker who is noted for scoring goals and a decent left back! Regards, Ciaran.

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dont understand how you praise Knight, put down Cueller but give them the same score. Knight was one of our best performers again which is backed up by most weekend papers. Similarly i dont agree with the achiles heel thing, yesterday was probably our best performance since Arsenal and if we go out and play like that every week i certainly think we'd win a lot more games than we draw. Even Bruce was shocked and said he'd never been under so much pressure and managed to scrape something out of the game.

Interestingly it was MON who said a while back that we werent the type of side that can win 5 consecutive games in a row.

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against boro, pompey and fullham i'd agree with you but yesterday was about their last ditch defending

steve bruce was quoted as saying. "as the game went on, we had to show what we are about. I can't remember being under the cosh like that, and getting away with it."

thats not our achilles heel thats just unlucky, one of those games your just not going to win!

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Thanks Ciaran, I would have liked us to have had a look at Bullard as well but in Martin we trust. I think he might be wise to look for some cover at the back in this window with Martin having problems with injury and likely to be out for a couple of months. I had thought that Carlos had been bought to play iin the middle, but it seems Martin wants him to play at full back, at least until Bouma is back and he can possibly switch Young back there. For now Zat seems to be a lesser risk than Shorey is for Martin.

Interestingly it was MON who said a while back that we werent the type of side that can win 5 consecutive games in a row

Yes, cheltenham-villa but I would suggest he might say things like that to keep expectation levels down and to take pressure off in the run in. I would suggest he went into yesterday's game looking for the team to again prove that statement wrong as they have done others.

On my Knight marking, he was close to a 7 but as I have said before its a matter of opinion and I don't think he quite had the opportunity to earn a 7 as we were rarely under pressure. What he did he did well. As both you and whito22 have said, we were unlucky not to pick up the points and I said to one of my friends early in the second half (as whito22 also mentioned) that this looked like being one of those days when the ball just would not go in for us. But, the Achilles' heel thing was about dropped points at Villa Park in general and not just about yesterday's result or our performance.

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To be honest, I viewed the game yesterday as our strongest performance since Boxing Day, ironically the last occasion our luck didnt hold. It reminded me a little of Portsmouth going to Old Trafford last season in the FA Cup.... you know the one where United did everything but score and Portsmouth nicked it? I think it was more that type of game than some of our earlier 0-0 draws at Villa Park, and I dont think,personally, the team deserves any criticism at all for that level of performance - not quite sure what else they could do - sometimes that's just the way it goes and I think as fans we need to accept that sometimes it'll be like that. I dont see that adding this mythical 'creative midfielder' could possibly create any more chances than we did on Saturday - and who would he play instead of? The booing at the end was frankly embarrassing. I think Barry was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch - every now and then he really looks world class,and yet another clean sheet is also really impressive.

I think its also worth noting that United apart,all the top six are having huge difficulty winning at home. Even with all the superstars and big names, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton .. all of them unable to unlock teams that come and sit deep. So we're in good company,as long as we keep winning away with some degree of regularity i dont suppose it matters much..

As for Jimmy Bullard - I think we need to remember we are attempting to get into the top four.

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If we do as have an achilles heal, as the topic suggests, then Wigan certainly didn't expose it.

We absolutely battered them in the second half and had it not been for a number of goal line clearances would have won by a comfortable margin.

One of them days unfortunately that come around every so often where by whatever you do the ball appears not to want to go in the back of the net. If that is our achilles heal so be it as I doubt we will see us dominate a game like that again without coming away with 3 points for a very long time.

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To be honest, I viewed the game yesterday as our strongest performance since Boxing Day, ironically the last occasion our luck didnt hold. It reminded me a little of Portsmouth going to Old Trafford last season in the FA Cup.... you know the one where United did everything but score and Portsmouth nicked it? I think it was more that type of game than some of our earlier 0-0 draws at Villa Park, and I dont think,personally, the team deserves any criticism at all for that level of performance - not quite sure what else they could do - sometimes that's just the way it goes and I think as fans we need to accept that sometimes it'll be like that. I dont see that adding this mythical 'creative midfielder' could possibly create any more chances than we did on Saturday - and who would he play instead of? The booing at the end was frankly embarrassing. I think Barry was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch - every now and then he really looks world class,and yet another clean sheet is also really impressive.

I think its also worth noting that United apart,all the top six are having huge difficulty winning at home. Even with all the superstars and big names, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton .. all of them unable to unlock teams that come and sit deep. So we're in good company,as long as we keep winning away with some degree of regularity i dont suppose it matters much..

As for Jimmy Bullard - I think we need to remember we are attempting to get into the top four.

all that is spot on IMO Bozzy. Whcih means i don't need to to anyhting else. Although i do think the thread title is somewhat misleading.

You do, occassionaly, get these sort of games, where the ball simply won't go in ....

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To be honest, I viewed the game yesterday as our strongest performance since Boxing Day, ironically the last occasion our luck didnt hold. It reminded me a little of Portsmouth going to Old Trafford last season in the FA Cup.... you know the one where United did everything but score and Portsmouth nicked it? I think it was more that type of game than some of our earlier 0-0 draws at Villa Park, and I dont think,personally, the team deserves any criticism at all for that level of performance - not quite sure what else they could do - sometimes that's just the way it goes and I think as fans we need to accept that sometimes it'll be like that. I dont see that adding this mythical 'creative midfielder' could possibly create any more chances than we did on Saturday - and who would he play instead of? The booing at the end was frankly embarrassing. I think Barry was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch - every now and then he really looks world class,and yet another clean sheet is also really impressive.

I think its also worth noting that United apart,all the top six are having huge difficulty winning at home. Even with all the superstars and big names, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton .. all of them unable to unlock teams that come and sit deep. So we're in good company,as long as we keep winning away with some degree of regularity i dont suppose it matters much..

As for Jimmy Bullard - I think we need to remember we are attempting to get into the top four.

Spot on Peter, especially about Bullard. We need better than him and I see he missd the weekend game as he was injured .... again.

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Hi John. I think we have enough cover in central defence already with Laursen's enforced absence. Martin will play Bouma in the full back position when fit, but Bouma can also play in central defence, as he did earlier in his career! We also have Knight, Davies and Cuellar. As Reo-Coker as proven less of a liability at right back than in midfield, Cuellar could then revert back to his normal position! Glad to see that you have agreed with my comments about Jimmy Bullard. As we are in the top four and not 'attempting' to reach that position, Bullard would have improved a very one dimensional central midfield with Bullard replacing either Sidwell, Gardner, or indeed Reo-Coker! It is also fair to say that Bullard was chosen for the England squad based on his performances for Fulham last season, neither Sidwell, Gardner, or Reo- Coker has got anywhere near the England squad! Indeed, i also remember Bullard scoring against us last season, so there is nothing mythical about that! Regards, Ciaran.

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! Indeed, i also remember Bullard scoring against us last season, so there is nothing mythical about that! Regards, Ciaran.

Are you basing your opinion of him on one free kick? Because, lets be honest, we have a few players who can hit a free kick, and do so more than once a season..

At the end of the day, the guy has just signed for Hull. not Manchester United or Liverpool, not even one of the teams that snap up everyone who looks even half decent for 45 minutes like Tottenham or Man City. he has gone to Hull, to play alongside players of similar quality like Kilbane, Barmby and Boateng, quite possibly in the Championship next season. Good luck to him, I've got nothing against him, but the one thing he most certainly isnt is a top four player. He wouldnt get anywhere near our team, Barry Patrov and Sidwell are all in a totally different league to him, maybe literally come May.

I dont see, at all, why anyone would think we need a creative midfielder to make more chances - we dont have a great deal of difficulty in making chances - it really truly baffles me. I can see it if its our intention to play 4-5-1, and put someone of better attacking quality than Sidwell in that slot behind the striker, but we were only playing that formation out of necessity, we actually intend to play 4-4-2, and as we dont want to follow the Spurs role model for non existent midfields, you cant have the luxury of a lightweight in the middle and hope to compete. It s OK if you are competing with Fulham or Hull you'll get away with it, but I think our fans need to understand that we arent operating at that level any more.

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The booing at the end was frankly embarrassing

I agree 110% Pete. As you rightly say we have played worse since Boxing Day and won. There were shades of Boxing Day about this one as well because we played so well but had looked unlikely to get our just reward as was the case on Saturday.

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I never base my opinions on one thing PB! If you would kindly read my thread again, you will see otherwise. I am certainly surprised that you would view Sidwell as a more effective midfielder than Bullard, why? Sidwell's form has been poor since he arrived from Chelsea and if i remember correctly, he couldn't get into their team either! I also would'nt view Bullard as a lightweight, as he does do his fair share of tracking back and he is also not afraid to put in a tackle. I really saw the possible signing of Bullard as a replacement for either Sidwell, Reo-Coker, or Gardner and certainly not Petrov, or Barry! A midfield quartet of Milner, Bullard, Barry and Young sounds more effective to me than Sidwell, Gardner or Reo-Coker as the second central midfielder! If you look at the teams above us, they all have a certain amount of creativity in central midfield and we, quite frankly don't and Martin has already admitted that! The signing of Bullard would have improved us, given us a little more creativity in central midfield, and certainly helped us break down those teams who try to frustrate, especially at Villa Park! Regards, Ciaran.

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I never base my opinions on one thing PB! If you would kindly read my thread again, you will see otherwise. I am certainly surprised that you would view Sidwell as a more effective midfielder than Bullard, why? Sidwell's form has been poor since he arrived from Chelsea and if i remember correctly, he couldn't get into their team either! I also would'nt view Bullard as a lightweight, as he does do his fair share of tracking back and he is also not afraid to put in a tackle. I really saw the possible signing of Bullard as a replacement for either Sidwell, Reo-Coker, or Gardner and certainly not Petrov, or Barry! A midfield quartet of Milner, Bullard, Barry and Young sounds more effective to me than Sidwell, Gardner or Reo-Coker as the second central midfielder! If you look at the teams above us, they all have a certain amount of creativity in central midfield and we, quite frankly don't and Martin has already admitted that! The signing of Bullard would have improved us, given us a little more creativity in central midfield, and certainly helped us break down those teams who try to frustrate, especially at Villa Park! Regards, Ciaran.

It's all about opinions, and everyone has their own.

On this occassion I agree with PB, while you don't. Bullard caught Capello's eye but has yet to be a real part of the squad and he's bit prone to injury. I also understand he's a bit of a flash character, so whether he fits the MON team profile might also be a factor.

A playmaker would add a further dimension to Villa, but IMO, I don't think Bullard's it.

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A very fair reply and i am always open to someone else's opinion. Would have preferred to have Arshavin as our playmaker, but he has gone to Arsenal and will cause all Premiership teams loads of problems in the forthcoming seasons! I still think though that Bullard would have been a better alternative to Sidwell, Gardner, or Reo-Coker as he simply offers more creativity with a bit of bite and is also a dead ball specialist! Regards, Ciaran.

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A very fair reply and i am always open to someone else's opinion. Would have preferred to have Arshavin as our playmaker, but he has gone to Arsenal and will cause all Premiership teams loads of problems in the forthcoming seasons! I still think though that Bullard would have been a better alternative to Sidwell, Gardner, or Reo-Coker as he simply offers more creativity with a bit of bite and is also a dead ball specialist! Regards, Ciaran.

At what point do you accept that O'neill knows more than you?

What does this team have to do to convince you that they are good enough?

How many records have to fall before you can accept that you are wrong?

I think this Villa team is awesome, unbelievable, absolutely fantastic in every way. Come on, accept its true, you know you want to.

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