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Player Match Ratings – Dark clouds hanging over Villa Park!


John
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‘Tis not the season to be jolly and there were dark clouds above and dark moods within Villa Park yesterday. Three defeats, fifteen goals conceded and none scored. Festive football does not get more depressing than this!

This was a vital 6 point game that we lost all too easily. It was also lost against a team that started the day below us rather than in the top 4. The first goal was always going to be crucial and to have conceded it on 3 minutes to an unchallenged header from a corner was nothing short of criminal. Either side of half time we had the better of things and an equalizer might yet have changed the course of the game but it was Wigan who struck next with two goals in 4 second half minutes as the frailty of our defence which has more holes in it than the Emmental found on a seasonal cheese board was cruelly exposed for all to see.

We had not lost three successive games for two years before yesterday and wins at Norwich and Liverpool had me thinking we may have turned the corner. This third drubbing in six days has left me wondering where the next point is coming from and looking at the fixtures that close our season at home to Chelsea and away to yesterday’s opponents with no great conviction that we could get the points we may yet need from those games to secure our survival.

Yesterday reminded me of watching past Villa teams who were relegated and I had hoped that those days were behind us when Randy swept into town. The decline we have witnessed over the past couple of years suggests the prospect of a return to the bad old days of 1986/7 and the late 60s. No side is too good to go down and we have been flirting for too long with the prospect of relegation. Those that might see relegation as a chance to regroup may also want to consider if Nottingham Forest, Coventry, Sheffield United and Leeds fans once thought the same because there is no guarantee that relegated teams come back.

Now is not the time to balance the books Randy because more is to be lost next season if we find ourselves outside the top flight and denied access to the extra television money that will be on offer to those who are in the Premier League next season. A central defender, two midfield players, a winger and cover for anyone we may choose to let go are needed as a minimum in this coming window and the type of players who will save our season who are of the right quality will not come cheaply if they can be persuaded to come at all.

We have already shown where the loss of experienced quality defenders has put us, we lacked experience and quality in the middle to start with and where would we be if we lost Benteke for a few games and chose to deny ourselves of Bent to grab some of the money back that we were prepared to pay to ensure our safety a couple of years ago? We currently run the risk of ruining the young players who should be the long term future of our football club by putting those same shell shocked troops back into the front line each week or currently three times in a week and asking them to do a man’s job without the guidance of an experienced head or two alongside them. We also run a real risk of relegation and where would that leave our “bright future” Randy?

Playing three central defenders might have seemed a reasonable insurance policy to cover for the prolonged absence of Vlaar not to mention Dunne either of which could have brought some much needed experience to the heart of our defence before we had conceded 12 goals during our last two games had we the players to play that way. But yesterday’s game was one we needed to win and we should not have needed that insurance policy flawed as it had already proved and that it again proved yesterday at home against Wigan as their forwards went on to go through the centre of our defence like a knife through butter. Surely it would have been better to have played another man in the middle such as Ashley Westwood alongside Bannan thus giving Ireland more scope to get forward and to create something for our two strikers?

My player ratings from a game that has left us sitting just one point clear of the bottom three as we go into the New Year and that will have left the many Wigan fans who chose not to make the trip regretting that decision are:

Brad Guzan – 6 – Collected a shot from Kone on 56 minutes easily enough but might have expected to have got his outstretched hand to their second on 52 minutes. Kept out a shot from substitute McManaman on 90 minutes but there were no heroics this time. I wonder whether it may now be worth trying Given for a couple of games to see if he can use his experience to organise the defenders in front of him?

Eric Lichaj – 4 – Made way for Albrighton on 63 minutes as we belatedly went to four at the back.

Matthew Lowton - 4 – Made a very weak challenge on Kone who brushed him aside with ease before taking the ball past Guzan and slotting it into an unguarded net for their third. He was also fortunate not to concede a penalty when the ball hit his raised arm inside the box when he was running onto the ball with Di Santo but they scored from the resultant corner anyway. He really needs to be playing in the role we signed him to fill that of full back where he has been steadily improving rather using him as a makeshift central defender.

Chris Herd – 4 – The jury is no longer out. Chris is no central defender and would have been better played in the middle.

Ciaran Clark – 4 – He is not a captain yet or a defender that can organise those around him. He needs someone like that playing alongside him to bring him on where is Vlaar by the way?

Joe Bennett - 5 – Looked useful at times when moving forward.

Barry Bannan – 5 – Not at his best again but not the worst of a midfield that was made to look ordinary as a unit by the opponents they came up against.

Brett Holman - 4 – I know he works hard but I fail to see why he cannot last longer than an hour before needing to be substituted as he was again on 63 minutes yesterday when he made way for Bowery. Starting him effectively leaves us with just 2 tactical or injury enforced substitutions available to be made. Surrendered possession too easily particularly early on and had our best if not only goal scoring opportunity on 43 minutes when Benteke headed the ball onto him and his hurried shot from what was admittedly not an easy angle was placed above Al-Habsi but onto rather than under the bar. On chances like this games are won and lost.

Stephen Ireland - 5 – Our one player who can produce something from nothing and although this was a below par performance from him he was still more likely to get us something from this game albeit no more than a consolation goal than the player that replaced him on 63 minutes. He was also lucky not to concede a first half penalty when he took the no longer homesick Maloney’s legs just inside the box.

Andreas Weimann – 6 – MOTM - Great to see him back following injury. He provided some energy we had been missing and links very well with Benteke. Forced an early save from Al-Habsi on 5 minutes but did not quite make the most of the odd half chance he had which may be due to rustiness. He did however seem the one player who was up for it from start to finish.

Christian Benteke - 5 – Won more than his fair share of balls in the air and having Weimann alongside him seemed to enliven him a little. Found the back of the net on 36 minutes with a sweet finish past Al-Habsi after Weimann had played the ball back to him unfortunately from an offside position as the defenders around him had moved up to leave him stranded a couple of feet offside. Climbed well on 47 minutes to meet a cross from Lichaj but he failed to direct his header that went harmlessly past the far post. Lost his man on the third minute for their crucial opening goal and the ball sailed over his head to be met by Ramis.

Substitutes:

Karim El Ahmadi - 4 - Replaced Ireland on 63 minutes and made no particular impression on the game.

Marc Albrighton – 5 - Replaced on 63 minutes and looked bright enough giving some width and although his crosses too often lack accuracy he may well be worth a start given our current lack of alternatives.

Jordan Bowery – 6 – Replaced Holman on 63 minutes. Not on long enough to get acclimatised or to make too much of an impression but he did get a shot on target that was gathered by the keeper on 89 minutes.

Up the Villa, A Happier New Year to all readers and Stay Strong Captain!

John Lewis

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Great report, John: objective and balanced while reflecting the concern and anger that a lot of us are feeling. I am beginning to agree more and more with the comparison with the late 60s or 1987. It's incredible that we should have ended up here under Mr Lerner

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Thanks 8pints & briny_ear.

I can accept El Ahmadi made some impression on the game 8pints but I do not think he made enough of an impression and should be doing more for me given he has some games behind him now.

I had not considered such a decline possible so soon under Randy briny but the way we were playing reminded me so much of the bad old days and the performances we gave at Villa Park back then. Surely Randy cannot just ignore the situation or can he? I have to feel we are getting short changed and I just hope he will show some ambition and back the boss he has appointed.

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