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It’s grim up North!


John
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Jackie Milburn, Ant & Dec, Bobby Robson, Jimmy Nail, Bobby Moncur, Sting, Steve Cram, Freddie Shepherd, Kevin Keegan your boys took a hell of a one goal beating and embraced the prospect of going down with the Albion (and Boro) rather too readily!

I had expected Newcastle to come at us yesterday as if their lives depended on it. But, they seemed resigned to their fate before they got to Villa Park and fell through the relegation trap door without a fight. That we did not knock down the final nail in their relegation coffin earlier and put those Newcastle fans out of their misery sooner was a pity. The Geordie fans did not deserve the slow torture of thinking a late equalizer might yet come to prevent the inevitable. But, this was no Stoke or Hull who put us under pressure late on in their games to attempt to get a point that their performances up until then had not warranted this was a team who once they went behind accepted defeat a little too easily.

They look to me like a team that may find it hard to bounce straight back and getting them back is a job that Alan Shearer might see as being too great a risk to his managerial future unless he can secure the sort of backing that he would want from Mike Ashley but would be unlikely to receive. I loved the gallows humour of Alan Shearer’s wave to the Holte End following chants of “Shearer, Shearer give us a wave”, the “Sob on the Tyne” banner and the chorus of “We’ll meet again don’t know where don’t know when” But, enough of the end of Newcastle’s 16-season stay in the top flight and onto us.

Our seventh home league win of the season and another rare clean sheet took us just above last season’s points tally and secured sixth place for us for a second year. Holding onto a top 6 position may prove more difficult next season without captains Laursen and potentially Barry and inching past cup finalists Everton and then breaking into that oh so predictable top four will be harder still. But, that is the level of expectation that has now been created at Villa Park.

We had faced Chelsea at Villa Park three months ago in what was then a six pointer. We were looking to open a gap between us and them having already achieved that with Arsenal. Liverpool were also in our sights. But, since that day points have proved to be rare commodities for us and not only did Arsenal overtake us but more surprisingly so did Everton who despite having a rather important game next weekend have kept going all the way to the finishing post where we arrived at it looking more like Devon Loch in the 1956 Grand National!

Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton went on solid runs during the last three months of this season where we hit a wall winning only 2 games between then and now. That these two wins were from our last two home games, although they were against bottom 4 dwellers will leave us feeling slightly better about a season that promised so much but faded alarmingly to deliver little more than we achieved last season. But, this does represent some progress for our football club. We are now accepted as a top 6 side, every England squad has one of more Villa player in it and it has been some years since that was the case for us. It was also us who for much of the season provided a challenge to the top 4 that made us everyone else’s favourite team in the same way we were at Hull and Sunderland yesterday and we can come again next season with the right number and quality of signings in this transfer window and the time to make these signings is now upon us Martin.

My player ratings from a game that we won without needing to get out of second gear or needing to check that we still actually had a third gear are:

Brad Freidel - 6 – Unsighted until late on 9 minutes when he just managed to push a Duff effort wide of the post.

Craig Gardner – 6 – Craig did a decent enough job although his distribution could have been better he did hit a screamer from the edge of the box on 29 minutes that Harper pushed over.

Curtis Davies – 7 – Handled what limited threat Newcastle’s forwards could offer well enough and showed signs that a partnership with Carlos might develop given time and a run of games together. Curtis is a player whose early season form got him to the fringes of the England squad and I am confident we can see that same player again next season on a consistent basis.

Carlos Cuellar – 7 – Looked assured yesterday and can grow into this role. Cleared a Taylor shot off the line on 10 minutes.

Nicky Shorey - 6 – Looked good coming forward and was half decent at the back. What he has shown in recent weeks is that we are a better side with full backs playing in their natural positions, whether Nicky challenges for that role next season along with a hopefully fully fit Bouma will be for Martin to decide.

James Milner – 7 – Produced his usual box to box performance and at times particularly during the first half seemed determined to be the one who would apply the coup de grâce to his former club. Hit a shot wide on 54 minutes following a good one-two with Barry.

Gareth Barry – 8 – MOTM – Showed just what we will be missing should he take the risk of moving onto pastures new. He has a great understanding with Petrov and between them they ran our midfield. It was his shot albeit one that was going wide that Duff deflected past his own keeper on 37 minutes for our winner. He might have got one for himself when he created something for himself out of nothing after a Butt error only to see his shot go just wide.

Stiliyan Petrov – 8 – Another of the sort of consistent performances that led to his securing the title player of the season at B6.

Ashley Young – 7 – A regular threat to Newcastle with his runs at them and curled an effort just wide on 51 minutes.

Gabby Agbonlahor – 6 – More involved than of late and got himself into a couple of good scoring positions on 2 minutes when he headed a Barry cross onto the roof of the net and then on 41 minutes when he touched a good Carew cross inches wide of the far post. Needs to come back next season fresh and looking to work hard on the striker’s art to show that he can rise above the level that past speedy Villa strikers such as Vassell and Joachim reached but were not able to kick on from.

John Carew – 7 – Failed to connect with a cross on 33 minutes when a second was there for the taking.

Substitutes:

Emile Heskey – 6 - Replaced Craig Gardner on 74 minutes. I was surprised by this substitution. I’m not quite sure why it so often seems it is a full back that is the first player to be dragged off by Martin and in this case I did not see how pulling Milner back rather than doing a straight swap for Nigel would be likely to help with Newcastle likely to be looking to press forward as the time ebbed away. Emile’s main contribution was to run down time and he did that effectively enough.

Nigel Reo Coker – Replaced Stiliyan on 84 minutes and was not on long enough to earn a rating.

Steve Sidwell – Replaced Big John on 88 minutes for a rare brief appearance that did not provide the time to earn a raring.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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sorry to be picky but Steve Cram is a Mackem......i'm sure he would wish to point that out !!!!....

Thanks for the correction villahero I had a growing feeling that he might be after I had included him in the list.

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