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Reserves vs. Arsenal


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A bank holiday top of the table clash for reserves watchers tonight at Villa Park as Steve Bould’s young team sought to battle their way into the title race and ruin our dream of an unbeaten season.

They nearly made it too.

A quick visit to the Holte Pub for a quiet stout is the perfect preparation for a tense affair like this one, and suitably refreshed, I joined what looked to be our biggest reserves crowd of the season in anticipation of a tasty looking fixture.

Villa lined up with Andy Marshall back in goal after a period out with injury, a back four with Bouma at left back, O’Halloran and Clark in the middle and Jonathon Hogg on the right hand side. Our midfield had Albrighton on the right flank, the welcome return of Nigel Reo Coker partnering Salifou in the centre and Dominik Hofbauer down the left. Nathan Delfouneso and Andreas Weimann completed a strong looking line up.

Arsenal, in dark blue, had Mannone in goal and familiar names Evina, Cruise, Barazite and Freeman in their side and they kicked off on a clear but windy night.

Villa made a bright start and in particular Marc Albrighton was quick out of the blocks, he created our first chance with a burst down the right and a cross that was firmly headed goalwards by Delfouneso; it took an excellent reflex save to keep it out.

He repeated the trick a few minutes later after some excellent work by Reo Coker; this time we were thwarted by a clash of heads.

In a technical, tight game, we edged the opening half hour and Arsenal were restricted to just one long shot from Aneke that was a long way wide.

Delfouneso fashioned himself a chance just after the half hour mark but was just wide from twenty yards as we looked for opportunities. He almost found a way through a few minutes later with a shot that Mannone tipped expertly around the post.

Arsenal were seeing plenty of the ball but creating nothing and much of the first period was played in their half with Villa creating a number of chances; Salifou the next to set up Delfouneso but his cross was just deflected off the young strikers head at the last moment by a defender.

Half time and nil-nil, but Villa the better side in a real chess match of a game.

We opened the second half brightly too and after just two minutes, Weimann who had drifted out to the right hand side delivered a cross that completely deceived the keeper and almost went in at his near post. It was all he could do to parry the ball to the feet of Delfouneso who took his time prodding it home to give us the lead.

From the moment we scored there only looked like being one winner – sadly it wasn’t us.

Arsenal were forced onto the offensive and looked a lot better for it and our midfield started to leave holes for them.

Marshall was sharply out to smoother at the feet of Aneke as they pressed, we still carried a threat and Salifou, free at the back post from an over hit cross, had a blast from a tight angle that went out for a throw in.

Ciaran Clark took a knock on the head in making a fantastic last-ditch tackle and Arsenal played on, forcing a top drawer one handed save from Marshall. There’d have been plenty to say if that had gone in.

From the resulting corner and with Clark still off the pitch for treatment, Marshall made another excellent save, this time tipping a point blank header around the post; he was having a very good game.

At the other end Weimann was almost in from a vicious Albrighton cross but found Mannone equally sharp.

Freeman wriggled past Hogg and found himself one-on-one with the Villa keeper who again showed great form, standing up strong and blocking the effort away.

Hogg was on and off the field for a few minutes with a bloody nose and Freeman and Aneke were running the game, our midfield seemed to have switched off and Reo Coker in particular was showing a bit of rust. Arsenal were playing with a lot of width and moving the ball around well and our side had noticeably tired, confidence was with the Londoners and they made it count on 76 minutes.

Steve O’Halloran was lured out of position and found the pacey Afobe, on as a substitute, in behind him, he made his way to the byline, tempting out the keeper before cutting a ball back for Barazite to stroke into an empty net.

The goal seemed to liven us up a little and Delfouneso and Weimann did their level best to get us going. Arsenal were finding more and more of their attacks blocked by the excellent Clark or snuffed out by the watchful Marshall and we re-grouped.

It wasn’t to be though and after Weimann shot wide from a tight angle on the break and a corner in added time came to nothing the referee blew time on a match that was interesting rather than spectacular.

Our unbeaten record for the season remains though and this is a point that pretty much rules Arsenal out of the title race, only Fulham have a realistic hope of catching us now and we face them next Monday at Villa Park.

One each on the night and our dream of an unbeaten season is still on.

Some ratings:

Marshall (8.) – A top quality display from the forgotten man of Villa Park, he made three or four of the type of saves that Paul Merson would describe as “worldy”, organised well, kicked well, and was very good from crosses. Guzan beware!

Hogg (6) – All his good points were there, grit, determination, excellent tackling and decent passing, but he struggled a bit as a right back and found it difficult to deal with Arsenal’s pace. There is much to learn if he’s to settle at the position.

Clark (8.) – He got his first U21 cap recently and his performance tonight can’t fail to have impressed the watching Stuart Pearce. His positional play is excellent, his distribution good and his tackling top quality. He’s a little undersized, but if he continues to play like this there’s a very bright future in the game for him.

O’Halloran (7) – After a long time out he looked bright, brave and ready. His one error allowed Arsenal in, but other than that moment he played well all night and in particular in the second half when our back line earned it’s corn.

Bouma (7) – Everything Hogg needs to learn is available here; Bouma was solid defensively and got forward very well in the first half too, another full ninety minutes under his belt tonight, and he’s a good option to have around the squad.

Albrighton (7) – Not bad, particularly during a really good first half where he showed all his abilities, taking his fullback on down the outside and cutting in with menace, he took a nasty bump against the advertising hoardings which didn’t seem to do him any lasting damage but he did tire towards the end.

Reo Coker (6) – At his best Reo Coker drives a team, he’s a motivator and the energy behind the performance of others; tonight we got Reo Coker-lite, neat and tidy on the ball, positionally sound, but lacking the drive you get from him on the big occasion; more of a run out than a work out. Still, it’s good to see him back and he’ll feel much better for the game.

Salifou (7) – Used the ball very well and started a lot of our attacks with a simple ball, he’s a lot better defensively than he’s given credit for and his passing is very good. I’d like to see him get forward more, but he manages a game pretty well from the middle at this level.

Hofbauer (6) – Busy and involved, he just couldn’t get the quality onto the final ball that he’s capable of. To progress he’s going to need to develop some explosiveness and find some pace from somewhere.

Delfouneso (7) – In the first half everything he did he did well, strong on the ball, good in the air and with a lovely touch, it’s good to see him get a poachers goal too. In the second half he drifted a little deeper in search of the ball and perhaps lost a little of his threat, he’s very good in a creative role behind another striker, but I prefer him when he plays a little more Torres than Gerrard.

Weimann (7) – Buzzed around and got into some dangerous spots, he looked dangerous down the right hand side when he ventured out there and worked hard down the middle, it didn’t quite work out for him tonight though.

And that’s your lot, the Youth Cup semi-final is on Thursday and then next week will see two home games for this reserve side; hopefully one of them will feature a trophy!

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Good report, its always interesting to hear a first hand account of a reserves game. My question is: when are some of the better players going to get a shout in the first team?

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Went last night and thought this very thing, which are ready for the first team and to be honest only the keeper and Salifou impressed me.

Was very disapointed in Albrighton, couldnt get the better of the quick Arsenal full back and dropped his head constantly. thought he was ready for a run in the first team but ive changed opinion slightly.

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Top notch against Scott. Certainly seems like Arsenal went for it. That's the impression we got from the live texts on the OS too. A win against Fulham and it'll be all over bar the shouting. I'm not expecting any favours from Wolves tonight.

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