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Player Match Ratings – We cancel each other out!


John
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Another clean sheet at home and a fourth game without defeat but this was also an opportunity we did not take to pull clear of the bottom dwellers.

So Stoke are still waiting for their first win at Villa Park since 1965 and they paid us a big complement yesterday by looking to stifle us rather than to go for the win themselves. We did the same to them by aiming to handle their aerial threat by playing three central defenders and to match their work rate in the middle. But in achieving those objectives we diminished any threat we may have otherwise posed to them up front. We had the lion’s share of the possession against a team that looked like they were extras from “The Land of the Giants” and were the better team on the day but this was a game in which neither team created any clear scoring opportunities and which predictably ended goalless.

We took the game to Stoke and they were prepared to sit back and hold onto the point they started with. Their fans might have expected more of them but we have a young and improving team and have proven in our last two home games that we can be a threat at home to even the best of teams. We might have expected us to start with two strikers and to risk losing a point to gain three. So for me both teams settled too readily for a share of the spoils and at some point we will have to start winning games if we are not to become embroiled for the rest of this season in a relegation dogfight with the likes of Wigan who have shown in past seasons that they can put winning runs together when the going gets tough.

My player ratings from a game that has left us on of three clubs who stand 2 points clear of the final relegation place are:

Brad Guzan – 6 – Very rarely called upon but gathered crosses when necessary with confidence.

Matthew Lowton - 7 – Solid at the back and the more comfortable of our two full backs in moving forward. He looks better with every game.

Chris Herd – 7 – Very steady and alongside our two other central defenders he quashed the bruising threat that Stoke strikers usually produce.

Ciaran Clark – 7 – Another very solid all round defensive performance.

Nathan Baker – 7 – Covering very well during Vlaar’s prolonged absence and he might just be starting what could become an impressive long term partnership with Clark.

Eric Lichaj - 6 – Eric is not a wing back which can make playing three in the centre something other than a defensive set up but he was solid at the back and did OK when he ventured forward particularly on 35 minutes when Benteke was just beaten to his good cross by a defender.

Ashley Westwood – 8 – MOTM – He is looking likely to prove as big a bargain as was the last midfield player we picked up from Crewe. Always found space and used the ball intelligently.

Brett Holman - 7 – We missed his hard work and willingness to run himself into a standstill when he came off.

Barry Bannan - 6 – Always makes himself available to receive the ball. He can hit the odd loose ball or two but he keeps busy, works hard and works well alongside Westwood. Hit a shot just wide of the post on 12 minutes after Benteke had an on target shot thunder off Shawcross.

Gabriel Agbonlahor – 6 – Started well but was on the edge of the game at times and needs to look and move for the ball when it does not come calling. Looked for a penalty on 51 minutes but he was not impeded when failing to get a decent connection on the ball.

Christian Benteke - 7 – Looked good, held the ball up well, tried to make things happen and was again our primary threat but the service he got was so very limited. Bannan played a nice ball towards Lowton on 46 minutes whose header fell slightly behind his feet and although he managed to get a shot in it was easily gathered by Begovic. Tried to work a shooting opportunity on the edge of the box on the hour but could not get the shot in he was looking for.

Substitutes:

Darren Bent – 5 – Surprisingly chosen to replace Gabby on 66 minutes and had an opportunity to show the manager that he should be starting games that he did not take which cannot be totally blamed on the lack of service he had or his recent inactivity.

Stephen Ireland - 5 - Replaced Holman on 66 minutes and he like Bent also failed to make the impression we would have hoped for.

Fabian Delph – Not on long enough to earn a rating having replaced Bannan on 78 minutes but did not seem as effective as the player he had replaced but like the others who came off the bench he will have been a tad ring rusty.

Up the Villa and Stay Strong Captain!

John Lewis

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That "last midfielder we picked up from Crewe" was actually a striker that GT converted to a free scoring midfielder ;-)

I had thought he made his name playing in the middle for Crewe rjw63 (although I did not see him play before he made his debut for us at Blackburn). But in the same way that I would describe Allan Evans as having been a defender with us (although he played as a striker with Dunfermline) I would list Platt as being a midfield player for us rather than as a striker.

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I like the 3 at the back system we're playing at the moment, and with Bennett back in the side I think we'll see better attacking intent from it. Only problem is that Bent really doesn't suit the system. When he came off the bench on Saturday we completely lost our attacking shape and became disjointed.

It bodes well that Baker, Clark and Herd have played so well together back there, and they all seem pretty comfortable bringing the ball out (as does Vlaar), which is more possible with 2 covering whoever does it. We just need to get the attacking link up play sorted and we could go on a good run.

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