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Reserves vs. Wolves


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They’re back! The reserves came home to Villa Park tonight for the visit of our orange clad neighbours from the heart of the Black Country – Ah dey dare miss it!

Oh the splendour of Villa Park on a crisp, even autumn evening, the pitch glowing in the bright lights, the Holte End magnificent in empty grandeur, Barr beacon disappearing into the shadows of night to my left, the lights of spaghetti junction twinkling away to my right and in front of me half a dozen track suited chavettes from Dudley screeching away in the dulcet tones of yam – there’s nowhere I’d rather be!

Wolverhampton had sent a more impressive set of representatives on the pitch including most of their first team squad – Ebanks-Blake and Marcus Bent were up front and Stephen Hunt, George Elokobi, Nenad Milijas, Jelle Van Damme and Steven Mouyokolo are all names that Wolves fans will recognise – although probably not pronounce.

Villa countered with a first eleven featuring Brad Guzan in goal, a back four of (l-r) Lichaj, Lowry, Cuellar and Durrell Berry, a midfield featuring the talents of wee Barry Bannan, Steve Sidwell, (Sali) Salifou and Jonathon Hogg and a front pairing of Nathan Delfouneso and young Graham Burke.

I’d come expecting to see the next crop of talent coming through but seemed to have arrived on senior night – Burke is the only one I’d not seen before and only Berry of the others is really a youngster. Still, the line-ups promised a good contest for the watching Monsieur Houllier and a decent sized crowd.

Villa kicked off attacking the Holte End in a strange formation that looked like a 4-1-2-1-2 and had Bannan just behind the front pair. It looked like it was going to take a little getting used to and we spent some time trying to get settled into the game as Wolves looked lively.

Particularly lively was the spiky Hunt who got into a spat with Bannan early on –producing a brief burst of unintelligible Scots – Irish swearing. It set the tone for a game that was played in a very competitive spirit throughout.

Wolves had first sight of goal, a corner that saw the ball drop to Van Damme on the edge of the box, his volley found the upper tier of the North Stand.

Hogg and Hunt had a few words after Hogg had gone in with a challenge of no little devilment and caught him, but barring the occasional falling outs the game wasn’t producing much to get excited about.

It was almost livened up when a free kick saw Lichaj a foot away from an own goal, and then did a few minutes later when Wolves opened the scoring - A corner was floated to the edge of the six yard box where big George Elokobi was tussling with a defender and he flicked it home with the back of his head. Too easy for Wolves this one and I think Guzan could perhaps have come for it.

On fifteen minutes Burke collected a loose pass and found Bannan on the edge of the box, his curled effort was straight at the keeper though and it’s credit to Wolves that his effort was our first of the night.

We were struggling for width with a team featuring four central midfielders and the keen efforts of Lichaj and Berry didn’t look like making the breakthrough.

Salifou and Bannan each had decent long-range efforts on goal but we couldn’t quite prise the Wolves defence open.

There was an injury worry when Shane Lowry went down under a heavy challenge from Ebanks Blake, but the young Irishman is full of Aussie grit and was soon back on his feet.

Cuellar almost got us back into it, getting plenty of power onto his header from a Bannan corner, but again the keeper was well placed.

Next up for a row were Sidwell and Van Damme, the Wolves player going in late on the Villa man before Sidwell grabbed him round the throat – he clearly hasn’t seen Hard Target. Thankfully the referee intervened before things got nasty.

Half time came with Wolves leading a Villa team that looked bright enough but lacked a cutting edge.

Villa started the second half with a noticeable change in tempo; we were closing players down quickly and harrying the opposition at every opportunity.

The first chance of the half went to Wolves though with Hunt finding space down the left and crossing for Bent who headed predictably wide.

Bannan’s influence on proceedings was growing and he played a wonderful cross-field pass to Burke whose first touch sadly took him away from goal. We were starting to move Wolves around and worry them more and it was Bannan who again found the gap, playing Delfouneso in through the middle - Nathan didn’t show enough aggression though and the chance was gone.

A moment later, Berry played Sidwell in behind the Wolves defence down the right hand side and his pass across the front of the six yard box left the simplest of finishes for Graham Burke who tucked away his first reserves goal and celebrated like all his Christmases had come at once.

Even-stevens and Villa tails were up – a fabulous 60 yard cross field Bannan ball found Lichaj off on another adventure down the left hand side and he worked the ball to the edge of the box before finding himself and Delfouneso on different pages of the script.

Burke was substituted for Courtney Cameron looking shattered but happy with not much more than an hour gone.

We were pressing hard now and when a ball dropped invitingly in front of Sidwell in the box, clean through and one on one with the keeper it looked for all the world like we’d go ahead – he had to stretch for it a bit though and could only prod it at the onrushing Hennessey. Another chance spurned.

Next up a move down the right led to the ball breaking to Hogg just outside the box; he pushed on and found himself with just the keeper to beat, he took a touch, then another, then another and suddenly he was going across the keeper and we were wondering whether he’d get the shot in – the answer was no - he simply laid it off to Delfouneso who smacked it in to put us 2-1 up.

The goal seemed to spark Delfouneso into life and just a minute later he ran at the Wolves right back, took him into the box, turned him around and unleashed a fierce left foot shot into the roof of the goal. A cracking individual effort and with twenty minutes to go, a match winner it seemed.

We’d ultimately overpowered Wolves with the energy of our midfield play and the determination of our fullbacks – they tired and we didn’t, lifting the tempo to a pace they couldn’t keep.

Delfouneso was hunting his hat trick and had a long range effort comfortably saved before the Messi of the Grampians was replaced with ten minutes to go; Edgar Davids look-alike Daniel Johnson the player coming on.

Berry also made way with five minutes left with Derrick Williams coming on and Lichaj making his way over to right back as the game began to draw to a close.

Wolves were having none of it though and scored again from a corner, this time an effort was blocked on the line by Hogg (or Lichaj) the ball popped up in the air around our six yard box and was gently nudged home by Elokobi again. If Guzan was potentially at fault for the first, he was definitely to blame for this one – the keeper absent from duty in his own six-yard box and Wolves back to 3-2.

Elokobi almost made it a hat trick in the final seconds of time added on (A phrase which I’m led to believe will have grown men fainting in Tipton and Bilston). Another header from a set piece fell at his feet, but this time Guzan was down to block sharply and big George could only find the side netting with the loose ball.

Full time blown on a very entertaining game and the crowd shuffled off into the night more than satisfied with the display – in fairness to them, Wolves played well whilst we moved the ball around really well, particularly in the second half, it was feisty without being nasty and there were goals aplenty – a good advert for reserve team football, which I can’t recommend enough.

If you want to catch a game, your next chance is November 22nd when we’ll be hosting our other Black Country cousins the Albion – Bostin!

Some ratings

Guzan (5) – He’s a conundrum is Brad Jnr. – he ‘s a very good shot stopper, his distribution is very good, he’s quick off his line and he’s a decent size, but I think he struggles to dominate his six yard box from crosses, particularly in a crowd. It’s a worry and something he’ll need to work on. I might be being a bit harsh, but I wasn’t quite convinced tonight.

Berry (7) – He looked right at home amongst some very experienced players, he got beaten once or twice but he always came back for more and he was a very willing runner going forwards. A good display.

Cuellar (7) – There were times when I forgot he was playing. That’s a good thing in a centre half; successful centre halves are not busy. He dealt with most of what was thrown at him, organised well and played a good sensible game.

Lowry (6) – He’s not what you’d describe as graceful, or gliding, or smooth, but he’s effective enough. Big, strong, bold and better with the ball than he at first appears. I’m not sure exactly how much potential he has, but there was enough in tonight’s performance to convince the watching Nigel Clough that he might be worth a punt on loan I think.

Lichaj (8) – He just keeps coming. He must be a nightmare to play against; he’s full of fight and energy. For a right back I thought he did a great impression of a left-winger for periods of tonight. If determination counts for anything, he’ll go a long way.

Salifou (6) – A quietly controlled performance, disciplined but unspectacular. He’s a player that stays in the background and makes room for others to do their thing.

Sidwell (7) – He put a lot in to tonight and covered a lot of ground; should really have scored and worked his way into a few good attacking positions, He was aggressive and strong and looked decent enough without being dominant.

Hogg (7) – Similar in many ways to Sidwell’s performance, he was combative and busy, got forward well and was always involved.

Bannan (8) – Our best player for an hour, everything went through him and he kept ticking along, moving the ball around, finding and creating space. He played two or three incredible long balls and two or three clever little jabs through the defence. Barry will be a star.

Delfouneso (7) – Occasionally plays as though he’s already a star and the first hour of this game was a little lacklustre from the big man. Once the goal went in though, his confidence rose and he you could see just why he’s so highly rated – his second goal had the pace, trickery, power and skill that makes him a huge prospect.

Burke (6) – I thought he struggled a bit to make an impact – as you might when you’ve been seventeen for all of a month and you’re playing against experienced international defenders. I don’t think he’ll give a monkeys what I think though, he’s got a goal next to his name and he’ll be delighted. His confidence was sky high after he scored and he showed some nice touches – I look forward to seeing him again.

Subs.

Courtney Cameron (7) – I thought he looked very lively and he seems quite a clever player. Promising.

Daniel Johnson (7) – He’s another that looked bright and full of invention. He’s a decent size for a nipper too and is one that should come into his own at this level in the next couple of years.

Derrick Williams – not on long enough to rate.

That’s your lot. We’re top of the table again and flying– come see for yourself against the Albion.

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Fantastic stuff Scott. Your reports are the next best thing to being in the stands. That notebook must get a hammering :) I feel like I haven't missed out at all.

On Lichaj - It appears as if he has really come on in leaps and bounds since his appearances in the Peace Cup. To the extent that he's now quite adept at playing on the left too. Might it be that this fella has a future right here at Villa Park?

and...

the young Irishman is full of Aussie grit
Very dry :lol:
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