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Stop and think it over - Man City Away Report


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So, the last away game of the season, and an "eliminator" against Manchester City. The game started really well from Villa's perspective. But then....

It's been a long old season this one. One in which we've had one heck of a lot of "nearly" moments, but for various reasons have just come up short at the close.

Yesterday was another such nearly moment. The result - City winning - was fair. On the balance of the game, they deserved to win. However for the first 30 minutes it looked as though Villa would come through at the last. The ground was full, the sun shone (between clouds) and both sets of players set about their task with gusto. City perhaps the brighter to start with, but Villa looked supremely organised, Cuellar, who was magnificent all game, was keeping Bellamy quiet, and while Johnson looked dangerous, and Tevez mobile, we were coping. For Villa they all looked solid and capable - unfazed by the occasion or the task.

It was Villa who scored first - Downing putting Carew through and Big John slipped the ball under their borrowed keeper. This quietened the crowd, though to be fair unless the whole place is "at it" the Blue Camp isn't great for atmosphere. It's not the fans, it's the acoustics.

Once we'd gone in front, we spent a bit of time counter thrusting dangerously, and looked more likely to score a second, then they did to equalise. But then Warnock seemed magnetically determined to tackle Johnson right on the by-line, for some reason. He tried to, missed and Johnson went down. Daft penalty, daft tackle. Tevez hit it hard and straight and it went under Brad Friedel. Damn.

We went straight up the other end and Carew fair walloped the crossbar with a shot that bounced out, rather than in. City then came immediately back down the end we were defending, and again Johnson on the by-line made them a goal. With defenders all going to the ball, he just rolled it a few yards to Adebayor, who simply stepped back a pace and plonked it into the net from 6 yards. Defensive disorganisation, really, and smart movement from Adebayor.

That really was the end of the game to all intents and purposes. The second half was slightly cagey, with City mostly on top. Gabby, Ashley Young and Carew were not getting much change from their defence, and while we defended well enough, as we looked to push on for an equaliser, we were leaving gaps. Warnock went off injured, and Heskey and Delfouneso came on, with Carew also going off. The Fonz looked lively again, but really the service wasn't there. City scored on the break after Wright Phillips skipped past Collins, who missed his tackle then just stood and watched, the ball was played inside to Bellamy, and he scored into the top corner. Now there was a real noise in the ground, but it was too late for Villa to try and quieten it.

At the end the players came over and applauded us, we responded in kind.

My thought going into the game was that it would be academic anyway, as I was sure Spurs would beat Burnley and Bolton, whatever their result against City. Realistically 4th was already out of reach.

Some marks

Friedel - 6 - fine

Cuellar - 8 MotM (for Villa)

Dunne - 6

Collins - 6

Warnock - 5 (Fonz - 6)

Ash - 5

Stan - 6

James Milner - 6

Downing - 7

Carew 6 (Heskey 5)

Gabby 5

I don't think anyone could find fault with the efforts of any of the players, over the season, there's one or two who might be a bit more committed in the tackle, Stewart Downing. But overall the team has bettered last season's performances and results and we're still moving in the right direction, though progress gets harder the further you rise.

One game left, and I'd particularly like us to finish with a win, and above Liverpool. Then we'll need to have a long hard think about what to do next, and how to do it

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Much as I don't like Spurs but when you look at their performance tonight you really see that we still have some way to go.

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