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Aston Villa Reserves vs. Stoke City


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The champions return.

After victory at Bodymoor Heath earlier this week, the reserves strolled back into Villa Park tonight as three time champions. Stoke were the opposition on a chilly but entertaining evening with a bit of a party feel.

I was a little late tonight so sadly missed the players coming out for the warm up, they were warmly applauded on for kick off though and the Villa line up featured a surprise or two:

We had Andy Marshall in goal, protected by a back four of (l-r)Bouma, O’Halloran, Clark and Roome, a midfield four of Hofbauer, Hogg, Reo Coker and Bradley and a front two of Harry Forrester and none other than big Marlon Harewood!

One other noticeable addition to the team sheet were the letters “Jnr.” next to the name of James Collins.

It looked like tonights very decent crowd were in for a quiet affair after the first five minutes with neither side looking like providing any threat, it was to prove a false impression.

Six minutes gone and Hogg picked the ball up in midfield, he drove forward and played a little one two with Harewood before helping the ball to Hofbauer on the edge of the box; the Hoff steadied himself and slotted the ball confidently passed the keeper and into the bottom corner to put us one nil up from our first attack.

Things livened up with Villa alive and with a spring in our step; Cameron Mitchell tried to remove it with a nasty lunge on Forrester that might well have been a straight red in the Premier league, but resulted in just a chat here.

A fired up Harewood fired just wide on 14 minutes and looked like he was really in the mood. We were putting plenty of balls into Stoke’s box and causing their defence all sorts of problems.

Reo Coker joined Cameron in conversation corner after a mistimed challenge as the pace picked up, before Ciaran Clark forced a really good save out Stoke’s keeper with a header.

We got a moments rest whilst a Stoke fullback recovered from a Hofbauer cross which caught him at full pelt and gave him a fair old whack in the crackers (I’ve rarely heard a more sympathetic crowd "ooooh", or seen quite so many blokes slightly readjust their seating position) but as soon as the trainer had found them we were right back on the attack.

Hofbauer almost nudged home a cross a few minutes later, getting a toe on to the ball from behind a defender, but we could only force a corner. From it a slightly unsighted Clark hit the bar with a header that was as much about the ball hitting him as his efforts to make contact with it.

Bouma then almost gave us something to treasure, making a marauding run down the left hand side before playing a one-two off Harewood and finding himself in a decent position in the box; sadly his shot was blocked.

Forrester and Harewood were complimenting each other well and when Harry found the Hare with a lovely cross, Marlon finished it well and celebrated proudly in front of the Trinity. The linesman’s flag put paid to a beautiful moment however, being wrongly raised to signal offside.

Stoke rarely threatened in the opening period but thankfully Marshall had remained alert enough to tip over a header on 38 minutes as they made a rare foray towards the Holte End.

We went in at half time one nil up after forty-five minutes filled with verve, style and élan; don’t get me wrong, it hadn’t been Barcelona football, but this was Villa done well and with a confidence and a swagger that I’d love to see in the first team.

Collins Jnr provided the half time entertainment for the others subs, I’m not quite sure what he was up to, but he seemed to be enjoying himself and no-one seemed quite sure as to whether to accept his handshake.

We began the second half at a slightly more sedate pace and Forrester was withdrawn on fifty-three minutes with a knock; Andreas Weimann, the leagues top scorer, replaced him.

Stoke had their best chance of the game a few moments later with Marshall coming for a cross he couldn’t quite reach, Moult headed it over him but could only find the crossbar and it dropped perfectly to Connor on the six yard line – he somehow conspired to find a post from there with a miss he'd struggle to repeat.

Reo Coker put us back on the front foot with a run down the left that saw him beat a couple of men before shooting high and wide from just outside the box.

Stoke had improved on their first half performance and had found a little extra zip, but we still had another gear.

Reo Coker was replaced with Albrighton on 68 minutes with Hofbauer going into the centre of midfield and we doubled our lead shortly after.

A ball in to Harewood became the latest in a series of excellent lay offs that saw Weimann scamper down the right hand side of the box before centering for his countryman who slid in to prod home. Another well worked move and a second of the night for Dominik Hofbauer.

Weimann himself might have added to our tally but could only turn Albrighton’s cross against a post.

Albrighton was having a rare old time down the left hand side against a defence that had been worn out before he came on and he produced a host of really good balls in that we couldn’t quite get a goal out of.

Bradley had the ball in the net on 75 minutes but it was rightly disallowed for a foul on the keeper and Harewood got half a header onto a Bouma cross sending it just wide.

James Collins became our third substitute of the night, replacing Hofbauer with 12 minutes left; the arch poacher finding himself in central midfield.

Roome and Moult had a bit of a fall out following a tussle for a ball and Roome gave the Stoke man a bit of a shove (which might have been a forearm) our referee tonight once again decided a chat was all that was required – both players seemed to appreciate it although Roome did persuade him to issue a yellow a moment later with a foul. In general tonights referee was excellent.

There was just time for Harewood to take a ball to feet and provide another quality lay off for Weimann to charge into the Stoke box, but a good sliding block kept us at two nil.

We looked pretty comfortable throughout and I think there’s a lot to be said for the confidence that winning brings; this side haven’t lost a home game in a couple of seasons and they haven’t lost any game at all this season with just one game left.

They expect to win games and so they do.

Some ratings:

Marshall (7) – Not much to do but when called upon he was solid enough.

Roome (7) – He looked very solid tonight, he got forward well and defended very well, he also looked good on the ball and seemed full of running. As good as I’ve seen him.

Clark (8) – He’s made as big a contribution as anyone to our three championship winning seasons and he was excellent tonight against Stoke’s young hotshot Louis Moult. He's assured, composed, brave and smart and I think tonight it was clear that his education is almost complete.

O’Halloran (7) – Continues to amaze me by being exactly the same player he was before his injury. He’s bold and strong and defends like his life depends on it.

Bouma (8) – I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bouma look quite so fit, he ‘s clearly worked hard on his conditioning and it showed in a performance that took him up and down the left had side all night. He’s still a very wily defender and if his contract is up at the end of the season then I don’t think he’ll be short of suitors.

Bradley (7) – I’ve not seen all that much of Daniel Bradley and I had thought he played centrally, he was a pleasant surprise for me tonight, particularly in the first half when he seemed to find a lot of space. I’d say he’s a good footballer who can play wide rather than a flying winger or a tricky one. He didn’t look out of place tonight.

Reo Coker (7) – Seventy minutes of pretty good football for Nigel tonight, he provided a bit of impetus when we flagged, got forward whenever possible and worked with Hogg to make sure that the ball was never away from us too long. He’s still got a bit more I think, but he was more than good enough tonight and I think he’s pretty much ready.

Hogg (8) – I’ve always liked Jonathon Hogg, he’s great to watch, he tears around the field flying into tackles, he harries, he harasses the opposition and he never seems to tire - allied to his ability to arrive unnoticed in the box, he’s been a key to us winning three straight titles. He ran us through his full repertoire tonight and was man of the match for my money.

Hofbauer (8) – A really good performance from the Hoff. He often seems a little nervous, but tonight he was full of confidence and all the better for it. He took his first goal well and his second showed good instincts but his performance was at least the equal of his goals. If he can come back like this next year, then we’ve something to look forward to.

Harewood (8) – This was your last chance; if you’ve never seen Marlon Harewood play for the reserves then you’ve missed out. If age were measured in enthusiasm not years, Marlon would be the youngest player on the pitch; he bounces round like a big dog let off the lead. Watching some oversized nineteen-year-old defender try his luck and bounce off him or watching him loom over some terrified youth who’s taken liberty’s with one of our youngsters is a sight to behold. It’s easy to criticise Marlon Harewood but it’s very hard to dislike him, I wish him the very best of luck wherever he ends up next year.

Forrester (7) – He’s very neat and tidy on the ball and he seems to be coming on a little physically. He showed his ability tonight and also his awareness, but what caught my eye were his tackling and his willingness to work.

Subs

Albrighton (8) – Absolutely slaughtered the right back from the moment he came on until the moment the final whistle blew. He’s another who can take pride in being part of all of our championship wins; success for him now can be judged by his not being part of next years effort. Marc’s future is not with the reserves.

Weimann (7) – Slotted in and kept us going along nicely, he’s had a great season and I think he’ll be back next year. If he continues to improve at the rate he has been he’ll be quite a player in a years time.

Collins (6) – I’m not sure about him as a midfielder, but he certainly looked like he enjoyed his evening. I look forward to seeing him back up front before too long.

That’s your lot from the threepeat champions of the Premier Reserve League South, a national play off looms with the winners of the Northern League early in May and with a bit of luck this lot might just snatch another bit of silver for the cabinet.

This is a fair old achievement as it is though.

At times in the last few seasons they’ve had luck, every now and then they’ve had magic, but for the most part they’ve just been consistently excellent.

They’ve worked hard, they’ve played with skill and passion, they’ve been organised and they’ve shown real ability, some players have moved on and some have come through to replace them, but this group and this generation of young players have been very special indeed.

Congratulations to Kevin MacDonald, his staff and his players, they deserve all the plaudits they get and I hope you’ll join me in showing your appreciation at half time against small heath.

For me this feels like something of an ending and with lots of lower league managers in attendance tonight, I think we’ll see some of these players move on. I’ll miss them, but I suspect that somewhere out there tonight there’s a fan of a little club that’s in for a real treat.

I've rattled on a bit and I'm shattered so please accept my apologies for any errors in this one, I look forward to getting back to it next year.

…and yes, they did finish with that bloody Queen song again.

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