That often used phrase ‘It’s a funny old game’ can certainly be aptly applied to the proceedings at The JJB Stadium on a wet and windy afternoon in the north-west.
The opening exchanges had been somewhat dull, and it looked as if we were in for a rather low-key affair, witnessing a game that had that ‘end of season’ feel about it, where nothing is at stake. There was certainly, in the first fifteen minutes or so, not the slightest indication of the goal bonanza that lay ahead.
I had commented on the forum that I had concerns as to where our goals were going to come from, but suggested that in response to my slur, and criticism of the goal threat posed by our strikers, Messrs Gabby, JC, Ash and co., might just go out and bag four, soundly ramming my fears and concerns back down my throat. That they did, and in some style too. That’ll teach me. A phychic ability eh? Just another of my talents.
Sir Martin had sent out an unchanged starting line up from the lionhearts who saw off Amsterdam’s finest on Thursday evening, meaning that there was no place for the man whose bigger than me or you, but few could realistically argue with MON’s reasoning.
After that very tame opening fifteen minutes or so, with Wigan finally starting to look as if they might be getting their act together, we took the lead somewhat out of the blue, thanks to an unnecessary and idiotic lunge by Titus Bramble on the impressive, no, very impressive, Gabby Agbonlahor. Penalty adjudged the ref, and there was certainly no arguments from the large and vociferous Villa contingent, packed in behind Brad Friedels goal.
Up stepped Gareth to convert the spot-kick. 1-0 to the good guys, the travelling support switching into celebration mode.
Wigan certainly shaded possession during the first half, without causing too many problems for our rear-guard. They found Brad at the top of his game when they did manage to create an opportunity, but thanks to our American custodian and some woeful finishing, we went in at the break 1-0 ahead.
Two first half bookings, one for Luke Young, the other for Nigel Reo-Coker. The former was a needless yellow card, given for dissent, while the latter was I believe an unfortunate yellow for Nigel. I thought his tackle was fair, and that he won the ball cleanly, but I would, I’m biased.
Gabby had enjoyed a superb opening forty-five minutes.
For reasons completely beyond my comprehension, our young striker has been the target of criticism from certain sections of the Villa support during recent weeks. I just wish that his detractors had been on hand at The JJB to witness his complete centre-forward performance. Shades of The Riverside Stadium last season when his pace and skill proved way too hot for Boro to handle, today it was Steve Bruce’s Wigan who had no answer to his continually developing talents. Our undoubted Man Of The Match, take a bow Gabby.
With three ex-noses in the home teams starting line up, namely De Ridder, Kapo, and Heskey, plus of course Mr Potato Head himself directing operations from the touchline, there was plenty of banter (to put it mildly and politely) ringing out from our lot behind the goal. All in good fun though, perfectly acceptable, part and parcel of the game, unlike last weekends coin throwing incident, which still leaves a very sour taste in the mouth, and probably will do until the culprit/idiot/clown is tracked down and dealt with.
Onto the second half, and within ten minutes Gareth is injured, has to leave the action, and is somewhat surprisingly replaced by John Carew, who receives a tumultuous welcome from the claret and blue army.
I can only recall all too easily, the days when the departure of Gareth Barry from the scene would have had us all biting our fingers nervously, but thankfully this MON 2008 outfit is made of sterner stuff, and while Gareth remains a very important and key member of the starting line-up, we do now have more than adequate replacements to compensate for his non-availability.
Ironically enough, Gareth’s departure and the arrival of Big JC brought about a two goal in five minute spell, a spell that ended the game as a contest. 3-0 to the good guys. Game, set, and match.
First of all JC flicked on a corner leaving Gabby with the simple task of forcing the ball home from about a yard out. Not too sure that Gabby knew too much about it, but hey, they all count, no matter how they eventually end up in the back of the net.
Within a few minutes Gabby decided to return the favour, sending in a superb cross to set up JC, with the sort of opportunity he doesn’t miss.
Wigan gamely came forward, could, maybe should have pulled a goal back, but by now were looking a well beaten side. They certainly are capable of playing attractive football when going forward, and have some talented individuals, but their defensive inadequacies will surely hold them back, and unless resolved during the January transfer window, will no doubt see them embroiled in another relegation dog-fight.
While the game was now over as a contest, we still had the goal of the game to savour and enjoy, substitute Steve Sidwell curling a beauty past Kirkland to wrap up the four-nil thumping.
So, there we are. Another three points, four welcome goals after two scoreless premiership outings, another solid team display, with some sparkling individual showings.
Bring on Blackburn Rovers says I.
Right, at the risk of stoking up your ire, I’ll take the liberty of providing you with my individual performance ratings:-
Brad Friedel 7
Luke Young 6
Carlos Cuellar 7
Martin Laursen 7
Nicky Shorey 7
Nigel Reo-Coker 6
Gareth Barry 7
Ashley Young 7
James Milner 8
Gabby Agbonlahor 9
Big JC 8
Stevie 7 (for that goal alone)