Glensider at The Stadium Of Light
Can you think of anything better to do on a bracing late October afternoon, than to make our second road trip of the season up to the county of Tyne and Wear, this time paying a visit to the impressive Stadium Of Light, home to Sunderland Football Club? Our previous visit this campaign to the north-east of England, was hardly a joyous occasion as we got well and truly rolled over by the Mackems great rivals Newcastle United, and as that was only a few short weeks ago, and with memories still fresh in the mind, it will come as no surprise to you, when I tell you that all four of us were hoping for, and indeed expecting, a very different and much improved performance/result on this occasion, compared to the events of St James Park, on that balmy but ultimately very gloomy afternoon back in August.
I always look forward to the trip up to Sunderland, a journey that we`ve been making now for too many years to recall, initially of course to Roker Park, but more recently to the super-modern Stadium of Light, situated at the north side of the mouth of the River Wear, in an area known as Monkwearmouth. The stadium was built on the site of the abandoned Wearmouth Colliery, and opened its doors back in 1977. We`ve been quite successful at this venue of late, and it was with fingers crossed and high hopes that we left dear old Brummagem bright and early, loaded up with newspapers and music, cash in the pocket, a spring in the step, and match tickets in the glove box, all that is really required to make for a pleasant and enjoyable journey.
Sunderland haven`t in fact beaten us in their last five matches at home in all competitions, but to counter balance that, Bruce’s boys have only lost one of their last 14 Premier League home games since we beat them at the Stadium of Light back in December 2009. Three of us gambled their lives away in our fiver per head ‘match predictions game`, a ritual of our away trips together for way too many years to readily recall, by predicting a Villa victory, while one of our number decided to throw a little bit of caution into the mix, and go for the draw. Not I, I hasten to add. I announced that I wouldn`t be happy with anything less than all three points on offer. It`s a long round-trip to make if you`re not going to return home with all the spoils.
Plenty of Villa chat to debate and discuss as we hit the road, and with Family`s 1968 rock album classic ‘Music In A Dolls House` kicking off our days musical entertainment, to say we were in good spirits was an understatement. Not being todays designated driver, I could concentrate more on my singing along to the music, in this case sharing a duet with lead singer Roger Chapman, rather than having to concentrate on road conditions and other road users.This is the life, I decided. ‘Can anything ruin today` I asked. Judging by the looks I received in response, it was obvious that yes, another away defeat might just have that undesired effect.
We hadn`t seen too many Villa vehicles on the way up, but as we approached the Sunderland area, many more of our lot were visible, and it looked as if once again the traveling away support would be on hand in numbers. It was certainly refreshing to say the least, as we parked up the car, and made our way to the nearest refreshment establishment, to share some pre-match conversation with our fellow Villans, and enjoy some pre-match beverages before making our way to the stadium.
Gerard Houllier had decided to go with the following unsurprising starting line-up, as we looked to continue our recent good run of results up on wearside:-
Friedel, Beye, Collins, Dunne, Warnock, Petrov, Ireland, Reo-Coker, Downing, A. Young and Heskey. On the bench we had Guzan, Albrighton, Carew, Sidwell, Clark, Cuellar, and Bannan.
There were early chances for both sides, Steed Malbranque heading wide when he should perhaps have done better for our hosts following a cross from Henderson, while at the other end a neat piece of approach play involving Ashley Young, who played in Stewart Downing on the right, saw the ball rebound back off the foot of the post with the home keeper beaten. Then Nigel Reo-Coker played a neat one two to find himself bearing down on the home goal, he went down inside the box, but despite hopeful appeals for a penalty following half-hearted challenges from Bramble and Cattermole, referee Halsey decided that no offence had occurred.
We`d made a bright enough start, but the promising work was undone on the twenty five minute mark, when a Richard Dunne howler gave Bruce`s lot an undeserved lead. Malbranque whipped the ball in from the right, and with there absolutely no danger from the home forwards whatsoever, Richard decided to stretch for the incoming ball, only succeeding in sending it past a stunned Brad Friedel and into the back of the net. Steve Bruce has apparently been fairly vocal recently about his teams over reliance on Darren Bent to score the goals, but with Richard stepping up to the plate for them, at least they now had another outlet to produce the goods. I shouldn`t be too harsh I suppose, but it really was calamitous defending of the highest order, gifting Sunderland a goal out of absolutely nothing.
The gift goal quite naturally lifted the home team, and within minutes only a tremendous reflex save from Brad Friedel prevented Welbeck from putting the Black Cats two goals to the good.
We slowly came back into the game, enjoyed some decent possession, but rarely looked liked troubling the home keeper.
We got the second half underway with Big Emile turning Michael Turner on the halfway line, and threading a delightful through ball into the path of Stephen Ireland.
Ireland though checked inside as he reached the edge of the penalty area, and the covering Titus Bramble did enough to dispossess him. A chance wasted.
Downing played in Ashley Young as we continued to press, and the home keeper was forced into a smart save to keep Sunderland`s lead intact. Keeping up the pressure, we then went close three times in the space of a couple of minutes.
First of all Emile was dispossessed by Bramble when an opportunity looked on, before Big Emile completely miskicked in front of goal, after Stewart Downings cross from the left had evaded Mignolet, the Sunderland keeper. A great chance gone begging.
The Sunderland keeper then had to make a fine save to deny substitute Steve Sidwell (he had replaced the injured Stan Petrov), whose header looked destined for the back of the net. Not to be though.
Marc Albrighton, who had replaced the completely out of sorts Stephen Ireland in the fifty-fifth minute, did at least manage to inject some urgency into our performance, but in truth it was a fairly lack-lustre display.
Richard Dunne failed to atone for his own-goal horror by scuffing a close range effort wide, and it was becoming increasingly obvious that we just hadn`t got enough about us to get back onto equal terms. Once again we lacked any sort of potency up front, and while we were certainly bossing the possession, there was just no end product to our approach play.
So we slumped to a disappointing defeat. Sunderland certainly weren`t any great shakes themselves, and but for the own goal gift, they wouldn`t have been capable of breaking the deadlock either. They created very little, and Brad will have few easier workouts on away grounds as the season continues.
We`ve become something of a soft touch on the road, and that`s hard to accept, because in recent seasons we have been used to picking up points with regularity away from Villa Park. Four defeats now out of five away games is clearly not acceptable.
So now our attention turns to the visit of Burnley for some Carling Cup action in midweek, before next Sunday we welcome into Villa Park our good friends and neighbours from just across this great city of ours.
Two opportunities to put the disappointing result at The Stadium Of Light, well and truly behind us. Have a great week guys, and feel free now to rip my ‘marks out of ten` awards.
Brad Friedel – 6
A relatively easy afternoon. Excellent reaction save at 1-0 from Welbeck, when a second goal would have been a definite killer blow.
Habib Beye – 6
Steady enough, competent and alert.
James Collins – 7
Not a bad afternoon`s work for James. Commanding in the air, and was able to keep the Bent threat to a minimum
Richard Dunne – 5
Richard has enjoyed a lot better ninety minutes in the claret and blue. Made a great block late on, but looked hesitant and off the pace throughout.
Stephen Warnock – 7
Received two heavy knocks early on, but came back strong. Put in a good shift.
Stan Petrov – 5
Went off injured to be replaced by Steve Sidwell, but while functional he struggled to get involved
Ashley Young – 5
You can do better Ash, a lot better.
Stephen Ireland – 4
Disappointing. Not up to speed. The talents there definitely, but at this moment in time its just not happening.
Stewart Downing – 7
Struck the post early on, the closest we came to a goal, and pushed and prodded throughout.
Nigel Reo-Coker – 8
Took over the captains armband from Stan, and was involved throughout the ninety minutes. Impressive performance.
Emile Heskey – 6
Excellent work rate, certainly cant fault him for effort, but he was off target in front of goal, and that cost us.
Steve Sidwell – 6
Almost scored with a second half header, put in a few strong challenges. More involved and livelier that Stan.
Marc Albrighton – 7
Replaced Stevie Ireland and certainly livened us up. One good effort saved by their keeper, Marc certainly added the attacking threat that had been somewhat lacking.
Us the Supporters – 8
Good following, good voice, although disappointed at the end of the ninety. Oh yes, bitter cold too, but we remained undaunted.