Date: 18th January 2010 at 9:56pm
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Yesterday’s Times came up with some telling stats that presumably fit with everyone’s perception. Against West Ham Villa made 58 crosses from corners and free kicks and centre’s, as against an average for the whole season in premier games of 23 crosses per game.

We are thus mono-focused on one style of play – get it wide, get it in the box – nearly always up in the air. No surprise there. But even more of concern, the average success rate of crosses finding one of your own men in the premier league for all games this season is also 23%. Yet against West Hah only 4% of Villa’s crosses found a Villa man on the end of it.

As for Ashley, the chief culprit, only 1 of his 28 crosses found a Villa player!

These are the stats, the conclusions to be drawn from them perhaps seem fairly clear, but are not completely black and white.

Firstly, Ashley is crap at crossing at present – yet I used to think he was brilliant just 15 months ago. I have no real idea why he keeps over hitting them, or in yesterday’s example playing them all in the same area where West Ham and Green in particular were dealing with them very effectively. But he does …..

Secondly as a result our strike rate is poor, and we aren’t scoring goals. The answer is again get Ashley to get his form back, or give him a rest because he is becoming increasingly ineffective. Milner is brilliant, and his effort 1000%, but his crossing is very mixed too – it is not just Ashley, and everyone is guilty of this one over-focused style of play – presumably following instructions.

But these stats can themselves over-focus on the problem. The crosser is only as good as the strikers who receive them, and reliance is on them to make something of them. You need mobility, presence, and surprise, great positional sense, to make the most of the crosses that are coming into the middle. Just think of how everyone’s expectations went through the roof when we knew we had Martin Laursen waiting on the end of them – but also remember what he was like waiting for them – he was perpetual movement in motion. He knew what to do.

Perhaps why Ashley is therefore so much more ineffective is that there is no ML and secondly, no in form 100% committed Carew to get on the end of them. As a result his crosses look worse and have probably compounded themselves and become worse. So the solution is perhaps not our crap crossing, it’s back to the bleeding obvious – our crap strikers.

If that sounds negative, it is not meant to be doing anything other than expressing the realities of the different strengths of Villa, and our players. We are excellent throughout defence, have a very good midfield, and in Gabby, Heskey, and Carew all also have their strengths – but incisiveness and clinical finishing is not one of them. We need a goal machine, or at least something more approaching one, alongside a bit more variety in our style of play.

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