Date: 17th August 2008 at 6:50pm
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Well, that was a disappointment. Average tactics, a team of individuals, not a great manager and only luck saw a victory against lesser opposition.

Anyway, enough about Liverpool, Villa today showed Gareth Barry why he’ll not regret the breakdown of his move to Anfield!

Before the game I was, like many Villa fans, quietly confident but also apprehensive. Every time I feel cocky about Villa we seem to lose and a) we’ve not won our first game of the season for four odd seasons b) Manchester City have been a bit of a bogey side for Villa in recent years. However as soon as we kicked off, Villa were on City like a rash and really never let up for the entire game.

There are plenty of match reports that give a blow by blow account so I’ll not go into the nitty gritty but Villa dominated large parts of the game and could well have put the match out of sight in the first half, Gareth Barry most unusually missed a couple of great chances, one hitting the side netting and the other being well saved but to be fair should have been out of reach for the City keeper.

Match stats: Click Here

Villa had 55% of possession and to be fair, if not for a bit of sloppiness for Nigel Hokey-Cokey, we could have had much more. It is a shame and hopefully he’ll soon sort it out, but he works so hard to get the ball and then seems to switch off and give it away – he’ll then work twice as hard to track back and re-win the ball! Be a very interesting few years for NRC, fascinating to see how he develops!

Anyway, the first half came and went, Villa on the attack and Manchester City just doing what Mark Hughes teams always seem to do, fouling. I had a polite word (and I do mean a polite word, I hate big mouthed abusive swearing fans!) with Hughes when he passed congratulating him on yet another dirty, over physical team. He laughed and said he couldn’t understand. Fair enough, I do speak proper English and have an education, so obviously he’d struggle with that. :o) There is one thing tackling, it is another thing trying to take players like Ashley Young out. Some of the tackles flying his way could end a very promising career.

The second half got off to a flyer with the first goal coming on the 46th minute, which was a huge relief as all the pretty football in the world doesn’t put points on the table. This was a John Carew goal from close range after a sublime pass by Ashley Young. I think the England manager will need to have a re-think about not including him in the England squad. It looked after that goal that there would be only one winner.

There was only going to be one winner after that and Villa went on auto pilot, the ball was given away in the opponents half, I think from NRC but without the luxury of replays, I’m not sure. (Addition: I was TOTALLY wrong re: the pen, it wasn’t given away by NRC, it was from a ball lost by Villa in City’s box and came straight up with plenty of chances to clear. Shorey looked like he had done a great job covering only to miss the ball for Johnson to get passed him). Villa had about 10 opportunities to get the ball back and to tackle but in the end for some mad reason we gave away a very soft penalty, I think Luke Young being the final person to put in a challenge. Could Friedel pull off another penalty save? No, not this time! Ho hum, 1-1 and for a spell Man City work up and were all over us, especially the very pacey Petrov.

Villa rode the storm though and then came a magic 7 minutes, a spell that Gabby Agbonlahor will not forget for the rest of his life. 7 minutes, one hatrick, game over. Not only his first hatrick but one infront on the Holte End. As a Villa fan himself, there can not be a better feeling. He seemed to do nothing for much of the game and then bang, bang, bang. I seem to remember the likes of Robbie Fowler being exactly the same, anonymous to the point of forgetting they are there and then a few devastating minutes and they’ve won the game. 4-1 and Man City had no chance at all of coming back.

Sadly in the 89th minute Villa gave away another sloppy goal and Brad Friedel did not look happy but then, that defence had never played together before, Curtis Davis was just back from six months out and they will take time to gel. There is SOOOOOOoooooo much promise there.

This was a great way to start the season, in the post match interview MON said he still wants to bring in at least two more players, the right side being an obvious one as NRC isn’t a right winger and I think would be the first to admit it. So maybe James Milner from Newcastle, or Shaun Wright-Phillips from Chelsea, or even Aaron Lennon from Spurs? Any would do, add a striker to the mix and Villa could have a truly memorable season. Can’t get a better start that is for sure!

Player Ratings

Brad Friedel 8
solid, pulled off some wonderful saves, not at fault for goal or pen.

Nicky Shorey 7
I thought he made a good contribution, got caught a few times but he is just gelling with the team and his passing out was very promising as he found a claret and blue shirt more often than not.

Curtis Davis 8
this guy will get better and better, I think he’ll be a Villa Park legend. Stopped virtually every threat from City, especially in the first half.

Martin Laursen 8
nothing needs to be said about this guy, he is world class. How does MON decide between these two and Carlos Cuellar?

Luke Young 7
not seen the replay for the pen but then he wasn’t alone in not clearing the ball. Looked good to me and much like Shorey, found the Villa players when passing.

not awful, but did give the ball away too much. If you were marking him for tackling and breaking up play I am sure you could give another point or 2 to be honest.

Stiliyan Petrov 7.5
well, that is better Stan. First half he was arguably our best player and contributed far far more. Very promising.

Gareth Barry 7.5
missed a couple of chances in the first half but still helped boss the game and set up one of Gabby’s goals. Glad he is staying.

Ashley Young 9
set up JC’s goal and put in a superb amount of work despite being kicked left right and centre.

John Carew 6.5
scored the goal that set us off, plenty of flick ons etc, but goes down very easily and is very quick to come to the bench when he gets a knock. Still hope he can get 20 this season, still somehow doubt it. Prove me wrong please JC, with his size, strength and pace he should terrorise defenders.

Gabby Agbonlahor 10
you can’t get better as a striker than a hatrick. Job done.

Manager Rating
Martin O’Neill 9 had his doubters over the summer but on today’s display, looks like he might just know what he is doing.

Opponent Rating
Mark Hughes 5 – the club is in disarray and I’m not convinced the City fans will appreciate his style of play, if you can call it style. Kicking lumps out of the opponents might have worked in the 70’s and 80’s but it isn’t on in the modern game.

Oh and…
I also met the main man RL today and his lovely and very football knowledgeable son. Top people, top club, top class, top cat. Not sure what top cat has to do with it all but I did used to like him, close friends used to call him TC you know!?