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A local derby without the ding or the dong!


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So our winning streak of 6 against Small Heath ground to a halt and 7 proved lucky for them but they still can’t beat us and the city still unequivocally belongs to us!

mall Heath approached this game with just one objective that of avoiding a seventh successive defeat against us. I myself would have started Ireland at home against today’s opponents as the onus was on us to win it. Gerard Houllier picked a team that would be difficult to beat but one that did not pack much of a goal threat. The scoreless draw was perhaps an inevitable consequence.

We started and ended well but lacked the cutting edge that the injured Gabby usually provides for us in these second city derby games. Small Heath then had the better of the last 20 minutes of the first half but they also lacked a real goal threat and seemed content in just denying us possession and nullifying our main forward threats in the form of Downing and Young which they did with disappointing ease. The second half was more even but goal scoring opportunities and flowing football were at a premium as the game drifted to a grim stalemate.

There have been worse derby games than this and there have been much better ones. This was an anti-climax and one that for most of the second half looked destined to remain goalless. We need to do better than this and we can. For our neighbours avoiding defeat against us is a cause for celebration and represents a job well done. They are easily pleased as their expectation level is so much lower than our own.

My player ratings from a game that will not live long in the memory are:

Brad Friedel – 6 – Rarely called into action and was untroubled on those occasions he was.

Luke Young - 6 – A very welcome return and a decent all round performance.

Richard Dunne – 5 – Troubled and beaten on three successive occasions by substitute Jerome’s pace just after his introduction.

James Collins – 7 – Our best defender today.

Stephen Warnock - 6 – A competent display.

Stewart Downing – 6 – It was disappointing given he has looked so lively this season to date that he did not make a bigger impression on this game and did not put the anticipated pressure on their defenders who stifled him for much of the game.

Ciaran Clark – 7 – Looked what he is a central defender who is comfortable enough on the ball but he did all that could have reasonably have been expected of him playing in this role today. Might even have won it for us on 84 minutes when he got to Carew’s header and his own went just wide before he was clattered into by Foster. Might be in the running for a role in the centre of our defence soon on this display.

Steve Sidwell – 5 – This was a real opportunity for Steve but he lacks confidence and is far from the player he was for us when he first joined us let alone the player that Chelsea bought to stagnate on their bench. Replaced by Bannan on 57 minutes and may find his present starting place under threat after this one.

Nigel Reo Coker – 7 – MOTM - Produced a captain’s performance and showed passion as well as the effort and intensity we expect from him. Taken off on 82 minutes having let that passion get the better of him 5 minutes earlier, when he was perhaps fortunate to have seen a yellow rather than a red card after he had kicked out at a player who had just brought him down. Had earlier chased down the ball and deflected Foster’s attempted clearance wide of the post.

Ashley Young – 6 – Seemed too easily subdued by uncompromising opponents and like Downing he was the player we were looking toward to shine again to secure us a victory. But, Ash almost pulled that rabbit out of the hat on 88 minutes when he hit a sweet shot that rattled the post on 88 minutes.

Emile Heskey – 7 – Worked tirelessly as our lone striker but lacked the support needed to win this for us. Ashley hit a great ball into the box on 8 minutes that he did not quite get enough of a foot on to beat their keeper.

Substitutes:

Barry Bannan – 7 – Replaced Sidwell on 57 minutes and looked very lively also had a decent shot pushed out by Foster on 79 minutes.

John Carew – Replaced Reo on 82 minutes. John was not on long enough to earn a rating but he did well to head a cross into Clark’s path 2 minutes after his introduction that might have led to a winner.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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