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Villa proven to be the finer of these two vintage Clarets!


John
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If this had been a fight the referee would have stepped in on 68 minutes to stop it!

On the half hour with Villa a goal down for 20 of those minutes and having shown little sustained threat to the Burnley goal up until then I wondered where the two goals we needed were going to come from. Ashley scored one on 32 minutes to bring us level at half time and then a 12 minute 4 goal second half salvo proved that Burnley can be very brittle away from home and that we have pace up front that few teams can cope with. So we got three more than the two goals I had been looking for and that sealed the first win of three that we seek in the 8 day period that began yesterday and ends next Sunday at Wembley with ribbons around a trophy.

Burnley might have hoped we would have one eye on next Sunday’s final and for the first third of the game it seemed they might be right. But, after a slow start we ran away with the game in the second half and we now really do have a realistic chance of adding a fourth place finish to one if not two Cup Final wins. It will not be easy to win either cup or to claim that place in the Champions League. Most of us would take any one of these three targets and would see two as the best we could hope for but how about all three? As a former Villa Manager once said, “Do you want to bet against us?”

My player ratings from a game that left us still seventh but just a point away from the fourth placed team with a game in hand on them as we along with three other teams bunch up and seek to get our noses in front as we head into the final furlongs are:

Brad Friedel – 6 – Rarely tested and a quiet day at the office for Brad the Elder although he did concede two goals and we have developed a worrying habit of letting in late goals in games when we have them won and that is something we will need to watch for next weekend when or is it if we get into that position!

Carlos Cuellar – 6 – Was this just an opportunity to rest Luke Young before the two forthcoming cup games or was this the team Martin will start with next Sunday? For me this really is not the best place in the side for Carlos and when fit Luke Young would be my choice, although like Martin I do rate Carlos very highly. But, for me with two fit full backs there is a straight choice to be made between Carlos and James Collins for the place alongside Richard Dunne in the heart of our central defence. Whichever of these two might not start as a result would have every right to feel unlucky but so too would Luke Young if he missed out. Up against a winger who will take him on for pace Carlos does lack the speed to stay with him as was demonstrated yesterday when a player pushed the ball past him and ran onto it leaving Carlos in his wake and although he is generally solid at the back even when playing in this role he does not provide the same link with the wide player in front of him that Luke does.

Richard Dunne – 6 – Not quite his usual dominant self and might benefit for a day off on Wednesday with say Curtis coming in for him but he holds our defence together and will be difficult to leave out of another important cup game.

James Collins – 6 – Steady at the back but his distribution was not all that it might have been yesterday. Hit a sweet and firm shot from outside of the box straight at Jensen when implored to do so by the command “shoot” and if it had been a yard either side this might have produced an equalizer three minutes before one came.

Stephen Warnock - 7 – The best of our four defenders yesterday.

Stewart Downing – 7 – MOTM - Settled this game with two goals in three second half minutes. His first came on 55 minutes when Ashley Young rounded off a good run by finding him inside the box; Stewart took a touch and fired the ball into the corner of the net past both the keeper and a stretching defender for our second goal of the afternoon. Two minutes later he ended the game as a contest when the ball was pushed to him on the edge of the box and his shot took a deflection off a defender past the keeper and into the same corner of the net he had put it in just 2 minutes before.

James Milner – 7 – Looks like he would benefit from a night off on Wednesday but can we do without him? He has made himself indispensable for us but although he has not looked quite at his very best recently he still has a hand in so much that we do well. So do we play him for 3 games in 8 days or leave him on the bench for use only in an emergency against Palace so he is sharp for the final?

Stiliyan Petrov - 7 – Held our midfield together as he always does but unusually players run past him a couple of times last night. I seem to recall hearing that he is carrying an injury and wonder whether that is having an increasing impact on him? Another for the bench on Wednesday, with a view to his being fresh for Sunday I would suggest and giving Delph a full 90 minutes.

Ashley Young – 7 – Worked a short corner with Milner on 31 minutes and hit a shot from the edge of the box that went clean through a group of players and wound up past Jensen and in the back of the net for a crucial equaliser. Was found with a great ball from Downing on 63 minutes and hit a fierce shot over the bar. Another very sound performance. Ash is another player who might benefit from a midweek rest but he creates so much for us I think we need him at least until we have victory in our sights.

Emile Heskey – 7 – Stayed on for 76 minutes last night and showed he is now one of the first names on our team sheet by right. Gave another good display that shows why he makes the England team so often and added another goal when he guided Gabby’s cross into the net on 61 minutes for our fourth. Had earlier guided an inviting Milner cross a couple of feet wide of the post on 24 minutes. Heskey to hit the winner next Sunday anyone or will it be Stewart?

Gabby Agbonlahor – 7 – Should have done better on 57 minutes when Milner put him through but with just “The Beast” to beat he hit the ball straight at the former WBA keeper who blocked the effort albeit just to delay our scoring again by moments. Set up Emile’s goal with his pace and a nice cross having looked up and seen Heskey well positioned. Took a worrying knock on 67 minutes when he forced home Milner’s cross for our fifth and will no doubt be watching Delfouneso attempt to maintain his goal in each round ratio up against Palace from the bench.

Substitutes:

John Carew - 6 – Replaced Gabby on 71 minutes and kept himself busy enough as we played out the game.

Nathan Delfouneso – Screwed a shot wide on 88 minutes that could have given us a sixth but not on long enough to rate having replaced Emile on 76 minutes.

Steve Sidwell – Replaced Ashley on 82 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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