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A “must win game” that we failed to win!


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Our worst start to a league season since 1969-70 along with a run of just 2 home league wins in 12 months has started those alarm bells ringing for the claret & blue!This was a six pointer albeit it was only our ninth game of the season. We now need to get points in the forthcoming games that on paper we would seem to have little chance of winning to try to keep out of the bottom three that is currently beckoning us in. I think our six points to date are around 4 - 5 below par and these points need to be made up sooner rather than later.

I think those of us who have some confidence that we can turn things around base this optimism on a hope that this team will get better with games and experience and will not this season hit the wall as we so regularly do during March. There is also an expectation that Randy will bring in some much needed reinforcements in the next window rather than primarily use it to try to move on players who are not now regularly starting games such as Bent, N’Zogbia and Ireland for example who also coincidently happen to be among our highest earners.

Norwich started brightly and it was the home team rather than the away one that had to weather the first 20 minutes. But we did so and claimed the bonus of a goal against the run of play on 27 minutes and a lead that we somehow held onto up until 11 minutes before full time. But we were the team hanging on for a point at the end and Bennett’s sending off left us down to ten men with over an hour of the game to go and facing a rear guard action for the rest of the second half as Norwich pushed men forward in numbers and they will have left the ground thinking this was on the balance of play a point lost rather than one gained.

Our squad is being severely tested by injury and suspension and this was a game that resembled a little too closely some of the inept home performances we grew accustomed to last season. We had a flat midfield yesterday that left inviting gaps in the centre and lacked any creativity comprising of two wide players and two holding players. Chances for us were rare but we took one of them. Chances for them were plentiful but they only took one of them late in the game thanks largely to our keeper’s heroics.

My player ratings from a game that has left us just two points clear of the drop zone are:

Brad Guzan – 9 – MOTM – We would have lost this game by some distance without him. Brad came off his line well to turn Hoolahan’s shot wide of the post with his outstretched left foot on 22 minutes. On 64 minutes he denied the same player by making himself big at his near post and getting his chest/shoulder in the way of his shot. Was left a spectator on 79 minutes when Turner’s flicked header flew across him and into the corner of the unguarded net after his defence had not reacted to the possibility of a short corner being taken having 2 minutes earlier come off his line after Holt had out muscled Delph to block his shot with his legs.

Matthew Lowton - 6 – Did his bit in holding the defence together in the face of some heavy pressure.

Ron Vlaar – 7 – Solid as concrete and led the defence by example particularly after we went down to ten men. Perhaps a little fortunate to get away with a first half challenge on Bennett on the edge of the box.

Chris Herd – 6 – Did as well as could have been expected playing as a makeshift centre half. It will be time to give him a run in the centre of our midfield for me when we get one of our central defenders fit. Booked on 63 minutes by Dowd who pointed to three alleged previous offences as justification for this at a time that we had only committed 7 fouls and 2 of these had led to the sending off!

Joe Bennett - 4 – Found his namesake more than a handful and was rightly booked on 29 minutes for a rash unnecessary tackle on him. He then showed naivety on 51 minutes by presenting referee Dowd with the opportunity to give him a second yellow when he got entangled with Bennett on the touchline as he tried to run onto a one-two, Bennett appealed and for once Dowd did not question whether a harsh sending off might ruin a game as a spectacle!

Brett Holman – 5 – His least effective performance for us to date for me. Played a one-two with Benteke on the edge of the box on 7 minutes but his shot was too weak to trouble the keeper and end a move that had begun on the edge of our own box. Did not impose himself on this game in the way he has in others and we have come to expect more of him than this.

Karim El Ahmadi - 6 – Did what he was signed to do well enough but he is not a play maker and that among other things is what this midfield lacks.

Fabian Delph – 4 – Had potentially looked a good signing but Fabian’s progress has been hampered by injury. He has started a number of games this season and he now needs to do better than this if he is to prove he can make it at this level.

Marc Albrighton – 4 – Meandered away from the vacated post that Turner’s equalizer went in at and spurned one of our rare opportunities by feeling he needed to take a touch rather than hit the ball first time. Seems some way off the player he was when he was introduced into the first team.

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 5 – His league goal drought continues and a forward needs to score goals to retain a starting place doesn’t he? But he played a good ball into the box on 34 minutes behind Benteke but into space that none of our midfield players had tried to get forward with him to fill and played a part in the build up to our goal.

Christian Benteke - 7 – Made the most of what limited service he got and won more than his fair share of challenges. He puts himself around more than Bent but surely we need to give them a run playing together? Claimed our goal on 27 minutes after Gabby had held the ball up well before pushing it out wide to Albrighton whose first time cross found Christian who was unmarked and so had the chance to take a touch before hitting a sweet shot into the corner of the net past Ruddy who had dived the wrong way. Got a header on target on 46 minutes from an Albrighton cross which lacked the power to beat Ruddy at the foot of his near post having on 45 minutes directed a header from a Bennett cross nicely which had also lacked the power to trouble the keeper.


Eric Lichaj – 5 - Replaced Gabby on 54 minutes in an attempt to minimise the disruption to our line up caused by the sending off. Failed to get any sort of challenge in on Turner for their 79th minute equalizer.

Darren Bent – 5 – Replaced Benteke on 69 minutes and did not see much of the ball as an isolated lone striker as we were by then well under the cosh.

Andreas Weimann – Replaced Holman on 76 minutes so not on long enough to earn a rating but it is nice to see him getting some sort of playing time again.

Up the Villa and Stay Strong Captain!

John Lewis

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