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Not a great tonic for Gerard but we inch nearer safety!


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By John

We have now beaten cup finalists Stoke City just once in our last eight league games against them and although the point we took stretches our unbeaten run to four games and makes relegation an increasing unlikely prospect it would have been nice to have won with some style yesterday and to have given Gerard a timely boost.

Stoke really hit the ground running and had already hit half a dozen corners before they took the lead on 20 minutes from a second successive Delap throw in. They would have quite reasonably have felt unfortunate to go into the break only level. But, we could only improve from a first half performance that was until Bent’s sublime finish too close for comfort to the inept display that we had produced against Wolves a month earlier and we did have the lions share of the possession in the second half but we lacked the creativity to make anything of it.

A win would have banished any fears of relegation and we would really need to implode and see the likes of Wolves, Wigan, West Ham, Blackpool and Blackburn end the season playing like Barcelona to find ourselves still in danger when we line up at Arsenal with 2 games of this disappointing season remaining but it would have been good to have done it yesterday. We knew what to expect from Stoke and were not disappointed to be by them. But, it is alarming that we have still not worked out a way to counter their game which still acts like kryptonite upon us and that we seem determined to try and beat them by playing their type of game rather than by imposing our game on them.

Given the possesion we had in the second half and the fact that they were down to 10 men for the 5 minutes of extra time it just did not seem to me that we pressed enough for a winner and we like them had seemed too content with a point which in all honesty was as much as we deserved given how little we tested their keeper yesterday.

My player ratings from a game that has left us back in the bottom half of the table are:

Brad Friedel – 7 – They could have been out of sight within the first 20 minutes without Brad’s intervention. He parried out a firm Huth shot from the edge of the box on 10 minutes and then made a tremendous reaction save to deny Kenwyne Jones from the resultant corner. Brad had no chance with their goal and came off his line well in the second half to reach a Shawcross flick on before Walters was able to.

Kyle Walker - 8 – Some strong surging runs out of defence and he used his pace effectively with his back to goal.

James Collins – 5 – Not as commanding as might have been anticipated against the expected aerial bombardment.

Richard Dunne – 6 – A couple of determined runs to the edge of the penalty area and was twice near to getting onto the end of things in their box but Jones rose very easily above him to nod a Delap throw into the corner of our net on 20 minutes.

Luke Young - 6 – Luke was solid enough once again and his return has made a difference to our back line.

Stewart Downing – 6 – Not at his best and like Ash he did not look to get behind their defence often enough.

Nigel Reo Coker – 6 – Solid and alongside Petrov gave us a lot of second half possession although not as much by way of creativity.

Stiliyan Petrov – 6 – Kept the ball well and provided a solid platform on which we were unable to build.

Ashley Young - 6 – A lovely dinked ball over the defence early in the second half to Bent whose cross from inside the box was cleared by a defender and he did come more to life towards the end as he moved forward on the wing a couple of times but we expect more from him than this and he like Downing was too easily nullified again by Stoke.

Emile Heskey – 6 – Headed a decent Walker cross wide of the far post on the half hour and could not quite get his leg back far enough to be able to turn a Reo cross in on 72 minutes. For me we looked to play Stoke at their own game by playing Emile yesterday and were no doubt mindful of the extra height he would give us when defending balls played into our box but I think they might have been more worried had we thrown Gabby’s pace at them from the start or at least earlier than the 79th minute.

Darren Bent – 8 – MOTM - Maintained his goal every 2 game ratio on 43 minutes with our equalizer. He stepped in front of his defender to reach Walker’s cross and did so well to get his head around to power it past Begovic and in off the far post to apply his sublime finish. His goals have been crucial in this relegation battle and he can get even more if we are able to consistently give him the type of service he wants and needs.

Substitutes:

Marc Albrighton – 6 - Replaced Downing on 67 minutes but unable to make any marked impression on the game in the time he was given to do so.

Gabby Agbonlahor – Replaced Emile on 79 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating or to make his pace tell against defenders who will have been wary of his threat on his introduction.

Stay up the Villa & Get well soon Gerard!

John Lewis

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