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Reserves vs. West Ham


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As the window slammed shut the door opened on another season of reserve football at Villa Park, where our golden generation of youngsters went looking for a second win of this season and a third straight league title.

So, from five o’clock and the ridiculous to seven and the sublime, Villa’s all conquering reserve side line up with big summer signing Andy Marshall in goal, a back four of Baker, Lowry, Roome and Lichaj, a midfield quartet of Dominik Hofbauer, Herd, Osbourne, and Albrighton, with power and the glory; Collins and Delfouneso up front.

I got there a bit early (first reserves game is like Christmas to me!) but not as early as Steve Staunton, sat all on his own in the corner of the posh seats and looking in a proper sulk.

It hammered down with rain twenty minutes before kick off and drizzled throughout, but spirits seemed high enough and I’m glad to report that this time out West Ham had remembered to bring an away kit.

They included Andrea Zola, the manager’s son, and also Oliver Lee who I would presume is the son of Rob Lee, who joined us in the cheap seats. Big Frank Nouble started up front and had looked a handful the last time I saw him at Villa Park.

By kick off a very healthy crowd had gathered and Stan had been joined by Mark Kinsella and Ian Taylor. He looked much happier.

I’m not sure how Martin O’Neill will feel about the window, but he struggled manfully with the blinds in the box behind us, eventually coming out on top after an almighty battle. He seemed in good spirits.

Kick off – and I’m glad to report that the new keeper is a shouter. He’s not quite at the levels of the foul mouthed Stuart Taylor, but he’s keen as mustard and got straight onto our young back four.

We started brightly with Delfouneso stretching his legs (and the West Ham Left back with a sixty yard burst) from the corner, Albrighton’s cross deflected off a defender to Delfouneso who controlled it effortlessly, made space for the shot and despatched it passed the keeper to give us the lead with just three minutes on the clock. Good skill and a good finish made all the more impressive by how easy he made it look.

Albrighton fired over on 6 minutes as we continued to press and Hofbauer almost scored with a header over a couple of minutes later, and though West Ham’s front three looked lively we were carving out some good chances and playing some lovely football.

Herd was next to work the keeper with a snapshot from outside the box and West Ham were reduced to niggly fouls in their efforts to win the ball back.

Herd and Zola had a few words after Herd was first fouled by Lee, then tackled by Zola, the referee blowing for the wrong offence and young Italian (cockney?) giving the ref a piece of his mind. The players shook hands on it, but just a couple of minutes later Zola jumped in two footed and over the ball on Herd, leaving the Villa man in a lot of pain. It was a disgraceful challenge that would have brought an immediate red card in any Premiership game and he was incredibly lucky to only see yellow. His temper had gone though and he was a marked man in a game that was suddenly markedly more tense.

Isaiah Osbourne poked him in the eye a couple of minutes later and the West Ham bench rather wisely decided that he’d had enough adventure for one day and substituted him on 20 minutes. He went off with an ice pack on his face, a lecture from the Villa coaching staff and a fair bit to think about.

Undaunted, we continued our assault on the West Ham goal, with Collins volleying over before Delfouneso almost scored with a header from six yards out. Hofbauer forced a cracking save from the West Ham keeper on 34 minutes and Collins headed the resulting corner into the ground and over the bar.

Another chance for Delfouneso cleared the cross bar a minute or two later as we continued to zip the ball around.

On 37 minutes the game flared up again as Albrighton and the spiky Anthony Edgar (who was excellent throughout) engaged in the traditional bout of handbags. Our boy looked to be on top when the ref separated them and he rather generously decided to take no further action. The combatants remained on non-speaking terms throughout the evening.

Herd blasted a couple of yards wide from thirty yards out as we finished the half in much the same style as we’d played it form the start, a really good 45 minutes and a wonder that we were only one goal up.

Of course we all know what happens next.

We were a little slow out of the traps in the second half and despite Albrightons superb dipping volley forcing another decent save, it was only a matter of time before Karma’s hand was turned.

James Collins the unlucky Villa man, heading the ball passed Marshall in his efforts to clear a free kick and providing the equaliser for West Ham with a scruffy own goal.

The equaliser might well have looked unlikely but it brought on a period of dominance from West Ham, their front three of Edgar, Nouble and Hines looking very lively and giving Lichaj and Lowry plenty of exercise.

Our heads dropped for a short while and we looked a little listless, nothing was really coming off for us and West Ham had raised their game.

Delfouneso had another long range effort tipped wide by Kurucz in the West Ham goal and Collins then had a close range effort blocked over as we began to show signs of life.

Gardner came on for Herd on the hour and began to exert an influence on our play, where Herd is an all action cavalier; Gardner lets the ball do the work.

Albrighton was showing signs of life having worn his fullback out and pulled over inviting low cross from the right that Collins headed at the keeper from three yards out, he got a good block on it, but Collins was first to the rebound and from the floor he got a toe on it and squeezed it under the keepers body.

It was very well cleared off the line by a West Ham defender to keep the game tied.

Delfouneso had his best chance of the match when Lowry placed a cross perfectly on his head, unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box and right between the posts he somehow managed to put it wide.

Villa though were now back to life and back on top of the game.

McGurk came on for his first home appearance for three years following his dreadful time with injuries and celebrated with a twenty-five yard volleyed effort with his first touch. It was straight at the keeper and a comfortable save, but what a story it’d have made.

No matter, a free kick from deep was headed across the box by Baker and Gardner controlled the ball beautifully in the air with his left foot before poking it home with the outside of his right. Perfectly placed and in off the post, it was a goal with a touch of the Bergkamps about it.

We relaxed with the goal and West Ham seemed to tire and in truth we could have added more goals in the last fifteen minutes, Delfouneso curled one shot wide, after one of many runs at the heart of the defence and if his finishing had matched his approach work could have added another two in the last ten minutes.

The best of his late chances came from a fabulous disguised little ball into the area from Osbourne that he hammered a foot wide of the post from next to the penalty spot with only the keeper to beat.

McGurk stabbed a shot over the bar and Delfouneso tried to once to often to beat the defender with good options either side of him as we threatened a third, but time ran out before we could provide it.

A good win nonetheless and a really entertaining game of football with moments of real quality.

Some ratings:

Marshall (7) – Erm…marshalled the defence well (sorry) and seemed confident enough collecting things but was never really troubled; had no chance with the own goal.

Lichaj (6) – In a real battle all night with Hines and Edgar, he won as many as he lost. He was strong and willing and won out in the end through sheer determination. Got caught out of position a couple of times but worked hard at it.

Roome (7) – I don’t get it. He’s too small to be a centre back and he doesn’t really excel at anything; he’s not particularly quick, not particularly good in the air, not a great footballing centre half who bring the ball out; so why does he never have a bad game?

Baker (7) – He’s a young chap who makes a few mistakes, but he was good in the air and he showed a couple of times how quick he was. West Ham’s front line was impressive and Baker did really well in all his individual battles. Spent time at centre half and left back, rotating with Lowry and looked good in both positions.

Lowry (7) – Got forward when he could and battled hard with Nouble. He’s a good leader on the pitch and he defended manfully all night.

Albrighton (7) – Absolutely nothing came off for him for the first hour of this game, every bounce went against him, every referee’s decision went against him and he couldn’t seem to get going. He just keeps coming though and by the end he was dominating the left back and providing his usual service of quality balls in form the right hand side.

Herd (7) – He like’s a row. He’s an energetic, bouncy, aggressive midfielder who defends well, runs his socks off and can play a bit too. He’s a candidate for another loan period this season I think.

Osbourne (8.) – Sublime at times. Seriously, when you see Isaiah have games like this you realise what all the fuss might be about. He controlled it for long periods and showed off an excellent range of passing. If he could bring this to the first team he’d be a real asset.

Hofbauer (7) – Looked lively and inventive and a little stronger on the ball. He created some good chances for us from down the left and defended better than he has in the past. He’s continuing to develop and there are signs of progress here.

Delfouneso (6) or (9) – I’m not sure which it should be, he was quicker than anyone else, both on the run, with the ball and in his head, he took the defence on and won more often than he lost out. Good players play well and he played very well, but good strikers score goals and I don’t think it’s crazy to say he should have had four or five. He probably deserved more than one for his performance.

Collins (7) – Unlucky at both ends and could have had a goal or two himself. He’s a good foil for Delfouneso, strong and capable he holds the ball up well and makes room for his partner. Solid.

Subs

Gardner (8.) – He was impressive again, both in his use of the ball, his tackling and his eye for a goal. He seems to score every time he comes on as a sub and his goal tonight was another from the top draw. He’s a real prospect.

McGurk (6) – Looked a little rusty but will have enjoyed the run out, his coming on helped change our shape and he was instrumental in our resurgence in the game; needs a couple more games to get back to speed though.

That’s your lot, a great evenings football for a total cost of absolutely nothing to season ticket holders and next to nothing for everyone else. Crowds are noticeably up for reserve games and frankly it’s because people aren’t daft. If it can put a smile of Steve Staunton’s face it can put one on yours.

Next up: Portsmouth on the 14th September at Villa Park, 19:00 kick off.

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Very entertaining report Scott, really enoyed it. Good to have the reserves and your reports back :thumb::D

I’m not sure how Martin O’Neill will feel about the window, but he struggled manfully with the blinds in the box behind us, eventually coming out on top after an almighty battle.

That's a great mental image :)

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Can i just say OBE that I really really enjoy your reserves reports. Reading from the other side of the world, I can actually picture the game as described by you....and that is a talent. Cheers mate. :thumb:

*sigh* I hope all you folks really appreciate how much those of us a long long way away wish we were there. First team, reserves team any Villa team! :flag:

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Can i just say OBE that I really really enjoy your reserves reports. Reading from the other side of the world, I can actually picture the game as described by you....and that is a talent. Cheers mate. :thumb:

*sigh* I hope all you folks really appreciate how much those of us a long long way away wish we were there. First team, reserves team any Villa team! :flag:

I will second this! i always enjoy reading your reports, and if im ever over the pond, when a stiffs game is on, im taking you for a pint for keeping me updated!

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Thanks OBE - I don't manage to get to many first team games, let alone reserves, so I really appreciate decent writing like this to be able to catch up on what's happening. Did you get any sense that Albrighton's becoming a bit of a marked man in the reserves now he's had a couple of games for the first team and featured in pre-season?

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