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Down but not out!


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by John

We may be propping up the rest of the Premier League at the moment but we are still in this cup competition so we can still dream of winning it however unrealistic that might seem at the moment!

This was a no win game that we did win. Had we lost the press would have had a field day and the pressure on the team would have increased considerably on what it already is. But as we won it will just be said we were expected to do that anyway.

As we did back in 1994 we have knocked Tranmere out of this cup competition. We did so at a much later stage back then and we were both better teams then than we are now. But a win is a win and it was a vital one in that it will give us a little breathing space and should bring a little bit of confidence back into the team. We did not need to go above second gear to win this one so the jury is still out concerning whether we actually do have a third or any higher gear this season. Our defence was not tested and our midfield was risk averse so the service to the forwards was again lacking given this was a game in which we had the lion’s share of the possession.

Could we have a decent run in this competition? Given a kind draw or two, some investment in the squad and our manager getting the squad into shape as the season continues there is a chance. After all worse sides than we currently look have won it in the recent past (I seem to recall a local team that went out of the competition last night did so a couple of years ago for example)!

My player ratings from a game that has left us still in a winnable cup competition that we have a happy habit of winning but which has been absent from our trophy cabinet for too long are:

Brad Guzan – 6 – Welcome back Brad after that brief period spent off the wage bill. Brad was rarely called into action but did the necessary when he was called upon to do so.

Eric Lichaj - 6 – A decent performance and he was keen to get forward.

Matthew Lowton – 6 – Given a game in the centre when I think he would have been better to have had another game at full back to help him in settling into that position at our football club. But we are not spoilt for choice at the moment in the centre of our defence or come to think of it anywhere else so our manager had little option given Vlaar was to be absent. Did a solid enough job alongside Nathan in the circumstances.

Nathan Baker – 7 – Nathan was solid and commanding particularly in the air albeit against an attack that offered little or no goal threat. He could well be one of our youngsters who can kick on and become a first team regular in the fullness of time as he does not look out of place in the centre of our defence.

Enda Stevens - 6 – Substituted on 67 minutes having shown some early promise on his first home start and having had a part to play in our first goal as well as trying to give us some much needed width when he got forward.

Fabian Delph - 6 – Some signs of encouragement last night as he imposed himself on the game more than he has done for some time now and he now needs to bring this forward when he comes up against stiffer opposition than was the Tranmere midfield that he came up against last night. Scored our opening goal on 37 minutes hitting a loose ball into the net from inside the box after the keeper had denied Bent.

Chris Herd – 6 – Substituted on 76 minutes to give Burke a run out. Scored our second to take the game away from our opponents on 65 minutes when he hit home the ball after the keeper had pushed a shot from Ireland out. Solid in the middle.

Barry Bannan – 7 – Maintained possession last night but that might have been expected of him given we were up against opponents that are plying their trade 2 divisions below the one he is operating in. Hit an awful pass back on 10 minutes that required 3 blocks the first of them by him to avert the danger. Shot wide of the post from the edge of the box on 14 minutes, hit a free kick just over the bar on 28 minutes and hit another shot wide on 52 minutes after Ireland had turned the ball back to him from the edge of the box. Needs to use this improved performance to build his confidence, consistency and performance levels to the level they were some time ago now.

Stephen Ireland – 8 – MOTM - Our main creative source by some distance last night. He has the capacity to run games like this and with confidence and regular starts can do the same in league games. Played a nice ball through to Bent on 35 minutes whose shot was kept out by the keeper’s leg and was in turn presented with a shooting opportunity by Bent on 52 minutes when he headed the ball down to him which he hit over the bar. Picked his spot from the edge of the box on 75 minutes but keeper Williams managed to keep it out and had a chip over the keeper ruled out.

Andreas Weimann – 6 – Worked hard enough as usual but has had more effective games in his short first team history. Headed a nice ball from Lichaj over on 63 minutes and provided Bent with some much needed company up front and defenders with more than one man to look out for.

Darren Bent - 6 – He shoots he scores! Took advantage of slightly less limited service than he has had to date this season by hitting our third on 80 minutes when he thundered the ball into the top corner of the net having been set up by Weimann after some very good work by Ireland. Had looked frustrated early on and some way below par but he got into and contributed more to the game later. Brought down in much the same way that had earned Clark a red on Saturday by Taylor who clipped him to earn a yellow on 27 minutes as he was bearing down on goal.

Substitutes:

Brett Holman – 6 - Replaced Stevens on 67 minutes and could have done with a start last night for me to help him settle into the team and to give us more width. His nice cut back set up Bent for our third.

Charles N’Zogbia – 5 - Replaced Weimann on 71 minutes and again showed odd glimpses of the player he can be albeit in the limited time that he had available. Made the least impact on the game of our three substitutes last night.

Graham Burke – 6 – Came on for Herd on 76 minutes and clearly relished the opportunity hitting a shot from the edge of the box that the keeper gathered easily enough moments after his introduction. Looked for the ball and seemed more willing to move forward with it than were some of his more experienced colleagues.

Up for the cup Villa and Stay Strong Captain!

John Lewis

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