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Villa Reserves vs. Arsenal


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No score again in Hinckley as Villa’s second string took on their nearest rivals in the title race and looked much the better side against Arsenal’s young guns. Lots to be pleased about though in a night of selection surprises.

First up, no Bouma in tonights Villa line up despite Sky’s “exclusive” that he’d be playing. Given that our line up included the two most senior of our reserve centre halves, Ciaran Clark and Shane Lowry, I wonder if that might mean that Freddie will make his return on an altogether bigger stage?

I expect we’ll see him sat behind MO’N in the next few days.

The Villa team that did line up tonight wasn’t short of surprises either, with Calum Flanagan making what I think was his reserve debut, and the very welcome return of the jug-eared general himself; great to see Jonathon “Boss” Hogg back in action after a year on the sidelines with injury.

Also warming up was new signing Arsenio Halfhuid who if nothing else is certainly big enough.

All these fancy names proved too much for some with the team sheet littered with spelling mistakes, letters crossed out and extra letters written in. The stadium announcer too seemed to be struggling and finished his reading of the teams by claiming (amongst others) that we were fielding Barry Batman and had Arsenal Hal-fud-fud-hud on the bench.

He went on to explain that there were far too many foreign names on the team sheet, it wasn’t what he was used to and he hoped it wouldn’t upset anyone, but he was a bit tired and he was sure we got the idea.

Kick off was slightly delayed due to the large crowd. (Honestly.)

Once we did get going though, it very quickly became clear that we weren’t going to be short of excitement.

Villa should have scored in the opening minute, a Bannan free kick, headed down by Clark found Weimann on his own eight yards out, but unable to beat the keeper.

The game opened at a pace so quick that the referee required treatment after just three minutes.

Shane Lowry obviously felt the need to get him more involved in things and was lucky to only be shown a yellow card for a leaping high lunge on Frimpong that was quite frankly bordering on disgraceful. Lovely.

Arsenal were playing their part in an end to end opening and had a shot just wide on nine minutes.

James Collins then absolutely thundered a shot onto the bar after good work on the right by Lichaj and Albrighton, and the damned thing had barely stopped shaking when Bannan slammed a volley onto it from just outside the area.

Lowry was turned on the edge of the box by Merida who shot wide, before Sunu found himself one on one with young Elliott Parish; rounding him skilfully he elected to play a stylish rolling finish into the empty net…Clark mopped it up gratefully around three yards away from the goal line before clearing.

Weimann was next to have a go, shooting just over from a tight angle as Villa continued to threaten through the excellent Albrighton.

It was Albrighton who found himself free on the right to cross for Hogg a few minutes later but sadly; with the keeper well beaten his header was straight into the lone defender on the line and out for a corner.

Half time came far too quickly in what had been an excellent game with chances for both sides and some really good ones for the Villa. It was fiercely contested, with no little skill and guile and played at a hundred miles an hour.

After the break, Villa stepped up the pace.

For sheer intensity, the performance of the Villa midfield in the opening twenty-five minutes of the second half was extraordinary to watch. I doubt Arsenal got out of their own half for more than 30 seconds of that period. They were penned in, chased down and harried out of the play through some superb work from our midfield quartet.

The second half in itself was difficult to describe, in that it consisted almost entirely of Villa bombarding the arsenal box through the excellent crossing of Albrighton and Bannan and the deadly long throws of Eric Lichaj. We seemed to win every ball that came into the box too, but just couldn’t force a clear opportunity.

Arsenal defended very well, and their defence deserves an immense amount of credit for their efforts in closing people down, blocking shots and keeping us at bay.

Late in the game they rallied and appeared more of a threat, but the second half belonged to Villa in its entirety. If we should have been ahead at half time, we’ll be scratching our heads as to how we drew a blank over ninety minutes and while Arsenal remained a threat on the break, it would have been a travesty had they snatched it. This was an excellent Villa performance.

So, a nil-nil draw in the first game at the newly renamed Greene King stadium to match the nil-nil draw in the last game at the Marston’s stadium. Hinckley it would seem is not the place for goals. “Aston Villa FC One Arsenal FC One” said the stadium announcer chuckling to himself as we made our way out of the ground.

It’s a strange place Leicestershire, but well worth a visit.

Some ratings:

Parish (7) – Looked confident and solid, and is physically bigger every time I see him. Didn’t have too much to do in fairness, but didn’t look particularly troubled.

Lichaj (8.) – A very good performance, both defensively and in supporting the attack; this was possibly the best game I’ve seen him have, and while he sometimes looks like he’s been caught out positionally, he always seems to have enough in the tank to make up the ground.

Flanagan (7) – We came to see a solid no-nonsense full back, strong in the tackle, tough and stubborn, and that’s exactly what we got. A baby Bouma. I like him.

Lowry (7) – Lucky to stay on, but made the most of it with a good display. He seemed to spend most of his time winning balls in the opposition box and was unlucky on a couple of occasions not to have scored.

Clark (8.) – Ciaran is one of those very sensible centre backs that it’s difficult to imagine making a daft mistake. He was in the right place at the right time every time he was called upon tonight and gave the midfield the freedom to get forward.

Albrighton (9) - Kicked from pillar to post by an Arsenal midfield intent on controlling him, it seemed to only fire him up. Pacy and direct, he was a nightmare for the Arsenal defence and could have gotten himself on the score sheet on a couple of occasions too. Arsenal left back Tom Cruise (not that one) will be having nightmares for weeks.

Osbourne (7) – Controlled the middle of the park and battled to win the ball back. He has the unique ability to loo cultured and clumsy at the same time, but I get the feeling he’s an absolute nightmare to play against. Passed the ball well tonight too.

Bannan (7) – Passed it well, but couldn’t quite force an opening. He popped up all over the place, worked himself into the ground and pestered the Arsenal midfield all night, but alas no magic.

Hogg (8.) Excellent, he looked like he'd never been away and battled like a terrier. Great to have him back.

Weimann (7) – Probably had our best chances and will be kicking himself, but showed a real turn of pace that I hadn’t realised he’d got, and played well.

Collins (7) – Had a number of efforts on goal, the clearest being late on when he scuffed a dropping ball wide from just inside the box. He left the Arsenal defence exhausted but didn’t bring his shooting boots tonight.

Sub

Stieber (6) – Showed decent pace and good passing ability, but he’s light as a feather and needs a few dinners in him before he’ll be able to prove his worth at this level.

Just one more to come at the Greene King Stadium; Chelsea will be next up on 2nd March. If you live locally, then pop along. If not, then see how you feel.

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Thanks Scott. Confirms the morsels we were getting on the O/S suggesting we were battering them. Pity we could only draw on a night when Chel$ki won 6-0. "Barry Batman" :lol: That could stick :P

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Great report as always. Enjoyed the game - real end-to-end stuff. I was amazed at the queues at the turnstiles when we turned up. Good to see Villa, Arsenal and locals all mixing and enjoying the game. Loved the terraces on the far side of the ground - memories!

Captain Jack was present wearing some form of unusual headgear - anyone know if his commentary benefitted from his brain being kept warm?

Would have been good to have seen Boom-Boom-Bouma make an appearance but I dare say he'll be on the bench for the CSKA game. Any idea how many attended the Hinckley game?

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