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Shay denies his former team 3 points and earns us 1


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by John

Two teams that started yesterday’s game unbeaten remain unbeaten after it. Given that Newcastle had the lion’s share of the game a point was an acceptable outcome for us but it remains another two points dropped at Villa Park.

So we stand today seventh in the table and remain unbeaten in the league. But to look at things with the cup half empty rather than half full we have only won one game out of five and we will face stronger teams in the coming months that will give us sterner tests than the five we have played to date.

You can only beat (or in our case mostly draw) with the opposition that is put in front of you. But these are early games we need to be winning more than we draw to give us some breathing space for when we begin to face the likes of Manchester City next month and a month later begin a run of 8 games that up to the end of 2011 will see us taking on Spurs, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. That for me is why the 7 points we currently have from 5 games may not look quite as acceptable at the beginning of 2012 as it does now.

This was a game that Newcastle had the better of but that we like they had enough chances to have claimed a win from. That it was a point that we had to show for our efforts had a lot to do with Given showing his former club that he is still arguably the best keeper in the league and it also had much to do with two splendid goal scoring opportunities that fell to our usually lethal finisher Bent that he failed to grasp.

I thought we sat off Newcastle too much and they took the opportunity to try to make things happen that doing this presented them with. They will have come to Villa Park thinking a draw would be a good result but will have left thinking they might just have been worth the win. We still have a way to go to make a three quarter full ground really intimidating to our opponents and many more home draws like this one may see the majority of visitors who arrive at Villa Park looking for more than a point as their starting target. It was worrying that Newcastle had the grip on the game that they did given they are perhaps unlikely to finish in the top half of the table this year which on yesterday’s evidence suggests we may struggle to do so as well if not more so.

My player ratings from a game that has left us needing 33 points from our remaining 31 games to secure the 40 points safety target are:

Shay Given – 9 – MOTM – Touched an Obertan cross over the bar that might have crept in on 12 minutes had he not stayed alert to the potential danger and then saved with his feet on 24 minutes from Ba who was looking to thread the ball past him and inside the far post although he was adjudged to be offside. Four minutes later he did well to push a good Taylor volley from a corner out with both hands and he was fortunate on 57 minutes when a crisp shot from the edge of the area from Cabaye (who showed yesterday that French imports can make an impression in our league) hit the bar with him beaten. Tried in vain to keep out their increasingly inevitable looking equalizer on 57 minutes when Tiote’s cross went over Dunne and found the unmarked Best whose downward header hit Shay’s leg but the rebound fell kindly to him and although Shay also got a leg to his second effort the ball ended up in the roof of our net. Shay topped off his splendid display with a sublime one handed save from Cabaye on 86 minutes whose fine shot from the edge of the box had late winner written all over it until this save from the top drawer denied him.

Alan Hutton - 6 – A decent home debut.

James Collins – 6 – Solid enough in the face of more action than we usually would expect to see in our own half at Villa Park.

Richard Dunne – 6 – Another solid performance from our rejuvenated, no nonsense, hard working defender.

Stephen Warnock - 7 – Showed he is now fully rehabilitated into our starting eleven with a whole hearted display and some strong defending. Did well on 10 minutes to get to a Cabaye cross that was aimed towards Demba Ba who was lurking in a lot of space behind him.

Barry Bannan – 6 – Found Gabby inside the box for our goal on 13 minutes and was busy enough. Another start on Tuesday will give him another opportunity to strongly stake a claim for a regular starting place that he did not quite take for me yesterday before he was substituted on 68 minutes.

Fabian Delph – 5 – Failed to really impose himself enough on the midfield yesterday. He will be facing challenges for his starting place if he does not get back to the level of performance we have seen he is capable soon and start believing in himself and the ability he has to play a leading role in our midfield.

Stiliyan Petrov – 7 – Stood out for me in our midfield and gave another good display in what is becoming one of his best starts to a season with us before injury led to his being replaced on 68 minutes and to our under fire midfield being weakened.

Charles N’Zogbia – 5 – Needs to start to show us more of the player he so often showed he was when wearing a Wigan shirt at Villa Park. I have wondered whether he may be a big game player who gets himself up for some games but not so much for others but given he was up against a former team yesterday that idea seems to have gone out of the window. He does not seem happy out wide and tied to a wing and Big Eck has the challenge to get him performing up to his level of ability on a consistent basis for us wherever he ends up playing him.

Gabby Agbonlahor – 8 – Our leading goal scorer got his third for the season on 13 minutes against the run of play. Coloccini attempted a block but the ball ran loose and kindly for Gabby who pounced on the opportunity and sent his shot under Krul’s legs and into the net. Unlucky not to have made it a brace on 47 minutes when Hutton moved inside and fed N’Zogbia on the edge of the box who in turn threaded the ball through to Gabby who ran into a more central position before twisting back and hitting a good shot only inches wide with the keeper well beaten. Many more performances and goals like these will alert Fabio to the fact that he is returning to something approaching the form that got him England recognition not so long ago.

Darren Bent – 6 – Got in the positions to score twice but failed to apply the crucial finishes when he did that would probably have given us all 3 points. The first opportunity fell to him on 25 minutes when a nice ball from N’Zogbia found Petrov who had made a good run into the box. Stiliyan might have shot himself and I think Bent may have been suspecting he would as well but he unselfishly pulled the ball back to Darren who pushed his effort wide when a two goal cushion was there for the taking. The second arrived on 72 minutes when a Steven Taylor error left him with just the keeper to beat but his attempt to chip Krul was weak and looked like it was going wide anyway before Taylor got back to hit it clear.

Substitutes:

Marc Albrighton – 6 – Replaced Bannan on 68 minutes. This is an important season for him and for the club as we have been banking on him moving forward as a player rather than standing still or even worse going backwards. Showed signs that he is capable of finding his best of last season again in this brief outing and will no doubt start on Tuesday to have another opportunity to prove to Big Eck he is too good to leave on the bench which as yet he has not done.

Stephen Ireland – 6 – Showed some very nice touches when he replaced our carpain on 68 minutes. Likely to start against Bolton and might well be of a mind to give the sort of performance then that could yet see him have a big role to play for us this season as he does have the invention that our midfield lacks.

Nathan Delfouneso – Replaced the injured Bent on 85 minutes but was not on long enough to earn a rating.

Up the Villa!

John Lewis

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Would agree with that save Hutton's rating, thought he tackled well considering he had Bannan in front of him who seemed not to close the left side down enough.

The save off Cabaye was stunning.

I thought Dunne and Collins did well, certainly won a lot in the air.

Dare I say it, we missed Heskey for me.

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Would agree with that save Hutton's rating, thought he tackled well considering he had Bannan in front of him who seemed not to close the left side down enough.

The save off Cabaye was stunning.

I thought Dunne and Collins did well, certainly won a lot in the air.

Dare I say it, we missed Heskey for me.

That'll happen when our tactics seem to be to lump it forward whenever possible...

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Dare I say it, we missed Heskey for me.

I can see that theunderstudy and I thought the same myself particularly when I looked at our options on the bench when looking to winning the game in the last half hour as I can also appreciate the reaction from jasethevillain. We have to work with what we have available now and when we are a player or more down it has a big impact on a squad of the sort and size we are now left with.

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It is all about opinions KHV and I can appreciate where you are coming from. Delph and N'Zogbia both got a rating that is less than the 6 that represents an acceptable or average performance but I did not think they were quite 4s and Hutton's performance was OK for me given it was his second game for us.

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Giving Bent a 6 is quite generous IMO John. His major contributions to the game were to miss 2 pretty easy sitters. Apart from that he did b*gger all, for me.

I'd have him as a 5, on a par with Insomnia. Delph needs to step it up too, but did offer more than those two, IMO.

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