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Anelka halts our unbeaten run and secures a double!


John
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This was a 6-pointer that we lost to drop behind Chelsea but Arsenal’s failure to take full advantage of our slip somewhat eased the unfamiliar pain of a second defeat in a week!

Well runs are there to be broken. This was our first defeat in 14 league games and Chelsea’s first win at Villa Park for 10 years. The timing of this game was all wrong for us. We faced a team wanting to impress a new manager, one who had not had a game in midweek and one who this season appear to his peak form when they face us. The first goal was always going to be a crucial one and it was they who claimed it after some Lampard magic which left two of our defenders in his wake before he pushed the ball through to Anelka who scored for the sixth time in successive matches against us (sadly one record that was left unblemished yesterday). They ran out clear winners of the first half but only the woodwork stopped us going in all square. They then soaked up everything that we threw at them in the second half but for all our hard work quality chances were few and far between and the openings they carved out were better than our own. We can perhaps measure how far we have come by the fact that Chelsea used time wasting so much to deny us the time to get back into the game and celebrated so hard after claiming the spoils afterwards.

So the all important run of three matches that had been expected to determine our season has come to an end. It leaves us out of the FA Cup, needing to win or draw by scoring at least one away goal to stay in Europe and fourth rather than third in the league table. Next weekend’s home game with Stoke is now crucial as we just must win that one to prevent this blip looking like something that might really threaten what we have achieved to date in this season. Arsenal’s result yesterday represented a get out of jail free card for us yesterday. I think most of us would have been happy with a point from yesterday’s game, particularly after Chelsea had gone ahead. That would have seen Arsenal close the gap from 7 to 5 points. So, their being 6 points behind us now with an inferior goal difference is a real positive for us to take out of this weekend and the more games we can go with this gap staying a chasm between us the less confident will Arsenal become of closing it as their opportunities to do so reduce.

We have now had two home league wins from our last eight and we need a third win next Sunday to give us what would be just our sixth home win in the league this season. Nothing else will do. We cannot rely on our away run continuing to make up for slips at home and we cannot rely on Arsenal continuing to drop points for the rest of the season. The buck stops at Villa Park next Sunday when a Stoke side who have yet to win away this season and who have lost 10 of their 13 away games away from the Potteries to date need to have that unhappy run extended.

My player ratings from a game that a win could have taken us 5 points ahead of our opponents but which left us trailing them by a point are:

Brad Freidel - 8 – MOTM – His three very good saves kept us in the game and still threatening to earn the draw that I felt on balance we may just have deserved. Brad made a good stop from a Terry header on 33 minutes to deny Chelsea a second; he also made a good second half save to deny Boswinga and followed that up with a great save to deny Ballack on 90 minutes after Deco had displayed his skills to find him on the edge of the box

Carlos Cuellar – 6 – Nearly presented them with an opportunity for another on 81 minutes with a less than convincing clearance but on a welcome return from injury he generally looked comfortable enough.

Curtis Davies – 5 – Looked to me that he may still have been feeling the affects of that shoulder injury at Everton last weekend. Whatever the reason he was some way below par before his substitution on 70 minutes and I wonder if he may get a night off next Thursday?

Zat Knight – 6 – Both Zat and Curtis found Chelsea’s twin strike threat a problem to cope with and he seemed to be a little rushed and lacking in assurance at times.

Luke Young - 7 – Another solid display and presented a threat when he found the opportunity to get forward.

James Milner – 7 – We missed his work up front when he retreated further back on Big John’s introduction for the last 20 minutes.

Gareth Barry – 7 – A solid shot on 67 minutes forced a decent save from Cech and 8 minutes later Heskey steered the ball into his path but his shot was directed straight at the keeper.

Stiliyan Petrov – 6 – Cleared one off the line on 49 minutes this time with his head. But, Stiliyan was not at his best yesterday and he along with others allowed Lampard in particular too much room early on, allowed the opposition to run at us without being closed down and their midfield to have the better of things, particularly in the first half.

Ashley Young – 7 – So unlucky to see his free-kick from the edge of the box thud against the bar with Cech well beaten on 36 minutes. But, otherwise found Boswinga denying him the opportunity to make his usual impression on a game.

Emile Heskey – 8 – Did all that could be expected of him. He is there to hold the ball up and to make the ball available to the likes of Gabby and Gareth, he was unable to offer the bonus of one of his rare goals that we so needed yesterday, but did everything else well. Gave Terry a tough time in the air but too few of his flicks were run onto by his team mates.

Gabby Agbonlahor – 5 – Again took the wrong option after his own good work had left him with just the keeper to beat on 53 minutes by trying to squeeze the ball between Cech and the near post with a side footed effort. Looked to be going for the same balls as Heskey was early on, rather than to be looking to feed off him. We need his goal scoring form to return soon but this showed little sign of happening yesterday.

Substitutes:

John Carew - 6 – Replaced Curtis for the last 20 minutes and made a decent impression alongside Emile to show us a glimpse of a forward pairing that few of us think can work.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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Hi John. Many thanks for the excellent report! After playing against CSKA on Thursday, and a new manager, in the form of Guus Hiddink, in place for Chelsea, i think most Villa fans looking into their crystal ball, would have secretly predicted this result! Again, we started very sluggishly, which has now become a common occurrence at home and indeed we seemed to be a little in awe of the occasion, or was it the fact that we were playing the only team this season who had previously outplayed us? Whatever the reason, Chelsea were in the ascendancy and although we had a few chances, on the whole, i don't think we threathened Chelsea's goal enough!

It may well be that the way in which we play, is now becoming too predicable, as Chelsea never left space in behind them to allow us to take advantage on the counter attack? Certainly, from central midfield, we didn't create too much and although everyone is entitled to their opinion, i thought GB's performance, in particular, didn't warrant a 7, as, for too long in the game, he was left in the wake of Lampard's shadow, which was also the case, in the previous game at the Bridge!

It might also be the right time now to give Gabby a well earned rest, and play the Fonz instead, alongside, either Heskey, or Carew, certainly for the away game against CSKA, as i believe Gabby has now hit that brick wall that all strikers do from time to time!

I do agree however with your statement about the Stoke game, as we will be expected to win this one. Lets just hope that the defeats against Everton and Chelsea are a minor blip?

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Amazed at the 8 for Heskey - I thought he was poor and although giving trouble to Terry is something a lot of players don't do he did nothing with it.

I keep seeing that Petrov was poor yesterday, I'll agree he was but he was also outnumbered in there. The way we play means a good passing side can spot our foibles and take advantage of them, the one where we have little / no pace in the centre of the park. I love the duo of Barry and Petrov but if any game had screamed for 451 it was yesterday. Nullify them and then attack in the last few mins. 442 gave the opportunity to play around GB / Petrov into the feet of Drogba / Anelka and play off them.

I keep seeing that we missed NRC too, we didn't we missed the energy and drive that Gardner has played with in the last two games and he should have been on. I'm guessing he'll start Thursday to allow Stan / Gareth a rest.

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Thanks LatestConfirmedIn.

It might also be the right time now to give Gabby a well earned rest, and play the Fonz instead, alongside, either Heskey, or Carew, certainly for the away game against CSKA, as i believe Gabby has now hit that brick wall that all strikers do from time to time

I doubt if Gabby would take too well to missing a league game Ciaran, but I would like to see us go to Moscow with as near to a full strength team as we can muster so that if we did go out we would have least given it our all.

I keep seeing that we missed NRC too, we didn't we missed the energy and drive that Gardner has played with in the last two games and he should have been on.

Agreed Lancs. Although I might be tempted to go 5 in the middle and not rest Stan & Gareth for the reason mentioned above and as I think a full strength team could pull it off in Moscow were an under strength one will be highly unlikely to. Heskey was vey near to a 7 if that helps. :winkold:

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I doubt if Gabby would take too well to missing a league game Ciaran, but I would like to see us go to Moscow with as near to a full strength team as we can muster so that if we did go out we would have least given it our all.

Hi John. Totally agree with your statement above. I don't think any player would prefer the bench to playing, but I was really thinking what would benefit us in the long run to the end of the season? Apart from injury, Gabby has been playing from July and i think if he was rested for the CSKA and Stoke games, he might come back a little bit sharper, due to the rest!

Having watched most of Martin's post match interviews, i think he views our Premiership position as the priority, so if we do lose to CSKA, then it might not be a disaster! I also think we should have enough about us to dispose of Stoke without Gabby's pace! I don't think Martin should be afraid to use the Fonz against CSKA, or Stoke, as he is certainly good enough and he may indeed surprise the Russians with his touch and skill, which would be particularly suited to CSKA's plastic pitch!

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To be honest, we aren't going to win the UEFA Cup, and though we should give it our best go, IMO we need to rest some players ready for the next Premiership game.

The majority of the team have been on the go since July and while it would be good to get into the next round of the UEFA Cup and play another big name, if we then slip out of the top 4, MON will get some stick, so it's an unenviable position for MON, because there seems to be two camps among the fans, so I wonder what he'll do. :!:

Interesting dilemma and in many respects, a nice one to be in, rather than mid table mediocrity.

UTV

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John,

I totally agree with your assessment of this match and your scorings. Particularly in respect of Brad Fredel, who I agree was our MoM and Emile Heskey who I thought was excellent, winning everything in the air and giving an almost complete centre forward's performance.

Why is it that every journalist's view I have read has been almost completely different?

I assume you are not a professional pen man? If not, I certainly think you may have missed you're calling!

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Why is it that every journalist's view I have read has been almost completely different?

Like fans they have differing opinions on players performances PeteStan, I'm happy we agreed on this one.

I assume you are not a professional pen man? If not, I certainly think you may have missed you're calling!

Thanks for that and you may be right on at least one of the above. :lol:

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Interesting dilemma and in many respects, a nice one to be in, rather than mid table mediocrity

I agree on that AVFCinSpain and that was just what I was thinking after the game, although looking at the clubs who are now left in this cup and with Manchester City now favourites with the bookmakers I'm not sure we might have not won this had we gone for it 110%. But, had we done so, we would have run the risk of drifting out of the top 4 and there was never a guarantee that we would have won this cup or even the game in Moscow with our best available team.

Martin is paid to make these decisions and although this is not one I would have made I back his judgement and he has through what he has done with this club put himself in a position where such decisions need to be made.

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Gabby has been playing from July and i think if he was rested for the CSKA and Stoke games, he might come back a little bit sharper, due to the rest!

I agree Ciaran, but I do not think that Martin will risk resting him after our cup exit and I trust Gabby will be up for it on Sunday after a week off.

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