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Fortress Villa Park is ransacked again!


John
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So is this season going to end in disappointment or can we start playing the football that got us into fourth spot again in the make or break run in to this season!

Harry will be happy to have silenced his tormentors yet again and you have to say he proves everywhere that he goes that he can improve things at football clubs, but we now need to focus on our last 9 games to avoid this season becoming another that promised so much but that ultimately ends in disappointment due to a weak finish.

This was always going to be a tough game and Harry was always going to make sure that his new team were well aware that beating us for him was more important than upsetting their neighbour’s hopes of another top 4 finish. Could that explain why at the start of each half Spurs looked so much better than they did for the bulk of this game?

I said after the Stoke game that Arsenal would not continue to drop points and we would not continue to win away games to compensate for not winning our home games. They are now above us on goal difference with nine games to go after both teams have proved me right and we have again dropped points at home.

So Arsenal and Villa are left with a nine game run-in that will decide who takes that fourth place. Anything other than defeat at Anfield or Old Trafford would be an unexpected yet a very welcome bonus. But, I’m sure Arsenal would not feel too confident of gathering maximum points when they face these same two teams and in their case Chelsea in their own 9 game run in. So for me this season will stand or fall on the last 7 games. These start with a tough home game against Everton and are followed by games against West Ham (h), Bolton (a), Hull (h), Fulham (a), Boro (a) and Newcastle (h). I think 17 points from these last 7 games would be enough for fourth and if we end the season on 69 points or better and finish outside the top 4 then the team that finishes above us will deserve the reward of Champions League qualification. But that reward is too near our reach to not grab it and to make it easy for Arsenal by falling away as the season nears its conclusion. Now is the time to draw a line in the sand, to stop treading water and to play like we had been doing up until a month ago. If we do, all is not lost, if we do not it will be!

My player ratings from a game that has left us relying on Arsenal to again start dropping points are:

Brad Freidel - 5 – Beaten twice at the start of each half having first pushed a Lennon cross and later a shot out but not having quelled the threat on both those occasions in doing so. Might have held onto the shot rather than parried it out to Keane and then stopped Keane’s effort getting to Bent for the second goal on 50 minutes that effectively clinched their win. He sets high standards and will not have been happy to have been beaten twice in these circumstances, particularly with the second.

Nigel Reo-Coker – 7 – MOTM - A very good return to the action today. He for one looked fully up for the challenge yesterday and demonstrated this with a whole hearted performance.

Carlos Cuellar – 6 – Steady enough back in his more familiar central role.

Zat Knight – 5 – Replaced by Carew on the hour having struggled to cope with Bent’s pace up until then having perhaps surprisingly gotten the nod in front of Curtis Davies.

Luke Young - 5 – Beaten inside and then outside in the build up to both goals, playing out of position as he has been for most of the season but he found Lennon too hot to handle this time.

James Milner – 5 – James was pretty much marked out of the game and if you stop our wide boys you stop us. They failed to stop him on 85 minutes but the goal came too late to make a difference.

Gareth Barry – 6 – Looked like he might take this game by the scruff of the neck more than once but never quite did and we expect more from him as does he.

Stiliyan Petrov –7 – Our most effective midfield player yet again, some sublime passes and he was particularly effective in the first half.

Ashley Young – 7 – Had looked back to his best until Harry replaced Zokora who had been unable to cope with his pace with Corluka who could on 35 minutes. The substitution seriously reduced his impact on the game and our hopes of getting back into it. Still having more problems than he did earlier this season with his final ball but he remains our main threat to opposition defences.

Emile Heskey – 6 – Not at his commanding best in the air yesterday in a forward line that rarely looked like turning our plentiful possession into goals. Emile hit the bar with a good header on 45 minutes and so the woodwork had denied him and us on a second successive home game, perhaps we need to take a coat of paint off?

Gabby Agbonlahor – 4 – Sad to see the reaction to his substitution but for too long he has failed to produce and his confidence is at such a low ebb that a rest may be the best option for both Gabby and the team. He shows no signs of playing himself out of this rut and although at his best he is so important to us he cannot expect on current form to keep Big John sitting on the bench.

Substitutes:

John Carew - 7 – Our best forward by a distance today. Came on for the last half hour and did well to give us some late hope with a good header from a good Milner cross on 85 minutes.

Nathan Delfouneso – Replaced Gabby on 79 minutes. Not on long enough to make a difference or to get a rating.

Craig Gardner – Replaced Emile on 82 minutes looked lively enough but like Nathan was not on long enough to gain a rating.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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Harry will be happy to have silenced his tormentors yet again and you have to say he proves everywhere that he goes that he can improve things at football clubs
That'll cause wry smiles among Southampton fans! :D
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Ok John. I agree with most of what you say here, although Reo-Coker as your MOTM, i am finding it hard to reason with. Yes he did play in three different positions within the game, but did he excel in any of those? Petrov was my MOTM, but it is, only my humble opinion.

I would also question your assumption that Davies should have played instead of Knight. Based on recent form, i think MON was right to choose Knight, even though i have made my feelings clear on Knight's signing!

As for the game itself, it probably was one of our best first half performances, at home, since the season started, but without that, final killer ball! Again, i have stated many times, in previous threads, what the answer would be to this and a little Russian at Arsenal is already starting to prove my point for me!

However, with the games away to Liverpool and Man U coming up, MON will probably revert to the 4-5-1 system which has previously served us so well. In the present circumstances and with Gabby's loss of form due to playing from last July, playing with a rejuvenated Carew, as the lone striker,(please MON, not Heskey, no goal threat) will give us an extra body in midfield, to help Barry and Petrov, which as results suggest, we have missed!

When Barry and Petrov play in a four man midfield, i believe, due to both players lacking pace, they are therefore too similar and it is allowing the better teams in the Premiership to play through us far too easily!

So MON has a choice now. Once we play Liverpool and Man U, do we then revert back to 4-4-2?

Considering our run in, after the aforemention games, we should pick up quite a few points, against teams, apart from Everton, that we will certainly be expected to beat.

However, it is my opinion, that we should now start with the 4-5-1 system in every game until the season ends. This will then give us more security in midfield and consequently, at the back and also allow MON to have a plan B, should we need to bring a second striker on. A fully rested Gabby coming on for the last 20 minutes of a game would frighten the living daylights out of a tired second tier Premiership defence!

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Ok John. I agree with most of what you say here, although Reo-Coker as your MOTM, i am finding it hard to reason with. Yes he did play in three different positions within the game, but did he excel in any of those? Petrov was my MOTM, but it is, only my humble opinion.

I would also question your assumption that Davies should have played instead of Knight. Based on recent form, i think MON was right to choose Knight, even though i have made my feelings clear on Knight's signing!

As for the game itself, it probably was one of our best first half performances, at home, since the season started, but without that, final killer ball! Again, i have stated many times, in previous threads, what the answer would be to this and a little Russian at Arsenal is already starting to prove my point for me!

However, with the games away to Liverpool and Man U coming up, MON will probably revert to the 4-5-1 system which has previously served us so well. In the present circumstances and with Gabby's loss of form due to playing from last July, playing with a rejuvenated Carew, as the lone striker,(please MON, not Heskey, no goal threat) will give us an extra body in midfield, to help Barry and Petrov, which as results suggest, we have missed!

When Barry and Petrov play in a four man midfield, i believe, due to both players lacking pace, they are therefore too similar and it is allowing the better teams in the Premiership to play through us far too easily!

So MON has a choice now. Once we play Liverpool and Man U, do we then revert back to 4-4-2?

Considering our run in, after the aforemention games, we should pick up quite a few points, against teams, apart from Everton, that we will certainly be expected to beat.

However, it is my opinion, that we should now start with the 4-5-1 system in every game until the season ends. This will then give us more security in midfield and consequently, at the back and also allow MON to have a plan B, should we need to bring a second striker on. A fully rested Gabby coming on for the last 20 minutes of a game would frighten the living daylights out of a tired second tier Premiership defence!

agree with much of that Mr Sumner.

My MOTM would also have been Stan, by quite a distance.

he would have got an 8 for me.

Coker did well and was all action, which is what we have been lacking, but he wasn't quite up there with Stan.

We miss that physical presence in midfield that a Coker or a Sidders brings.

To win the game, first you have to win the battle, and IMHO we have not been doing that since we went to 4-4-2.

we need to win the CM battle, and that would enable the wide boys in the 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 to then take the game to the opposition.

But gabby is knackered, so i'm not sure who the lone striker should be ....

i'm not sure big JC is mobile enough for that role ....

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That'll cause wry smiles among Southampton fans!

Agreed Sled. :winkold: Thanks for the kind words fantram. Ciaran, I agree with going back to one up front. Gabby did it well in Big John's absence and I think that either Big John or Emile could do a job for us in that formation albeit a different one with these two holding the ball up for the likes of James & Ashley rather than running at the defence as Gabby did. I also share both your own and Jon's thoughts on Petrov's contribution yesterday. He has had a great season and it was just Reo's all action display on his return as Jon mentioned along with his will to get us back into the game that swung it for me. As far as the Curtis or Zat question is concerned I felt Curtis would have been the best bet on grounds of Bent's pace. As for Ashavin that goal showed you get what you pay for I just hope he does not do that too often in the last 9 games.

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For me the problem is simple - we are playing 2 non-scoring forwards.

Emile has never been prolific and Gabby is completely off form.

When you add to that a tendency to give goals away, you're in for a struggle.

I thought Barry Petrov and NRC were all fine. Ashley did very well, without quite getting the final ball right and Milner wasn't quite his usual self.

We're still a good side, but not much of a goal threat.

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For me the problem is simple - we are playing 2 non-scoring forwards.

Emile has never been prolific and Gabby is completely off form.

When you add to that a tendency to give goals away, you're in for a struggle.

I thought Barry Petrov and NRC were all fine. Ashley did very well, without quite getting the final ball right and Milner wasn't quite his usual self.

We're still a good side, but not much of a goal threat.

i also agree with pretty much all of that Pete.

1. we always look like we could concede a goal or two. Especially since Laursen't injury and Davies' dip in form

2. we don't look like scoring more than we concede at the moment, escpecially given Gabby's tiredness and dip in form and confidence, and Heskey's lack of goals.

3. when we played 4-3-3, we always hasd that threat coming from CM, and it seemed to suit gabby and the others quite well, that system. Now we're playign 4-4-2, we're more open, but still don't look like scoring many.

MON needs to sort this out, and quickly. I think he has been trumped by gabby's loss of form. He doesn't see an alternative to gabby, no matter hopw tired he is.

he should have another option.

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O'Neill's continues to play Heskey instead of Carew, and it's his most baffling decision since he took over in my opinion. Carew has always been more of a goal threat than Heskey, and I think he's a much better all round player too. Heskey just reminds me of a glorified attacking midfielder who does nothing more than hold the ball up. I sad when we bought him that he's look useful, without scoring and that's exactly what has happened. One of the main reasons our season has imploded so spectacularly in my opinion.

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....The signs were there when we were winning and the signs were there before Heskey.... we are leaving Petrov and Barry too much to do.

If you play 2 wingers it has to be effective...... they have to beat their men and the strikers have to score.....nothing else will do otherwise you are carrying them.

a bit simplistic i know.... but it is so.

also the 2 centre halves can't be expected to be chaperoned by the 2 central midfielders they have to win their own battles not just aerially but on the floor too.

I honestly belive between the wingers and the centrehalves they are asking for too much help from the centre..... and they are subsequently being overrun.

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He spent nothing in the window and was it me or did he smack of arrogance when we were flying high in not buying and strengthening the squad

Totally agree with your statement BrownBurger. I've been banging on about this since the January window closed and if we had signed more players, then MON wouldn't have had to sacrifice our UEFA Cup place!

Jon i think big Carew plays the lone striker role ok, but i understand your concerns. MON should have bought young Sturidge from Man City to give Gabby a rest, instead of waiting for a cheaper deal for him in the summer!

John, i take your point about Davies and i would always choose a in form Davies before Knight, but is Davies also fully fit with his dodgy shoulder?

Arshavin for less than 15million John. Me thinks that if you or i had been the manager of our great club, we would have flown, or crawled through the gas pipelines to Russia and then offered Arshavin a yacht, just like Deadly's, to sign for us!

Forgot to say in my previous thread that i would also rest Milner. His form has generally been poor in my opinion and therefore MON should set an example to the rest of the players that below par performances are no longer exceptable! I would replace him with either Bannan, or Albrighton(sorry for the spelling). Yes, both these players are inexperienced, but they would give us more than Milner is at the moment. It doesn't matter what age they are. If you are good enough, then you are old enough. The manager at Old Trafford has already proven that, so over to you MON!

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....The signs were there when we were winning and the signs were there before Heskey.... we are leaving Petrov and Barry too much to do.

If you play 2 wingers it has to be effective...... they have to beat their men and the strikers have to score.....nothing else will do otherwise you are carrying them.

a bit simplistic i know.... but it is so.

also the 2 centre halves can't be expected to be chaperoned by the 2 central midfielders they have to win their own battles not just aerially but on the floor too.

I honestly belive between the wingers and the centrehalves they are asking for too much help from the centre..... and they are subsequently being overrun.

fully agree TRO.

This bad run has occured since we switched back to 4-4-2 since the signing of Heskey and the return of fitness of Big JC.

It leaves the MF 2 exposed, it opens the game up, and puts even more pressure on the defence. It's a bit newcastle-esque under Keegan, IMO.

It's Ok if you have 2 superb, prolific strikers, who will put away the half chances created. You'll win more than you lose.

IMHO, 4-3-3 suited out players well. it's just that gabby is now knackered, and he was the ideal front man for that formation .....

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For me the problem is simple - we are playing 2 non-scoring forwards.

Emile has never been prolific and Gabby is completely off form.

When you add to that a tendency to give goals away, you're in for a struggle.

I thought Barry Petrov and NRC were all fine. Ashley did very well, without quite getting the final ball right and Milner wasn't quite his usual self.

We're still a good side, but not much of a goal threat.

And that is precisely the point. Strikers are on the pitch to score goals and lets face we could still be playing now and neither Gabby nor Heskey would have scored. We had bags of possession and I would even say Barry and Petrov dominated midfield and yet we created very few chances again and even fewer goals. If we aspire to play CL football we have to have a Plan B backed up by quality players. Over to you MON.

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