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A six goal Easter thriller at the Villa!


John
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The point from this game will not guarantee fourth or fifth place but it allows us to still dream of an increasingly unlikely fourth spot and makes Everton’s job of pipping us for fifth less likely and unlike the rest of the top 6 we have all of our eggs in one Easter basket and so can give our undivided attention to our season defining 6 game run-in!

This was a battle between two closely matched sides that have this season delighted television audiences with their high scoring close encounters. We are the two closest challengers to the top 4 and are that step above the rest of the division. This season we may finish fifth and they may wind up sixth, which would be a reversal of last season’s placings and would represent progress for us. We have now proved ourselves over the course of two seasons, the best of the rest and the two teams most likely to take advantage of any slips from the usual suspects who now again fill the top 4 places.

Everton may see the penalty that cost them the game to be debatable but I think by then and given the weight of reasonable penalty appeals referee Webb had turned down before then he had little choice but to give one. I would also suggest that Everton should not feel hard done by as many a challenge on Ashley Young went unpunished by the referee as did the latest of Fellaini’s elbow to head incidents.

So this was the perfect result for Arsenal, who now hold the 8 point gap that a win rather than a draw from our home game against Stoke just six weeks ago would have given us over them. Our draw keeps the slender one point gap between us and Everton in place and should see us favourites to finish fifth. It did not add to the mere handful of home wins we have achieved at Villa Park this season. But I consider that our comeback performance yesterday and our unlucky late defeat at Old Trafford does suggest that we can put the recent miserable run of results behind us and produce a strong run-in.

Whether that can now give us Champions League football rather than Europa Cup football next season is I would suggest dependant on Arsenal at the very least losing the 3 games they face against the teams that occupy the first three places in the league and on us winning all of our remaining games. But, if Arsenal do not slip up in these and other games and our finish is good but not quite good enough to compensate for the ground we have lost in recent weeks it will see us qualifying for Europe through the front door and with the experience gained from the many rounds we played to qualify and then reach the last 32 in the UEFA Cup behind us. It will also see us starting next season in August rather than in July and possibly with a stronger bigger squad that can face the prospect of doing battle on more than one front.

My player ratings from a game that has left us needing a strong finish to the season to end it in the top 5 are:

Brad Freidel - 7 – Tipped over a rasping shot on 16 minutes and did well to block a dangerous cross on 41 minutes that could have put us 2 goals down at half time.

Luke Young – 7 – Solid and again made some crucial challenges.

Curtis Davies – 6 – Continues to struggle to produce the level of performances that he gave us earlier this season but his performance improved as the game wore on albeit from a low starting point. How he and we miss the confidence that Martin Laursen brings to the centre of our defence and I just can’t help but feeling that Fellaini might not have been left unmarked for their opener and Cahill would not have got to his own header when it cannoned off the bar so easily had Martin have been marshalling and steadying our defence.

Zat Knight – 5 – Did not look comfortable on his return to the starting line up in Carlos’ absence but he did get a vital touch to the ball on 84 minutes that denied Everton what looked like a great opportunity for a fourth.

Nicky Shorey - 7 – Nicky is now providing the balance that we have lacked for much of the season at the back.

James Milner – 8 – Hit a terrific free kick past Howard to produce the early response to their third goal that we so needed on 55 minutes and gave his usual hard running display.

Gareth Barry – 7 – Hit the penalty that secured us a point with conviction, confidence and “straight down the middle” as Bing Crosby once crooned.

Stiliyan Petrov – 7 – A quiet start but he alongside our captain and James then stood solid and stopped Everton running through us as had been happening during the first quarter of the game. Earned our penalty on 67 minutes when Lescott’s foot connected with his head inside the box and hit a splendid cross which Milner was unable to head down in the last moments of injury time.

Ashley Young – 7 – Moyes saw to it that Ashley faced two defenders on most occasions he made a forward run but he still proved more than a handful for Hibbert who might have conceded a penalty or have left the field earlier than on 65 minutes upon the production of a red card rather than through the choice of his manager following a succession of fouls on our fleet footed winger. But, what has happened to his free kicks? The once deady dead ball crosses are too often over hit and from the edge of the box goal scoring opportunities too often do not trouble the keeper as was demonstrated when his free kick on 51 minutes sailed over the wall but also well over the bar with Howard nothing but a spectator. These are vital aspects of his game that he needs to work on in or after training.

John Carew– 8 – MOTM - Scoring goals for fun on his return to the first team isn’t he? John’s fourth in six appearances came on 33 minutes and brought us back into a game that we had up until then looked odds on losing having gone two goals down on the 23rd minute. Milner’s cross was pushed back into the danger area by Barry and John did well to apply the necessary finish. Demonstrated the physical presence, eye for goal and skill on the ball that may yet produce a strong finish to this season.

Gabby Agbonlahor – 5 – Took a step back from the level of display he had produced at Old Trafford and once again struggled to make an impression on the game but I think his being below par fitness wise may well explain this outcome.

Substitutes:

Nathan Delfounesco - 6 – Replaced the injured Gabby on 53 minutes. Worked himself into a good position to pull the trigger in injury time but his strike lacked the clinical precision of a Macheda and was pushed away by Howard.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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Although I was not at the game I watched the game on TV. I know we have relied on Martin at the back but we need a replacement in the summer as we have seen the best of him now, when he was fit he was great but there has not been enough games played over the last 5 years.

Zat Night played well when he had a run in the back for with Curtis but he has been in and out for the last few games which makes for uncertainty between players.

The midfield were at sixes and sevens for the first thirty minutes when we lost our first two goals, I am not sure what went wrong there, but you saw the same traits against man u last week

Up top we are having a similar problem to the back four, we bought Heskey to play with gabby but unfortunately he has not been fit enough of the time to make a partnership that has bonded well, I am not sure why Hearwood was not played more this and last season, when Gabby and he played they seemed to find the net moor often than not.

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Nail, its not looking good for Martin but he has been written off before due to injury and came back to be our best defender and skipper so I'm hoping he can do the same again with the right medical treatment. But, I agree we need to sign a defender to challenge Curtis & Carlos for the central defensive roles and in view of the fact we cannot rely on Martin's fitness week in and week out. As far as the middle is concerned I back them to get it right again although they seemed to play better as a 5 and it may be worth giving Reo a game there against his old club next week if Gabby is not fully fit. Up front I don't think the Hare fits into Martin's plans and I think we do need to sign a real threat up front for next season to complement Gabby, Emile and Big John, as well as to provide suitable cover and a threat to their starting place.

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Nail, its not looking good for Martin but he has been written off before due to injury and came back to be our best defender and skipper so I'm hoping he can do the same again with the right medical treatment. But, I agree we need to sign a defender to challenge Curtis & Carlos for the central defensive roles and in view of the fact we cannot rely on Martin's fitness week in and week out. As far as the middle is concerned I back them to get it right again although they seemed to play better as a 5 and it may be worth giving Reo a game there against his old club next week if Gabby is not fully fit. Up front I don't think the Hare fits into Martin's plans and I think we do need to sign a real threat up front for next season to complement Gabby, Emile and Big John, as well as to provide suitable cover and a threat to their starting place.

Hi John. Glad to see you back as i have missed your excellent reports. Agree with everything you have stated above. MON must play a system that suits our strength's at the moment. 4-5-1 with a tired Gabby rested to the bench and Big John as our loan striker! After the debacle at Anfield, it should have hit MON right smack in the eye, that we are too open playing 4-4-2, especially with Barry and Petrov as our one paced central midfield partnership! We were lucky that we just got away with it against Everton! Teams are rubbing their hands with glee when they see our present formation and are certainly taking advantage. We seem to have the 'we are going to score more goals than you' mentality, which isn't working with our terrible defence and they need the extra protection again that Petrov gave earlier in the season! Although, you know John what my opinion is of Reo-Coker, he is the best available to give us some extra energy and cover in midfield, so MON should start using him there for our run in!

In the summer, we need to purchase a class defender to either play alongside Laursen next season, when he is fit, or to replace him when he isn't, as Davies and Knight are not the answer. Cuellar needs to be played more in his correct position, to see if he can justify the 7.5 million MON paid for him?

If Barry leaves, then we will also need a quality, creative, midfield replacement and i totally agree with you that we will also need at least one quality addition to our forward line. Vagner Love would be my choice, but don't be surprised if Reading find themselves one forward short, whether they come back up or not?

I was right about Heskey. I sincerely hope i am not right about Doyle?

I am forever the optimist, so therefore i still think we have an outside chance of finishing fourth, but MON must try and shore up our defence, because an in form Fulham and West Ham have the ability to take advantage if we don't! We must, at least be in the position to capitalise, if Arsenal do falter in their difficult run in, so i hope MON changes our system now, before it is too late!

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