Attendance: 25 169
Sunday. A day of rest and relaxation for many. For others, a day set aside to spend quality time with loved ones, close friends and family.
What then, in footballing terms, could be a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon, other than to hop into the car, and make the short trip across this great city of ours, to visit the home of our dear friends and neighbours located in Birmingham B9. Gratefully accepting the warm welcome and overwhelming hospitality that they always afford us, allied of course to the vast assortments of verbals and projectiles that they just love to aim in our direction, pre, during and post game, everytime we make one of our thankfully, somewhat infrequent visits to their part of town.
A mere three miles I believe it is, from the magnificent stadium that is Villa Park, to the eye-sore that is known as St Andrews, yet it could just as well be that we are journeying to another planet. They are a different breed aren’t they, our ‘cousins’ from Small Heath? They look different, dress different, act different, its hard to believe that they are fellow Brummies. As one of my companions observed, you could throw a mix of ten supporters into a line-up, and no one would have the slightest difficulty in picking out the bluenoses from us more refined Villans.
As a stadium, few would argue that St Andrews has shown some slight improvements over the years. They are not immediately obvious to the eye, but if you look both long and hard enough, you’ll eventually come up with a minor improvement or two. Certainly when you recall the state of their home arena, particularly pre-nineties, an improvement on that ‘bomb-site’, would hardly be too testing a task to undertake.
Indeed, those of us who followed the claret and blues to St Andrews, back in the 60’s/70’s/ and 80’s, and who stood on The Kop, will no doubt only all too readily recall the paddling in the constant overflow of urine that ran down the steep terracing as it exited the gentlemen’s room of convenience, situated at the very top/very back of The Kop. Ah, those were the days. We were not pampered with all seater-stadia, no siree bob, we put in our time paddling in urine on our visits to St Andrews.
Not The Kop for us this time around of course. For the generous price (I josh of course) of £48 we are allowed the honour and privilege of a seat in the Gil Merrick stand, previously known by the rather glamorous title of ‘The Railway End’. Only at St Andrews eh?
Plenty of unwashed blue and white replica shirts were in evidence as we strolled to the ground, but our colours were proudly visible too, not least as sported by good buddy Neil, who was wearing his 1957 striped F.A. Cup Final replica shirt. Very fetching he looked too, might I add.
Bumped into son-in-law Adam outside the ground, he was with his four mates, and my youngest daughter and her two friends (Adam’s not married to my youngest, he’s wed to my eldest (I just clarify that, for anyone who for whatever obscure reason, might be even remotely interested).
My youngest had clearly learned her lesson after being kicked in the rear and jostled post game, after our 1-0 victory here a couple of visits ago, simply for wearing her claret and blue home shirt of the day. She was this afternoon wearing the new white away shirt! That’s my girl.
Anyway, into the Railway End, and our £48 seats, to learn that Mart had decided to go with the following starting line-up:- Brad Friedel, Carlos Cuellar, James Collins, Stephen Warnock, Richard Dunne, James Milner, Nigel Reo-Coker, Stan Petrov, Steve Sidwell, Ashley Young, Gabby Agbonlahor. On the bench we had, Brad Jnr, Habib Beye, Nicky Shorey, Craig Gardner, Fabian Delph, John Carew, and Emile Heskey.
It was a sun-kissed St Andrews (it still doesn’t look any better when the sun is shining down on it) as Stan Petrov led the lads out, Queudrue leading out the rabble. What a baptism of fire it was for our three debutants, Warnock, Dunne, and Collins. All though being experienced professionals, more than capable of handling the pressure.
Ferguson was lucky to escape the referee’s wrath after a nasty challenge on Gabby, and you had the feeling that perhaps Bennett should have handed out the first yellow of the game if only to set the tone.
Our first chance came on ten minutes when Gabby easily brushed Tainio aside on the edge of the box, squaring the ball to Milner, but James’ effort was disappointing and the ball went wide.
Up the other end (our end) Carlos Cuellar superbly blocked McFadden’s shot, the ball breaking to O’Connor, who was thwarted by a great tackle from Stephen Warnock.
Certainly a feisty opening from both sides, with neither team allowed to settle.
On the twenty minute mark the home team won the first corner of the game, but the flag kick was wasted.
Gabby set up James Milner for the second time in the game, but once again Milly was unable to finish what has to be classed as a decent chance.
It was thirty minutes before either keeper had to make a save, Friedel palming Bowyers effort round the post. Blues were certainly having more of the possession, we hadn’t really got going if truth be told.
We won a free-kick forty yards out which came to nothing, but all in all it had been pretty disappointing stuff so far from our lads.
On forty-three minutes Larsson somehow escaped a booking in a challenge with Ashley, and from the free kick, Ashley drifted away from his marker and crossed to Milner, who once again missed an opportunity from about three yards out, slightly to the right of the crowded six yard box. Not the easiest of chances, but they’re the type of opportunity you have to put away in a close fought encounter like this.
Mcfadden looked in trouble, going down injured after an attempted tackle on Ashley, and it didn’t look likely that he’d carry on. Indeed ex-Evertonian Carsley started warming up as his likely replacement.
So, 0-0 at the break, and it must be said that while Birmingham had probably enjoyed the bulk of the possession, the better chances had definitely fallen our way.
The guy behind set us all thinking, when he made the comment, ‘You can see what’s going to happen here. Kevin Phillips will come on as sub and grab a winner for them’. Why are we Villans always so pessimistic?
The second forty-five got underway with Carsley on for McFadden, while our line-up was unchanged.
Sidwell was booked for pulling back Larsson, but the resultant free kick came to nothing. Blues though were certainly attempting to up the tempo, as the traveling Villans began to call for the introduction of John Carew. Fifty-five minutes gone, and we still hadn’t tested Joe Hart.
Certainly a great atmosphere in the stadium, but there were quite a few evident empty seats. I’d guess at about 24,000 in house. Be interesting to see what the official attendance is given as.
The hour mark arrived and the sight of John Carew warming up produced a buzz amongst the somewhat subdued Villans. We certainly hadn’t hit the heights to date. James Milner in particular looking way below par.
Sidders found some space after a neat turn, but his effort was charged down, while Gabby picked up a booking when he was presumably flagged for a foul on Queudrue, and decided to say his piece to the linesman.
Unsurprisingly John Carew finally put in an appearance, but surprisingly it was Nigel Reo-Coker who was hauled off to make way for the guy whose bigger than me or you. For what its worth I thought that Nigel had been the most effective of our midfielders, and was enjoying a decent game. I thought that perhaps Sidwell might make way, particularly as he was on a yellow.
With fifteen minutes left Ashley blazed an opportunity over the bar, and still Hart hadn’t had a shot to save.
With ten minutes left Sidders sent a header straight at Hart following a fine Milner cross. Decent chance, pity he couldn’t have directed it either side of the City keeper.
James Milner sent in a fine shot that was deflected just wide, and we’d certainly started to look a lot more lively since the introduction of John Carew.
Brad fumbled an effort from Blues substitute Benitez, followed by Parnaby (I think it was) picking up a booking for blocking Ashley Young.
And then it happened. Ashley’s free kick floated over, John Carew nodded it on, and there was Gabby to send the ball past Joe Hart. 1-0. Pandemonium! Celebrations underway, as the Brummie boy puts us ahead in the Brummie derby. The supporters were delirious, while Gabby looked sort of pleased too.
The Big Eck sent on Phillips, replacing former substitute Carsley, but it was Gabby who had a great chance to clinch the points. Racing clear on goal he ended up sending the ball over the bar from twenty yards out.
Another very good opportunity came our way as we broke with speed, John Carew though giving a poor final pass to James Milner, and a great chance once again went begging.
Blues pressed, even sending keeper Joe Hart up, but in truth they lacked both conviction and ideas. It was panic stuff from the home lot, and while we hadn’t been at our best, we hadn’t needed to be.
Well done Martin and the lads. The turning point? The introduction of big John Carew, and switching to 4-4-2, no doubt about that. After his arrival, we genuinely looked a threat.
Not the greatest of games, not the most exciting, and certainly not a vintage Villa showing.
Know what though? I couldn’t care less. Once again we’ve rolled that shower over, on their own patch too, and kept the yo-yo club well and truly in their place.
Sleep on that David Gold and co.
Right, my player ratings, after much evaluation and consideration, read as follows:-
Friedel – 6
Cuellar – 7
Collins – 7
Dunne – 6
Warnock – 6
Milner – 5
Sidwell – 6
Reo-Coker – 6
Young – 5
Agbonlahor – 6
Carew – 6