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A wonderful opportunity carelessly thrown away in 6 minutes!


John
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Stoke secured their fourth away point from fourteen away games yesterday and this was the ninth home game in fourteen that we have failed to win. This was a game we so needed to win and that before travesty struck late on it had looked like we had. But, this is another poor home result to add to several past ones that threaten our place in the top four!

We were 2 goals up and 8 points clear of Arsenal with just 4 minutes to go against Stoke today. But, at the end of the game and in 6 minutes (including 2 minutes of injury time) it was 2-2 and we stood only 6 points ahead of Arsenal. Villa fans were left in a state of shock after Stoke’s injury time equaliser gave them their fourth point from six against us this season and their second injury time goal against us. They had looked unlikely to get 1 let alone 2 during the preceding 85 minutes and scored from both of the efforts that they had on target. Fortune did not favour us yesterday and 99 times out of 100 we would have won this one. But, you need to see games like this through to their conclusion and we left the door open for them to walk straight through and to leave us all feeling so very deflated.

It was hard to take the derisory chants from the Stoke fans after the game. “Two up and you still can’t win” along with “Champions League? Your having a laugh”, were as bitter pills to swallow for us as was our own “Going down with the Baggies” for them. But, we really should not have been in a position like this after dominating the game for all but the final few minutes. They sat back in the first half as we had expected they would. They showed no forward ambition and allowed us to come forward at will. We could have gone in at half time well clear and the game should have been beyond their reach before they began to pose a threat to our up until then seldom tested defence. But, the lions share of the possession we enjoyed in the first half came to nothing until a minute before the break. In the second half we knew they would need to come out of their shell but they had posed no serious threat during up until we went two in front, although by pushing up and not playing so deep our midfield suddenly found themselves in a contest and the introduction of Fuller gave our up until then under worked central defenders occasional problems.

But, all had seemed settled when Big John hit his splendid goal on 79 minutes and we felt sure there was no way back for Stoke after that. But, it seems the team may have felt the same and it seemed to switch off afterwards feeling the job had already been done. We failed to respond to the wake up calls that both of their scorers gave us in the period between our second and their first. First Shawcross rose between two defenders to head over from a corner and then Whelan hit the post from outside the box on 84 minutes, before we went on to concede two late goals to the same players in very similar circumstances. We really need to close players down better on the edge of our box than we did today and that unchallenged headed goal once again raises the question of whether zone or man-to-man marking is best to employ from set pieces.

Let’s face it, Arsenal won't continue to drop points and we won't continue to win away games to compensate for not winning our home games. But, let's hope the run of that happening can continue on Tuesday when Arsenal face WBA at The Hawthorns and then the following night when we are away at Manchester City. The worse case scenario would see us losing and Arsenal winning to reduce the gap between us to 3 points. The opposite set of results would bring the gap up to 9 (which would be nice, if as unlikely as it seemed we would drop 2 points to Stoke with 86 minutes of the game gone)! Oh and there is also Everton but they still have the FA Cup to act as a distraction, as do Arsenal have the Champions League.

So, can we bounce back from this one or are the wheels beginning to wobble? When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Now is the time to make sure we get the reward that we deserve for this season performances to date. We must not slip up now and let this season peter out as others have in the past. The reward of Champions League qualification is too near our reach to not clinch it.

My player ratings from a game that has left us all hoping that WBA can get a sixth home win of the season in midweek (yes, one more than we have so far) are:

Brad Freidel - 6 – Beaten twice from outside the box and once from an unchallenged header in the last 17 minutes and this produced two late goals. But, Brad had little chance with these as they were all placed in the corner and in the first case the post came to his rescue.

Carlos Cuellar – 5 – Carlos is a solid defender but he continues to look like what he is when coming forward, as he needed to do a fair bit in this game and that is a central defender who is playing as a full back. There was also some wayward distribution yesterday, particularly in the first half. I think Shorey may have proven the better bet against this opposition as he is more comfortable going forward and I also think he gave a decent defensive display in Moscow. Had he played on the left Young could have filled in on the right with Carlos possibly given a starting position in central defence.

Curtis Davies – 6 – A first half error almost presented Sidibe with an opportunity but he recovered well with a good block.

Zat Knight – 6 – Headed a Milner cross inches over on 31 minutes but might have looked to have run on to attempt to block their equaliser rather than stop and turn his back on the incoming shot.

Luke Young - 7 – Good going forward and hit a good cross on 8 minutes that Gabby was unable to force home. Made a great tackle on the hour to deny Fuller a shooting opportunity after he had got ahead of Davies.

James Milner – 7 – Worked very hard and did much to ensure our first half domination.

Gareth Barry – 6 – Not quite at effective and influential as usual.

Stiliyan Petrov – 8 – MOTM – Stood out above everyone else today. Sprayed the ball around at will and pinged one good ball after another to a claret & blue shirt. Played a one two with Milner that started near the half way line and finished on the edge of their box to give us a half time lead on 44 minutes, hitting a firm shot into the corner of the net past the despairing reach of former Villain Sorensen. He also found Carew for our second.

Ashley Young – 6 – Another who was not quite at his best yesterday.

Emile Heskey – 7 – Replaced by Big John on 75 minutes due to injury. Had held the ball up well up until then and we could have done with that ball retention in the final 17 minutes. Looked every inch an England striker today, just needs to add goals to the mix but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks or can you Martin?

Gabby Agbonlahor – 4 – The midweek break did not look to have helped. Gabby really should have added to his goal tally today. He failed to make a decent connection at the near post on Carew’s 82nd minute cross which would have put us three clear. Sorensen did well to block his effort on 8 minutes when he met a fine cross from Like Young. Gabby is clearly lacking in confidence and having gained England recognition is making it difficult for the manager to pick him on current club form.

Substitutes:

John Carew - 7 – Made an immediate impact on his introduction scoring a peach of a goal on 77 minutes with a superbly timed side foot volley that used the pace of Petrov’s ball to him to hit what then appeared to be the decisive goal over Simonsen.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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With hindsight "carelessly" does seem the wrong word as I'm sure the players will feel this as much as we do. I think we took the foot off the pedal and paid the price.

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Hi John. What can i say other than another fantastic report on the Stoke match which bears out every Villa fan's frustration concerning the result. We should indeed have won this game easily and Martin has accused the team of 'over-convidence.' Maybe this is true and Martin is now begining to show his frustration at his player's inability to be able to protect a lead and close out a match. We had an excellent chance to extend our lead over an Arshavin driven Arsenal which would have afforded us the luxury of being able to drop some points against Man City, Tottenham, Liverpool, Man U, Everton and an ever improving West Ham, in our next six matches. As it is, we are the team being chased and i also wouldn't rule out Everton yet, even with their injuries, who are still getting results without conceeding too much with their solid back four. Lets hope that the cup defeats against Everton and CSKA and the Premiership defeat against Chelsea, will consume most of our seasonal blip and we will return to our earlier Premiership form, without the 'over-confidence?'

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