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The agony and the ecstasy!


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A season that has seen us embarrassingly mixing with the bottom dwellers at the foot of the table for much of it rather than with those who chase or have become accustomed to a place in Europe ended yesterday with natural order restored as we finished in the top half of the table as the Midlands leading club yet again.

I think most of us given the upheaval at our club at the beginning of this season would have thought ninth place was about par for the course this season. But, I doubt that many of us would have foreseen us getting there in quite this way or having taken a maximum 6 points from our last two games of the season at Arsenal and yesterday at home to Liverpool as we had felt sure we needed to secure our safety before then with games like these to end on.

This game had an end of season feel to it and Liverpool showed no great appetite for piping Spurs to the Europa Cup place that they secured with a home win that doomed Small Heath to local derby games with Coventry rather than with us and to trips to Brighton and Barnsley rather than to Old Trafford and Anfield.

This was a Liverpool side that slipped yesterday from the level of commitment they had shown on the return of King Kenny to something nearer the displays they had turned in prior to his arrival. They got better in the second half and particularly after Reo was taken off to allow them the grip they had been denied by us up until then. But win it we did to end the season ninth and just three places below the sixth spot we had filled during the past three seasons and that yesterday’s visitors wound up in after their defeat at our hands.

So everything turned out better than could have really been hoped for during the course of most of this season and there are now major decisions to be made at our football club both on and off the field and they need to be made soon. Ashley Young received a great reaction from the fans for what he has done for our football club and he deserved it. But was this acceptance by us fans that when clubs with more financial muscle come along we now (unlike when yesterday’s visitors tried to prise Gareth Barry away) accept the departure of our best players meekly, take the money and wait for the next player to move on?

My player ratings from a game that has left us in the same position as our relegated neighbours from the dark side of the city finished last season in are:

Brad Friedel – 8 – A run of 400 Premier League games, 40 years of age and still making world class saves! On 61 minutes Suarez left Walker and Collins prone on the floor before squaring the ball for Meireles to surely finish but Brad belied his advancing years moved swiftly across his goal and got his hands to it (fortunately Dunne who was in front of him had not).

Kyle Walker - 7 – A little slow off the blocks yesterday but he soon made his pace tell at the back and with the forward runs we have become familiar with. If this was to have been his last game in our shirt we have done Spurs a big favour as he has come on in his time with us in leaps and bounds but they also did us one in making him available and he has played a big role in saving our season since his arrival. Do Kyle and us another favour Harry (as we both did each other yesterday as well) and let us make you an offer you cannot refuse.

James Collins – 6 – One of his more convincing games of late but should have done better on 63 minutes when he seemed to try and turn in Ashley’s corner with both legs rather than with just the usual one and the ball unsurprisingly went wide of its mark.

Richard Dunne – 7 – Saved something near his best for last. Back to much nearer his commanding best of last season.

Luke Young - 7 – Has been solid throughout this season when called upon and available. Another good game from a good, dependable and adaptable professional.

Stewart Downing – 8 – MOTM – Another first rate display and he did so well with our 33rd minute winner. Albrighton having been found well by Bent hit a cross that went over Reo and Luke Young before being chested down by Stewart who then rifled a left foot shot past the keeper at his near post and into the top of the net.

Fabian Delph – 6 - Fab will be glad to see the back of this injury plagued season. Having gained a rare starting place he was replaced on 28 minutes having picked up another injury and having made no impression on the game.

Nigel Reo Coker – 8 – If this was to be his last game in a Villa shirt (and I hope it is not) then he went out on a high and his 69th minute substitution was a difficult one to explain as he had played a large part in holding things together up until then particularly with a great block just before he came off that got Dunne out of gaol on 68 minutes when Meireles had left him for dead inside our box.

Stiliyan Petrov – 7 – Forced a save from the keeper on 82 minutes after Gabby had done well to set up the shooting opportunity. Had earlier got a touch to a Meireles shot that had the potential to have crept in at the far post.

Ashley Young - 6 – Ash was some way from being the man of the match (what a strange decision that was). Helped the ball off our goal line on 13 minutes and although I think Brad would have had it covered safety was the best policy. I would like to think he will remember that Milner and Joe Cole have found that the grass is not always greener on the other side when clubs come calling over the coming days but I guess this was a case of thanks for the memories.

Darren Bent – 6 – A quiet day for our goal machine who lacked the sort of service he needs to deliver his killer blows.

Substitutes:

Marc Albrighton – 7 – Replaced the unfortunate Delph on 28 minutes and made a positive impression returning to something near his exhilarating early season form. Marc worked very hard and made some probing runs.

Gabby Agbonlahor – 6 - Replaced Reo on 68 minutes. This has been a lost season for Gabby and one he will want to forget as will we. Should have turned in a Bent cross after Downing had found him well on 76 minutes and put this game beyond doubt although it did take a touch off the keeper on its way into his path. Gabby had just earlier shown his great pace when running near to the touch line before being let down by his touch.

Michael Bradley – Replaced Ashley on 89 minutes. Not on long enough to earn a rating and I wonder if he has been able to show enough to earn a transfer with such limited first team opportunities?

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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A great way to end an awful season.

Thank you John for the match reports this term and the ratings all the way through it - if the team had been anything like as consistent as you we might not have found things so difficult!

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