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Aston Villa reserves vs. small heath: a match report


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The comeback kids almost pulled off the big recovery at small heath tonight, coming from two goals down before eventually succumbing to a late Kevin Phillips goal and a thrilling three-all draw.

Men against boys at small heath with a Villa team constructed entirely of players who’ve come through our academy lining up against a small heath team packed full of experienced journeymen and internationals who’ve lost their way.

I got there early and to be fair, you have to give it to them, it’s a nice modern ground at Saint Andrews.

It’s a bit small, I grant you, but that’s fine; it gives it a nice compact feeling that helps to create atmosphere in a smaller crowd, and yeah, okay it looks a bit plasticky and cheap, but that’s because it’s still reasonably new, or at least one side is still reasonably new. The other side has a certain character that you don’t see at many modern grounds, it’s got that rustic, ramshackle, seventies feel that makes you feel nostalgic for places like the Baseball Ground, oh and there’s a big screen too and a clock, which although it doesn’t keep the right time is a nice traditional touch. If nothing else, the seats are nice and clean, which I guess is only to be expected as a lot of them are barely used.

So, as I say, a nice modern ground.

Villa lined up with Parish in goal, Roome at right back, Clark and Baker at centre half and a first start for Derrick Williams at left back. The midfield featured Marc Albrighton who opened up on the left with Bannan and Hogg inside him and Gary Gardner on the right hand side. Up front Delfouneso partnered Andreas Weimann.

The heath’s line up featured Joe Hart in goal, Vignal at left back, Columbia’s Espinoza at centre back with Franck Queudrue, Villa fan Lee Carsley in midfield with Gary McSheffrey and up front former Villa striker Kevin Phillips.

They’d clearly decided to take this very seriously.

I paid my £4 (That’s 45.25 Chinese Yuan) found a black seat (I’m not sitting in a blue one) and settled in.

small heath settled well, as you might expect of such an experienced side although Albrighton had given them an early warning with a run down the left with Delfouneso heading well over.

In heavy rain, both sides were having trouble with their footing early on and ever the opportunist, it was Phillips who took advantage, playing Robin Shroot in behind Baker and Clark. Shroot finished firmly although Parish got a hand to it and we were behind after just 5 minutes.

Villa were playing stop start football and we were struggling for rhythm. Throughout the first half our passing was poor and we seemed a little nervous. We remained dangerous on the break however and Weimann flashed a speculative effort over the bar from a tight angle.

McSheffrey volleyed over as his side dominated possession and we were struggling to get into the game, our best chance coming when a defender got a touch on a Bannan corner and almost put it into his own net.

We’d started to settle on the half hour mark and Bannan put in a couple of tempting deliveries from free kicks, the second of which found the head of Clark who forced a fairly comfortable save from Hart.

Baker gave away a free kick in a very dangerous position and though Carsley blasted the first effort into the wall, it looked likely that we’d concede again as the ball pinged around our box; Baker atoning with a great block.

Albrighton moved out to the right and was almost immediately booked after arriving late to tackle Vignal. The Frenchman was very unhappy, giving him a big girly slap when offered a hand up. The booking incensed Albrighton who played much of the remainder of the game with a cob on.

His immediate response was a twenty-yard effort that he screwed just wide and he and Vignal spent the rest of the half chuntering away at each other in as aggressive a fashion as the language gap allowed.

Villa were improving and there were signs that our confidence was growing, with Weimann and Gardner both impressing.

As tends to be the way with these things though, we found ourselves two goals down with five minutes to go before half time. Baker came out to tackle a player and the ball rebounded directly to Shroot who again finished calmly, one on one with Parish.

Barry Bannan shot a foot wide from thirty yards just before the whistle but at half time we were in a bit of a spot.

Half time at Saint Andrews is an odd thing; you don’t feel so much that you’re watching a football match as filming an anthropology documentary. Everything you’ve heard is true and a bit more besides.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many poorly made tracksuits. One of the new directors came out at half time to mingle with the supporters, sadly he struggled to communicate with them and resorted to a sort of grunting and mime approach which seemed to find favour and after both sides of the cultural divide had finished weighing each other up he made a hasty retreat for the warmth of the directors box. (Which I felt looked quite well appointed, if a little small and poorly decorated.)

Immediately after he’d gone they took to blowing up condoms and throwing them to each other.

The fun never ends.

The second half sneaked into life with Villa attacking the Agbonlahor End, and we suddenly looked much brighter. Delfouneso had taken up a wider position and was troubling the defence with his pace.

From an excellent burst down the right hand side, he produced an excellent low ball from the by-line, which was gleefully converted by Weimann from five yards out to put us right back in the game.

Albrighton had a little chat with the referee and Queudrue tried a speculative seventy-yard effort after Parish had cleared the ball, but we were in no mood to let our newfound rhythm be broken.

Williams played a long ball over the head of Delfouneso that looked a lost cause and prompted an audible sigh from young Nathan as it sailed over his head. He was game enough to chase it though and impressive in that he reached it just before Espinoza. It looked unlikely he’d keep it in play under pressure from the big defender but he managed that too, cutting neatly inside him and heading into the box along the touchline. He drew the keeper out and played a nice ball across to Weimann who tapped in his second of the night and we were level!

Albrighton had the ball in the net shortly afterwards but was flagged offside, before returning to familiar territory down the right and putting in a great ball that Weimann got two touches on to bundle past Hart. Espinoza got a couple of touches on it too, including the last one, but young Andy made a terrific show of trying to claim it as his hat trick.

Two nil down, three two up.

Delfouneso was replaced on seventy minutes, which I think suggests he may have a part to play on Saturday; Adam McGurk came on.

McGurk tried a snapshot that went straight to the keepers gut and looked a threat immediately. Villa were pressing now and creating chances with both Albrighton and particularly Bannan becoming increasingly influential.

You can’t legislate for a goalscorer capable of playing for England and winning the golden boot though, even if he is thirty-six. Kevin Phillips scored the game’s final goal with an excellently taken effort from pretty much the same spot where he’d once put small heath to the sword for the Villa first team.

It wasn’t the final goal in the game through lack of trying on our part though, as Albrighton and Bannan sent a succession of crosses into the box and we pushed hard for a winner. Clark came closest with a header just over as he arrived on the end of a lovely cross from the midget gem.

Weimann was inches away from converting another great cross from the still mardy Albrighton and substitute Will Grocott almost got lucky with a half chance in the area.

It all proved too much for Jacob Rowe, with the full back leaving the pitch a minute or two before everyone else. His red card the result of pulling back Weimann, the same offence he’d been carded for in the first half.

The referee blew the whistle with small heath on the ropes and Villa unlucky not to finish them off after a breathless second half, and there was still time for Barry Bannan to have to be dragged away from a hapless small heath sub. Pick on someone your own size Barry.

In all; a good game with some good performances against a side with a lot of experience and not so much two points lost as some very good lessons learned.

Some ratings:

Parish (6) – Conceded three times but his overall play was reasonably good, he’s physically developing very quickly and is unrecognisable from a season ago. He’s also finding his voice and it was good to hear him tonight.

Roome (7) – Nice and solid from the determined defender, he dealt pretty well with everything that was thrown at him and he’s developing a bit of nous.

Clark (6) – Not quite as assured as he sometimes looked, but this was a good test for him against Phillips and McSheffrey. He’ll be disappointed not to have gotten on the score sheet.

Baker (6) – Like Clark he wasn’t quite at his best, he’s a very good prospect though.

Williams (7) – Interesting, very interesting. He’s got a footballers face, he looks like the love child of Gabby Agbonlahor and Paul McGrath and he also looks to be a very good athlete. At just sixteen, he looks a prospect; he made a couple of errors and looked nervy at times but can look back on his first start with some pride. He didn’t look out of place at this level and I look forward to seeing him again.

Albrighton (7) – Poor in the first half but much improved in the second. He was visibly annoyed with the referee throughout and whilst it sometimes seemed to spur him to life it also sometimes seemed to get the better of him.

Bannan (6) – Got better as the game went on, another who had a poor first half, he was the probably the best player on the pitch for the last quarter of an hour. He looked frustrated with himself at the end.

Hogg (6) – Good to see the boss make a return, he was solid here but never really got the grip he’d have liked on the game. The midfield was a difficult place to be and with an early booking he had to be on his best behaviour throughout.

Gardner (7) – He’s getting to be a big lad and he played pretty well tonight. Starting on the right, he moved into the middle, then the left and finished the game at left back. He’s a versatile footballer, calm and with some ability on the ball and alongside Williams he’s leading the line for the group that are coming through this year.

Delfouneso (7) - Looked more dangerous when he moved out wide where he caused Espinoza a lot of problems. It was interesting to watch their battle in the middle of the field, Delfouneso still has some filling out to do and Espinoza is a big, strong, experienced defender, but he played him well and gave him a good battle before taking him out wide and running rings round him.

Weimann (7) – His work rate was impressive tonight and he’s another that’s looking bigger and stronger. He’s maturing into a very decent player and thoroughly deserved his goals.


McGurk (7) – Lively and mobile, he looked sharper than I’ve seen him since he returned from injury and I’ve a feeling he’s not far away from pushing on into more regular action.

Grocott – Not really on long enough for a rating but seemed keen. Strange hair.

So there you go, I’m off to burn my clothes and have a long bath.

Next up for the reserves is the first of the two games against Arsenal that will probably decide the title; we’re away to them on the 25th November.

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Some of your best work OBE....whatever you do for a living I think you should consider writing reports, its a gift mate.

BTW, we sure have some good prospects in the reserves, especially against a SHA side that had such a high percentage of first teamers.

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