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We have hit the wall again in March!


John
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Four dropped points from two home games have proved once more that points on the board are worth more than games in hand and our season may well now rest on what we do in our next four games and two of those are against Chelsea!

We had the chances to have won this one and to be fifth rather than two places lower than that tonight. Once again we had to show our resilience by coming back from a goal behind as we did on Saturday but this time we had over an hour to find a winner following a team taking the lead on our patch against the run of play rather than just a few minutes but we failed to get a winner again. Other teams will think that March has done for us again and some of our players do unsurprisingly look tired as we reach the business end of this game filled season. I think to secure fourth we will now need to get something at places like Chelsea or Manchester City and to win all of the games we will start as favourites to win up to the end of this season which we have failed to do in the last two home games.

But, whatever happens between now and the end of this season it has still been an improvement on the previous season as has every season with Randy and Martin at the helm. Fourth place would be a terrific bonus as would winning the FA Cup or reaching a second final this season. We might not be the favourite for either but do you want to bet against us?

My player ratings from a game that left us still in seventh and perhaps starting to need to look over our shoulders as we did last season at the fast approaching Everton as well as at the clubs who remain above us in the race for fourth are:

Brad Freidel – 6 – Had an awkward second half moment when he tried to watch the ball roll out for a corner only to be robbed by Bent but fortunately Collins was the only player in the box and dealt with the ball. Brad made up for that later on 73 minutes when he touched a Bent shot around the post for a corner after a Dunne mistake. Otherwise a quiet night.

Carlos Cuellar – 6 – Martin is nothing if not his own man and Carlos once again got the nod in front of Luke Young. More solid tonight at the back and a much more composed performance to that produced at the weekend.

James Collins – 6 – Had a good early downwards header from a Downing cross blocked by Gordon but should have done better on 18 minutes when a terrific free kick was whipped in by Young and he was in place at the far post looking odds on to head home until he appeared to be distracted by a defender and the ball was headed wide rather than into the net.

Richard Dunne – 5 – Caught in possession and lingering on the ball just outside the box on 73 minutes the ball was pushed into Bent’s path who beat Collins on the edge of the box before being denied by Brad. Had earlier had the ball touched away from him when it looked his on 44 minutes but this time Campbell hit his shot wide rather than into the net as he had 22 minutes earlier when his pace had again caused our defence problems. Was he really fit to start or was this just a couple of rare lapses?

Stephen Warnock - 6 – Steady enough at the back and linked well enough when going forward.

Stewart Downing – 6 – Hit a fantastic ball from inside his own half early in the game that split the Sunderland defence and found Young near the corner who then hit a cross that Carew looked likely to turn in until Gordon stuck out an arm to prevent it reaching him. A marked improvement on Saturday.

James Milner – 6 – Not quite at his best again but he was an injury doubt before the game so could this have been because he was carrying a knock?

Stiliyan Petrov - 6 – Tired visibly during the course of the game or was it the injury he seems to be carrying kicking in once more?

Ashley Young – 8 – MOTM – The player that produced the lions share of our goal threats through his first class delivery of the ball. Ash has shown a marked improvement in recent games where colleagues have tended to struggle where they had not previously.

John Carew – 7 – Added another goal to his recent goal glut on 30 minutes when he turned home a great Young cross to score our equalizer and has now surely earned a starting place alongside Gabby when both are fit. Headed a good Young cross on 4 minutes that had looked goal bound until Gordon produced a good reaction save to deny him, the keeper also pushed a second half shot wide that had looked destined for the corner of the net with one hand but the officials amazingly gave a goal kick and Big John later headed wide from a corner when a winner had looked the most likely outcome.

Emile Heskey – Once again an injury prevented Emile putting in a full shift replaced by Delfouneso on 13 minutes and that was not long enough to earn a rating although he did almost convert a Young cross when under pressure from a defender but the ball ended wide.

Substitutes:

Nathan Delfouneso – 7 – Replaced Emile on 13 minutes and connected with a fierce late cross from Warnock that he nodded wide. Looked decent and will improve with more opportunities such as these.

Steve Sidwell – 6 – Replaced Milner on 76 minutes and might have got an injury time winner to his name when a deflected ball went over the bar near the end.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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