The reserves started the defence of their title with a superb 4-0 win away at Chelsea. Their first home game, against West Ham, provided a stiffer test, if the final score is anything to go by.
The visitors started off nervously at the back, and Nathan Delfouneso took advantage of some sloppy defending and calmly slotted past the Spammers keeper after only four minutes.
We were playing well and looking good, Osborne and Herd driving things from the middle of the park. This clearly frustrated the West Ham side, who resorted to plenty of niggly fouls. Indeed, Andrea Zola – yep, he is the son of Gianfranco – twice kicked Herd and was lucky to stay on after the second tackle. Soon after, he went up for a header with Isaiah Osborne and left the pitch with an ice-pack on his face, never to return.
Play like his old man, he does not. Part of me likes to think Osborne was playing the role of minder there!
We carried on creating chances with Herd, Delfouneso, Collins and Hofbauer all going close. There was then further trouble as Albrighton got into a shoving match with West Ham`s Anthony Edgar, both players getting booked.
At this point, I`d like to say that the ref was truly awful. Honestly, it`s shocking to say this but he isn`t even good enough to ref in the Prem – now how bad is that! Ha!
Early in the second half, WHAM! had a free-kick and James Collins was unlucky to head it past Marshall. The visitors were certainly providing more of a threat with Anthony Edgar in particular causing problems – on the basis of that performance he looks like a proper player. I was also very impressed with their left-back, Jordan Brown, who did a very good job of nullifying Albrighton.
After about an hour, Gary Gardner entered the fold, replacing Chris Herd. Herd is a good lad who works hard, puts himself about and you can`t help but like. Gary Gardner though, even though a couple of years younger, just seemed to add a bit of class and a bit more of a physical presence – he`s already bigger than his older brother, not that he has achieved much there, Craig being the little dude that he is!
He was soon followed by Adam McGurk, who replaced the less-than-impressive Hoff. After all the injury problems McGurk has had, I don`t think anyone would want to deny him a career in football.
The turning point of the match swiftly followed, Gary Gardner taking the ball on his chest before volleying home with a classy effort, and the Villa once again took control.
After that I thought we would get a third and there was one particular instance where, with four on two we really should have done, but Delfouneso was tackled by the impressive Brown. Whilst it was very good defending, ‘The Fonz` will need to take that as a lesson learnt, as a simple pass to one of his three mates charging up the field with him would have been a much better option.
Thankfully it didn`t cost us the game, and the match was won – deservedly so, in the end.
Andy Marshall (7)
He was solid, and couldn’t have done much with the goal. He was also very vocal, and will no doubt be of benefit to the young defenders in front of him.
Eric Lichaj (6)
As you may know, I’m a fan of this lad. Tonight though he was given a difficult evening by Edgar, the left midfielder in the Spammers team. I think Lichaj is capable of being a fairly reliable full-back in his career, and tough tests like this will do him no harm.
Shane Lowry (6)
Skipper in place of Clark, he always looks more like a centre-back to me. He’s comfortable enough on the ball to do okay at full-back, though. Did fine.
Isaiah Osborne (7)
I want him to really look a cut above in these games, but he doesn’t. He looks good, and will probably carve out a decent career at Championship level clubs. However he doesn’t impose himself the way I thought he would by now. Better in the first-half, faded a bit in the second. He is definitely a better player than people think though.
Matthew Roome (7)
He’s very small for a defender and doesn’t have any stand-out qualities that make me think he’ll have a really great career. Much like this evening though, he rarely does much wrong, which is absolutely a good thing in a defender.
Nathan Baker (8)
I thought he was a rock. He won everything in the air, and as I said in my look at the reserves towards the end of last season, he genuinely reminds me of Martin Laursen. I could be wrong but I have big hopes for this lad.
Marc Albrighton (6)
He has bags of ability and anyone that has heard me talk about him will know how highly I rate him; however this was not his best night. He worked hard though, never stopped wanting the ball and still managed some top-class crosses. Credit must go to Jordan Brown for his defensive job on him.
Chris Herd (7)
He huffs, he puffs, he is a proper midfielder really. He works hard and can do a bit of everything without being outstanding at anything. Him & Ozzy ran the show in the first half but he came off at the right time. Was lucky not to be seriously hurt by one challenge from Zola.
James Collins (7)
His touch is better than some give him credit for, and his goalscoring record is certainly something to get excited about. I felt he was slightly overshadowed by his striker partner this evening but he still did fine and absolutely worked his socks off. Very likeable player.
Nathan Delfouneso (8)
If he’d have done better with some of his chances this would have been a 9, if he had done better with all of them it would have been a 10! He looked better than the others this evening, like he’s the one closest to first team football (I would say Albrighton has now overtaken him there) but showed glimpses of why he isn’t closer to the first team. Bags of ability though, has the right physical attributes and would probably benefit from a loan spell in the Championship.
Dominik Hofbauer (6)
He does the odd good thing but never does enough for me. Same story tonight. A couple of good moments stopped him getting a 5 in all honesty. I’d be surprised if he stays at the club beyond the length of whatever his contract is.
Gary Gardner (7.5)
I felt he deserved better than a 7 but an 8 feels a bit OTT for someone who played 30 minutes so I compromised! Got a very classy winner and helped change the game back into our favour. As he’s a bit younger than the other lads, it may be a while before he’s given a decent sniff of the first team, but I expect him to at least give it a fight. He’s definitely got something about him this one.
Adam McGurk (6)
Fairly ineffectual, had some nice touches but has, can and will do better!