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We battle through at Bramall Lane


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by GarryBarry

After a slightly shorter trip home than most villa fans (a 25 minute walk from the ground) a quick match report from today's FA Cup clash where, despite some nervy spells, we pushed on to the 4th round, with debutant Kyle Walker putting in an impressive first shift for the club.

Sheffield United are my adopted second team, having seen a good few games while at university up here and ended up living on the red and white side of the city once I moved back up permanently. However, all of that history was out of the window today with the visit of Villa.

While Bramall Lane has deteriorated a fair bit since my uni days a decade or so ago, united still graft and get stuck in just as they always did. Fortunately, their lack of quality meant we were on top for most of the game today.

This started from the first whistle with some good early attacking play and our two wingers - Young and, in particular, Albrighton - looking lively. Gabby was the lone striker with Pires playing in 'the hole' just behind him. Bannan and Reo-Coker were in the middle with a back four of Clark, Dunne, Cuellar and Walker.

Albrighton and Walker were both keen to get at United's left back and within the first ten minutes it was Walker who showed the pace and attacking ability that helped him secure his move to Spurs from United two seasons ago. Running from almost the half way line he skipped an early challenge and headed towards the box, confusing the defenders and cutting inside the last man before firing back to his right to beat the keeper. It was a great, great first goal though the United defence showed a lack of quality in dealing him.

We continued to create chances and half chances with some great passing from Bannan and lively running from super Marc. However, defensively we never looked quite comfortable and you sensed that we would need a couple more goals to be sure of the win. Dunne, in particular, nodded a casual header back towards Friedel that fell to the United forward and required Brad to race off his line and stretch himself out for the save. We often needed one too many attempts to clear our lines.

Another glaring weakness in the team was Pires. He constantly looked a good yard or two off the pace and his passing, when he did get on the ball, was often short and occassionally played teammates into trouble. Defensively he contributed absolutely nothing. It may have been my jaundiced imagination but the other players showed very little interest in passing to him - often going for trickier long balls.

Fortunately the rest of the midfield appeared to be able to carry him. And it was Gabby who picked out a killer pass to set up the second goal - spraying it out wide left for Young who knocked it past the defender and dinked it across the box for Albrighton to confidently volley in from about 6 yards. A cool finish for Marc, albeit one you'd expect him to put away.

So we went in at half time 2 - 0 up and wiith the travelling Villa fans in great voice and enjoying the game. I was sure that we'd see a substitution for Pires at half time and indeed we did - a hair band in the second half rather than the flowing locks of the first. In fact the team selection was identical to the first half, as were the weaknesses.

Within minutes of the kick off United were threatening and putting us under pressure, with a good shot from the left hand side of our box just rising over the bar. We failed to deal with a subsequent attack down this side, missing a number of chances to clear the ball. It came across the box to one of their players and Carlos slid in - and looked to have nicked the ball. However their player flopped to the ground and the referee blew for a penalty. Convinced it was no pen but will have to watch highlights to be sure. 'Friedel will save this' I said confidently before Ward buried it pretty much straight down the middle.

This finally brought the United fans to life and it looked like their team might push on to create more trouble. Reo-Coker tried to dribble ot of defence and almost got caught out, there was some loose passing and some nerves crept into the team when attacking - at one point a throw in almost at the United by line resulted in a string of passes all the way back to just outside our box.

Fortunately Houllier made a double substitution which did seem to toughen up the team a little. Bannan (who had faded a little in the second half) and Pires (who had been anonymous the entire game apart from one decent through-ball) off for Petrov and Downing. Some initial confusion with the subs meant that Ashley Young was announced as subbing off and walked over to the sideline only to be told to get back on. Not sure what went on but good to see the improved spine of the team from the changes and Young's anger when he thought he was being taken off.

Unfortunately Young was off the pitch not long after - two soft yellows from a ref who had seen their players kick chunks out of and lean all over Young, Marc and Gabby for much of the game without being able to find a card.

Again there was a danger that this would spur United on but we kept posession well and created further chances - Petrov played through by a great ball from Downing but could only hit it at the keeper. He made up for it with just minutes remaining though, exchanging some neet passes with Albrighton and slotting it home from inside the box.

Scores on the doors:

Fridel 7 - saved us early on after Dunne's mistake and pulled off some other good saves late on. Handled well when he needed to

Clark 7 - Another good performance at leftback from Ciaran. Some great runs forward early on and did his job defensively

Dunne 6 - some nervy moments but made up for this with some good recovery tackles and decent positioning

Cuellar 7 - apart from 'the penalty' played well. Someone in camp Houllier has been giviing him passing lessons too

Walker 9 - MOTM. Fantastic first goal and looked a regular threat going forward. Rarely caught out of position and a good first touch. great debut and a touch of class with muted celebrations after scoring against his boyhood club.

Albrighton 8 - good volley for out second. Ran himself into the ground throughout the match and chased down everything. Set up Petrov for the third.

Bannan 6 - great range of passiing, some neat turns and created space for himself. Faded during the secod half.

Reo-Coker 6 - not as visible as Bannan but good running, kept it simple on the whole and put himself about. Seemed to need to head the ball at least twice to make it go anywhere!

Young 7 - Looked dangerous at times and showed real passion. Set up Marc for the second and seemed to attract a lot of attention from multiple united defenders. Unlucky with two soft yellows

Pires 3 - utterly anonymous. Well off the pace and contributed very little. Didn't notice much difference playing with 10 men after Young sent off because we'd already effectively played most of the match with a missing midfielder.

Agbonlahor 6 - good running and a couple of great passes, inluding out to Young who then set up our second. But didn't get many shots on target and looked strangely subdued at times


Downing 7 - great through ball wasted by Petrov. offered more defensively than Pires and willing to take defenders on

Petrov 6 - should have scored in a one on one. Fortunately got another two chances and put the third away. Yellow card for petulant argument with the ref after a ball to hand

Collins (too little time to tell)

So a decent performance in the end but some worrying signs of defensive frailty. Against better opposition we might have struggled to get back on top. It also seemed like we were trying to play posession football at a level above our confidence (and possibly technical ability) allows.

Highlights include a great debut from Walker, an asssured left-back performance from Clark, good attacking play from Albrighton and a cameo from Ian Taylor in the Directors' box.

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A good day out and a nice summary. I think my marks would be less generous in most instances. Cuellar, NRC, Albrighton, Walker and Clark would all get 7, the rest 6 or less.

Walker looks very good with the ball, but I felt his defensive positioning was not the best.

The ref was abysmal.

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Thanks for this first rate report GB. I thought Brad, Marc and Walker had good games for us and I think it was a penalty we could have little to argue with. The sending off was harsh and as he was on a yellow already he might have expected some degree of leniency from the ref. It was a pity he did stay on and we did not do a straight swap for Downing which may have been the idea before his reaction to the prospect of coming off as we needed him for next weekend.

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Aiiiight Mr Bland - long time no see (I think probably the last Villa vs Shef U game with the '82 team in attendance?) Hope you and yours are all well.

I may have got a tad carried away with Walker's 9 but he looked very composed compared to many in our team. A more adept watcher of the game (he gets paid for it) than me reckons he switches off defensively from time to time and is a bit of a risk on that basis.

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I didn't see the game but this is the most positive report I've read. Perhaps you were a little too enthusiastic? Never mind - I like positivity, and it was a great read. Thanks :)

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I tohught the ref was appalling Blandy - penno, no way. Cuellar got the ball and the player flopped over. Young's challenges were not yellow cards, maybe the sum of his challenges merited a yellow, but certainly not a red.

Great synopsis GarryBarry.

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Not me I don't think

Upper Tier centre, directly behind the goal. Row F I think. There are a few Villa Fans around in Shef - usually see them wearing their shirts when out for a run.

Awkward moments for me with all the 'I want to go home. . .' chants :lol:

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Awkward moments for me with all the 'I want to go home. . .' chants :lol:

:lol: same for me

I then had it stuck in my head all night and started singing it after a few, my mates from home weren't impressed.

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