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Reserves vs. Fulham


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We’re almost there. Just one more win away from securing back-to back titles after a 2-1 win over an excellent Fulham side on a nervous night for the reserves.

Glorious sunshine at Villa Park for tonight’s kick off in front of a fair sized crowd as we went seeking the title against Fulham.

We lined up with Parish in goal, a back line of Lichaj, Roome, Clark and Nathan Baker at left back, Albrighton, Hogg, the returning Salifou and Hofbauer across the middle and Nathan Delfouneso partnering Andy Weimann up front.

There was a surprise at kick off as Fulham’s white shirts clashed with our home kit and we were forced to play in claret and blue.

The game started at a bright pace, with the midfield crowded and busy and both sides pressing the ball. Neither side could get a grip of things early on, and when the first chance came it came to Fulham with Danny Hoesen shooting wide from a very good spot.

The game was a full ten minutes gone when we created our first opportunity with an Albrighton cross flying across the six-yard box and Delfouneso almost on the end of it.

Albrighton floated a free kick over the wall and into the keeper’s arms shortly afterwards, but Villa were struggling to get to grips with an energetic and organised Fulham team.

Weimann couldn’t get enough on a header which was an easy take for the keeper as we continued to create half chances, but struggled to find an opening.

Fulham meanwhile weren’t creating much, but when chances came their way they were good ones, Parish being forced into an excellent point blank save from a header.

Fulham were outworking us, which isn’t easily done and Hoesen again found himself well placed, putting his shot a foot wide.

We were given good reason to be glad of his generosity again before half time as he repeated the trick having beaten Clark.

At half time it was nil-nil, we’d created twice as many chances as Fulham, but theirs had been twice as good and we might have found ourselves behind.

We stepped things up a touch at the start of the second half, with Weimann weaving through the midfield and laying a ball out to Albrighton coming in off the wing but he sliced his shot high and wide.

A bright dummy by Salifou then allowed Weimann a run through at the keeper with our best chance of the game, but he placed his shot far too close to the Fulham man.

The busy Albrighton then fizzed another ball across the six-yard line but found the front two slightly disinterested.

We were looking to put some pressure on and a free kick bought a couple of corners, from which Albrighton almost scored with a spectacular volley.

Fulham were still working hard, but not producing the same threat as in the first half and we were finding them frustratingly well organised.

Baker was next to have a go, finding a yard in the box and placing a diving header just over the bar.

On 68 minutes Hofbauer was replaced by Gary Gardner, whose first glimpse of the game was Albrighton fouled after another good run.

With the ball five yards outside of the box and toward the corner, most expected a ball to the back post; not Gardner, who calmly stepped up and stroked home a curling effort at the near post.

A cracking free kick and a great goal scored with his first touch of the game.

Albrighton, now on the left, dinked in another superb cross which Salifou allowed to slip under his foot at the edge of the six-yard box when a goal looked certain and we began to look comfortably in control of the game.

Fulham equalised almost immediately of course; little monster Michael Uwezu beating Roome for pace and clipping the ball over Parish.

Just fourteen minutes to go and the title was on the line.

We pushed on and Baker and Salifou almost conspired to find a winner from a corner, Baker getting something on it with his head and Salifou helping it on before it was very well blocked on the line.

Needing a goal we brought James Collins on to see if he could get his thirtieth of the season and he added some hustle and bustle to the front line.

Delfouneso it was though who was the architect of our winner, running at a tiring defence and drawing players toward him before squaring for Hogg, just outside the box and with work to do he paused for a moment and sized up the task before hitting a sweet effort past the keeper for 2-1.

The celebrations showed that the title means a fair bit to these lads and the watching Martin O’Neill looked absolutely delighted.

We played out time with a calm assurance and the referee blew for time as James Collins chased a ball down to the keeper.

With the final whistle gone, the keeper took umbrage with young Collins and with the referee between them, launched the ball at the back of the Villa striker as he went off. He was lucky to only get a yellow card which I’m sure would have been red if the game hadn’t finished.

Credit to Fulham, they’re second in the league and they played with pace, an outstanding work ethic, organisation and no little skill, with their right back Karim Laribi particularly impressive.

The night was ours though and it sets us up very nicely for a game against West Brom next Monday at Villa Park that might well see us lift the trophy.

Some ratings:

Parish (8.) Very good in the first half when Fulham threatened, he made two or three excellent saves, looked confident with crosses and kicked well. He’s developed a lot this season and is starting to look like a proper keeper.

Lichaj (7) A committed performance and although he couldn’t get forward as much as he’d have liked he defended well and was a threat with his long throws.

Clark (6) Not quite himself tonight but solid enough, looked to find Hoesen a bit of a handful, but marshals the back line well and looks a good skipper.

Roome (6) Mostly neat and tidy but he’ll be disappointed with the goal and appeared to find Uwezu’s pace disconcerting at times.

Baker (6) Interesting outing at left back for Baker, he never looks entirely comfortable out there but he’s learning some lessons that will serve him well in the future. He looked happiest defending or attacking the ball from set pieces but settled reasonably well over ninety minutes.

Hofbauer (6) He found it difficult to get to the pace of the game in the first half and couldn’t really make an impact. Some nice touches but not the most productive night for the Hoff.

Hogg (8.) A Jack Russell of a player, harrying and hassling in midfield, he was kept very busy in the centre but still found time for one or two excellent late runs into the box and scored a terrific winner.

Salifou (7) He did all the simple things well and always looked like he might be able to do the more complicated things too, but didn’t.

Albrighton (8.) He wore Fulham out. Couldn’t get the better of a defence that often double-teamed him in the first half, but as the second half wore on they tired and he didn’t. He’ll be a mite disappointed that nobody got onto the end of one of the two hundred and seventy one (ish) crosses that he put in during the game.

Delfouneso (7) He found the service limited, especially through the middle of the park and with space at a premium struggled to pick the ball up from deep. Late on he started to find space and his creation of Hogg’s goal was excellent. However, Nathan didn’t have an effort at goal in ninety minutes.

Weimann (6 or 7) Some really good stuff with the ball at his feet, some really hard work, some good running off the ball and some decent passing…but also periods of the game where he wasn’t involved enough and no real efforts on goal to speak of.

Subs.

Gardner (8.) Two substitutes appearances for the reserves have now brought two goals from a combined distance of about fifty yards. If Craig is all steel, Gary brings a little silk to the Gardner repertoire. He has a nice touch on the ball, good vision and it would seem, the ability to curl a ball into the net from just about anywhere. He’s sixteen.

Collins (7) Huffed and puffed and kept Fulham occupied as we saw out the match; just what was required.

Next up: West Brom on Monday.

Bring a camera and be prepared to have to listen to Queen.

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Great report and a good even game. Comment on the strip clash made me chuckle. I again enjoyed the reserve action, feeling none of the usual pressure of expectation (and disappointment) which I so often feel when at Villa Park for first XI games.

I must admit that the potential for back-to-back wins in the Southern League is beginning to crank-up the pressure, but I always feel that this ‘honest bunch of lads’, albeit depleted by a significant number of them going out on loan spells recently, will work their socks off and deliver the goods.

I agree with your assessments. Elliot Parish is looking like a much more confident keeper, commanding his box and making himself heard, although the equaliser could possibly be put down to him (if I was being harsh) being half-a-second slow in his decision-making for coming off the line to intercept the Fulham’s Michael Uwezu. By the time he did commit it was relatively straight-forward for Uwezu to lob the ball into the net for the goal.

Lichaj looked to be exercising his long throw. Although not quite ‘Delapesque’, he certainly seems able to chuck it some considerable way (Technical term). A useful addition to the armoury.

A word of commendation for Albrighton. Every time I see him, I’m struck by what a cracking little player he is. Imagine Ashley Young, mixed with James Milner with a dash of Barry and I really think we have an amazing prospect for the future in him. He seems to go past defenders just for the fun of it and on a few occasions when I thought he’d tried to carry the ball too far, I was amazed when he appeared from a ruck of 3 Fulham defenders with the ball under control and able to supply the killer cross. Cracking game, bright future!

The goal from Jonathan ‘Boss’ Hogg was a real corker. Great control and superb finish. Well done!

The real ‘alternative’ highlight of the game for us was watching a couple of families sat somewhere in front of us enjoying a warm evening watching the Villa.

A more-than-ample allocation of generally well-behaved children, including pushchairs, plus the product of what looked like a very successful shopping trip immediately prior to visiting VP meant that there was a sizeable stash of shopping bags and other assorted paraphernalia. Not wishing to sound rude, but it looked like the Clampetts were in town…

A young lad, no more than 6 years old, sat directly behind us, glanced over at the assembled gear and with the perfect timing and comic delivery that only the innocence of youth can manage, announced to his Dad in a loud voice that ‘There’s a family on holiday down there…!’ Managed somehow not to spray Coke and chips all over the Lower Trinity, but I still don’t know how.

I do love Reserve games! Roll on next Monday night…

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There was a surprise at kick off as Fulham’s white shirts clashed with our home kit and we were forced to play in claret and blue.

:D

I'm looking forward to seeing Gary Gardner. A friend of mine (who's a smurf) knows one of the blues youth scouts who said that Gary Gardner was one of the best youth players he's ever seen and they were devastated when he signed for us instead. I know that doesn't say much compared to their academy but he was talking about all the players he's scouted. Sounds good to me. What's he like stature wise? Same sort of size as Craig?

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He's not, he's a fair bit taller than Craig and not so menacing.

Well as I've never seen anyone as menacing as Craig that's not surprising...

Is he taller and quite well built like say a Lampard or skinnier than that? More like a... hmm, I'm struggling a bit for a comparison, Osbourne maybe a shorter Peter Crouch?

I guess what I'm basically asking is is he well built enough to become a Prem midfielder.

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Great report, as usual, OBE :) Spurs beat Stoke 1-0 yesterday to keep the pressure up on us for the PRL South title, and they have a game in hand on us too. I believe we're on 33 points, Spurs on 28, and we have a better goal diff., but we must beat the Baggies on Monday to be sure of the title....and the play-off against Sunderland, winners of the PRL North. Up The Villa!!

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