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The problem of Styles!


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We had more than enough chances to have won this one but our defensive frailties and inability to keep a clean sheet had left us clinging onto a point before Styles who had earlier taken the shirts off our backs then denied Gareth Barry the opportunity to get us the win we deserved from the penalty spot!

Five home league wins from 17 is relegation form rather than what would be expected from a team with hopes of Champions League qualification, as is 3 points from the last 24 that were available to us. Its also two months since our last home win in early January, sadly we do not play the likes of WBA more often at Villa Park and we have not seen the steadying influence of Martin Laursen in our central defence since then.

At half time the main surprise was that there had only been one goal scored when on another day there could have been six goals shared between these two teams by then. But, with missed opportunities comes the nagging worry that we might pay for our wastefulness in front of goal and that a single goal could deny us the win we had for so long looked like getting. It has happened to us before against Stoke to quote just one such example and we are a team that are very prone to conceding late goals as we did against Manchester United as well as Stoke in recent weeks. Is it now worth considering whether zonal marking works for our current defence which has been failing to pick up runners particularly at corners, because after all spaces do not score goals players do.

But, what we really needed yesterday was a clean sheet and one of them is as rare for us as is a cup in a Small Heath trophy cabinet. We have to go back 2 months and 11 matches to find one and so the odds were always against us securing a much needed win, reducing the gap between us and beaten semi-finalists Arsenal from 8 to 5 points and putting an end to our recent slump unless we extended our lead to two goals. Our second goal never came but sadly their equalizer did and Tristan stole the show and milked the applause from an adoring East rather than West End audience.

This like our two previous performances was a good overall performance in what would have been an exciting game for the neutral. The reason we did not take all three points on this occasion was not solely due to missed chances, no there was another dark force at large at Villa Park yesterday. If football fans were asked to name the most controversial and consistently worst performing current referee, I think the name Rob Styles would come up more than once. In insisting we changed our shirts to accommodate West Ham although clubs have to agree their kits with the Premier League 10 days before a game Styles left us running out for the first half in third choice white shirts that had no player name on the back and no Acorns logo on the front.

Not content with this he then demonstrated his inconsistency. On 63 minutes Mark Noble reacted to Petrov’s late challenge. When Ashley Young had done the same thing earlier he was given a yellow card but Noble already had one yellow and would have been off had a second yellow been produced and with that West Ham’s hopes of a point would have surely disappeared down the tunnel as well. But, he did not want to settle for that did he? As the game ebbed away Tomkins and Carew ran into the box and Tomkins clearly handled to deny Carew a goal scoring opportunity. But, Styles as he did when Noble should have seen red earlier bottled it. He will no doubt claim a “Wenger” in that he did not see it. But, the television cameras and thousands in the crowd that were further away from the incident than he and his linesmen were did and so another club pay the price of another sub standard refereeing display.

My player ratings from a game that finally crushed our Champions League aspirations and in which late substitutions did not help our continuity are:

Brad Freidel - 7 – Did well in a one on one situation in the first minute to deflect a shot wide of the post, made a good block on 79 minutes at the end of what had been a goalmouth scramble and got his finger tips to a late deflection on 88 minutes that could have otherwise left us pointless. Seemed a little jittery towards the end particularly when juggling the ball inside his area late on. But given the pressure that the defence in front of him puts him under that is perhaps understandable even for a keeper of his experience and undoubted quality.

Luke Young – 7 – Solid enough and did some important covering work at the back.

Curtis Davies – 5 – Continues to disappoint, he is a much better player than his recent performances suggest that he is.

Carlos Cuellar – 6 – Carlos was slightly the more assured of our two central defenders who both struggled to inspire confidence and to handle runs at our defence.

Nicky Shorey - 6 – Looked good going forward and steady at the back up until the last fifteen minutes when his levels of confidence and performance dropped dramatically.

James Milner – 8 – (MOTM) - Produced a great saving tackle on 6 minutes when Stanislas was about to pull the trigger, forced a near post save from Green from a good shot that appeared to be going just wide and was not quite able to keep a first half header down much to his annoyance. Given more space than of late and his solid running all action display was much missed when he left the field on 81 minutes.

Gareth Barry – 8 – Gareth was inches wide with a header from a good Shorey cross on 9 minutes. Gave his usual exemplary performance and showed with the time he seems to have on the ball and with his intelligent use of it how important it is for us and I would suggest his England career that he stays with us next season.

Stiliyan Petrov – 8 – Hit a good shot from the edge of the box just wide on 40 minutes and was another who showed once again with this level of performance that his signing a new contract before the start of next season will be as important as will be the need to bring in new faces.

Ashley Young – 7 – Often double teamed again when he had the ball at his feet. His second effort after a free kick from the edge of the box had rebounded back to him on 21 minutes flew inches wide of the far post. Showed some nice touches when the opportunity presented itself.

John Carew– 7 – John and Emile looked surprisingly effective together yesterday and suggested that they may be able to produce effective performances when they need to played alongside each other which most of us had doubted up until yesterday. Hit a Young cross into the side netting on 66 minutes, could not get a header down when he got onto the end of a cross when unchallenged on 77 minutes and was unlucky that his strong run into the box did not produce the late penalty it should have.

Emile Heskey – 7 – The goal machine clicked into gear when he got on the end of a good cross from Milner and applied the appropriate finish on 11 minutes to give us a rare lead at Villa Park. He was also very unlucky 15 minutes later when he slid in to reach the ball before Green only to see his strike hit the post. Might have got the vital second on 46 minutes when he hit the ball into Green’s chest from close range after good work between him and Carew had produced an early second half opportunity.


Nathan Delfounesco - 6 – Replaced Heskey on 71 minutes and made little impact.

Craig Gardner – Surprisingly chosen ahead of Reo to replace Milner on 81 minutes when I think a late appearance of the Hammers former captain might have provided some distraction and led to some West Ham players putting their efforts into kicking him rather than finding a way back into the game. Craig was not on long enough to earn a rating or to make a positive difference.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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have to say i was quite surprised by MON's subs yesterday. Unless the pplayers he took off were knackered or injured, then i could see no real reeason to do it.

It disrupted or play, and gave the initiative back to West ham. The players that came on did not really contribute all that well, and we were weaker as a result.

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It disrupted or play, and gave the initiative back to West ham. The players that came on did not really contribute all that well, and we were weaker as a result

I agree 100 %, I think Martin might have gone for fresh legs for Heskey as he had not been a certain starter earlier in the week but I think Milner must have had a knock. Making changes is not something that Martin does as a rule in such positions, so I suspect the changes may have been forced on him rather than through choice.

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Milner had cramp. Heskey having spent time out injured was tiring a lot. I think a few more of them were looking pretty done in, last 15 minutes. The problem wasn't so much that players had to come off, but that the replacements are not at the same level, decent prospect though Delf is, and as committed as CG is.

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The problem wasn't so much that players had to come off, but that the replacements are not at the same level, decent prospect though Delf is, and as committed as CG is.

Yes I agree with that and thanks for confirming the reason for Milner's exit.

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Oh and Styles is a bellend - a shit official who must also be colour blind to think claret shirts would have clashed with sky blue.

**** tosser shoud be shit canned like Rennie

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Hi John. Another fab report so many thanks for that. Another disappointing result and i don't think anyone at Villa Park was surprised when West Ham equalised. No point really, in trying to find more answers for our recent down turn of form. Its probably a culmination of a lot of things which have already been commented on.

Hopefully we can still secure European qualification, with the likes of West Ham, Spurs, and Fulham still dreaming of finishing in the top seven. A win will give us some much needed confidence and after securing 5th or 6th, Martin will hopefully strengthen our obvious weaknesses in the summer with quality?

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Hopefully we can still secure European qualification, with the likes of West Ham, Spurs, and Fulham still dreaming of finishing in the top seven

I can't see us not getting into the top 7 at the very worst Ciaran and I think those clubs will be looking at 7th rather than in getting above us. I think with Everton now in the final we will pip them to 5th. A few weeks ago all this would not have been in question but after this run who knows really?

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