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Player Match Ratings – Not safe yet!


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Two of the hard earned points that we gained last weekend at Stoke were dropped yesterday at Villa Park and we may yet pay a very heavy price for that. We lacked a little of the fire, passion and resilience that we had showed when winning last weekend and the subdued performance we produced at times yesterday along with our inability to keep a clean sheet has left us still uncomfortably some distance from safety.

This was a game we really needed to win. We could have stretched clear of the relegation places with a win and left ourselves perhaps just one more win away from safety. But a point was not quite good enough and it leaves us among the pack of teams who will battle against relegation up until the last game of the season with our seemingly winnable games now quickly running out. A win against Sunderland now looks increasingly vital and we may well need the same at Norwich given we face tough games against the soon to be crowned champions and Chelsea before the last game of the season at FA Cup finalists Wigan. I for one would not want to rely on renowned relegation fighters Wigan taking their eye of the ball in the league with a cup final around the corner and I really want our future secured before that last weekend.

Our welcome win at Stoke was not enough to guarantee our safety in itself and we desperately needed to follow it up with a win against Fulham. Four points from six would have been acceptable before the win at Stoke but having achieved that win we needed to follow it up with another. At times the game was reminiscent of an end of season match between two mid-table teams who have nothing to play for but that applied to only one of the teams who took the field yesterday.

Fulham who last tasted victory at Villa Park 40 years ago had Berbatov pulling the strings seemingly effortlessly up front and a solid defence that coped pretty well with what we threw at them. They had also gone 5 games unbeaten before losing at Newcastle so this was never going to be an easy win but it is disappointing that we have now dropped 23 points from winning positions and did so against a team who had until yesterday took only 4 points from losing positions this season.

I had expected that after a rather tame first half that we had the best of particularly in the last quarter of an hour or so we would then go on to up the tempo in the second half. But it was the visitors who did so and although we did take the lead on 55 minutes and so only needed to keep a clean sheet to secure the win we so badly needed I think we all knew how unlikely that would be given our forwards know that 2 goals is a minimum requirement for a win given our accident prone defence. This was once again emphasised when they equalized 11 minutes after we went ahead. Clearly there was still time for a winner but the game drifted away from us all too tamely after we had been the more dominant side between our goal and their one and they might look back on it as one they could have won given the chances they had in much the same way as we will do so.

We badly lacked the pace and the goals that Gabby has recently given us yesterday. But we also shot ourselves in the foot when for some inexplicable reason we took off N’Zogbia who had up until then been our biggest threat and who would have been the most likely of our players to provide the crosses for Bent who came on later. The first two substitutions it seems were planned before Fulham had equalized. When they did so I think we really needed to think again because we lost width, shape and impetus up front with these two substitutions and the changes did nothing to make things better and in fact had the opposite effect. I can see bringing on Sylla would have improved our midfield but one change for me would have been enough at that stage and it was not N’Zogbia that I would have seen make way for Sylla. Our manager has rightly said that the point we got from this game may be huge for us but conversely the two that we dropped may prove the same.

My player ratings from a game that has seen us still looking over our shoulders and trusting that other teams do not pick up unexpected points between now and the end of the season are:

Brad Guzan – 6 – An unusually quiet day at the office for Brad.

Matthew Lowton – 7 – Sound enough at the back and good going forward.

Ron Vlaar – 6 – Played his part in what was a good performance by our defence.

Nathan Baker – 7 – Rock solid, loved the well timed crunching tackles and he will only get better with additional games.

Joe Bennett - 6 – Decent today and got in a good block to a Berbatov shot which went out for the corner that gave them their equalizer.

Jordan Bowrey – 6 – This was arguably his best game for us. He put himself about out wide and is another who will improve with further first team outings.

Fabian Delph – 6 – What was otherwise a very sound display was marred by two moments. The first of these gave them a point on 66 minutes when he flicked a corner on into the net past both Baker and Guzan who were behind him and the second came 7 minutes later when he was presented with the chance to make amends but blasted the ball wildly showing a lack of composure when he really needed to be on target.

Ashley Westwood – 7 – Another solid overall performance, kept possession well and had a shot deflected wide by Hangeland on 49 minutes.

Charles N’Zogbia - 7 – MOTM – I really cannot understand why he was the first player to be pulled off given he had just scored and was therefore on a high. He forced a good one handed reaction save from Schwarzer on 31 minutes when he was found by Benteke and almost turned the ball in at the near post and had a decent effort from distance turned over the bar by the keeper a minute before half time. He then curled a sweet shot past the keeper and just inside the far post on 55 minutes after Weimann fed by Lowton had pulled the ball over and Hangeland’s attempted clearance had ran to him inside the box.

Andreas Weimann – 6 – Andreas was some way short of his best yesterday but we are still more dangerous with him on the field than we are with him off it. He almost made something of nothing with his persistence on the half hour but Schwarzer managed to pip him to a loose ball within the area. He then pulled his shot wide from the edge of the box on 45 minutes after Benteke’s header on fell into his path. On 46 minutes he was played in by N’Zogbia and Schwarzer touched his effort away and just behind the incoming Bowrey at the far post for what would have been a tap in.

Christian Benteke – 6 – Faced with the impenetrable Hangeland and the bulk of Senderos he failed to make his usual impact and to add the goal we have come to rely on from him each week. Lost possession a few times particularly in the first half and he did not boss opposition defenders this time. Hit a shot wide of the post on 25 minutes from a Lowton cross that had fell to him after just eluding Baker’s head. Had a late half chance on 90 minutes after Holman found him inside the area but his powerful shot was off target hitting the side netting.


Yacouba Sylla– 6 – Replaced N’Zogbia on 68 minutes.

Brett Holman – 4 - Replaced Bowrey on 69 minutes. He again very noticeably lacked the pace, commitment and hard running he had showed us earlier this season. He did however demonstrate the lack of options we had on our bench.

Darren Bent – Replaced Weimann on 76 minutes. Lacked the time and the service to gather a rating or to make a decisive impact.

Stay up the Villa and Stay Strong Captain!

John Lewis

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