I was hoping to continue my recent theme of reporting fairly positive things about Villa matches. Sadly, if I stuck rigidly to it then this match report wouldn`t contain much to read at all.
I genuinely do like the football we are trying to play under Houllier. It seems more expansive and entertaining, but, for the moment at least, has shown us two major flaws.
The first one being that it shows up how painfully lacking of a ‘proper` striker we are even more than the direct style of play the previous regime preferred, and secondly, the prettiness, if you can call it that, of our football has come with the ultimate sacrifice: results.
Having watched Villa for so long, just like many others, it would seem reasonable to say that the two are probably connected. I know that some are willing to give Houllier a chance, and some don`t like him, but, whatever your opinion of him, we might be able to agree in the most part that our lack of results are not purely down to those two factors, they are just the main ones. There is change coming, but is it the type of change we want to see? That is open to debate, but one thing`s for sure, it`s going to be a rollercoaster ride, and I can`t wait to see what`s going to happen.
So, onto the game then, and firstly I want to give everyone a pat on the back for the attendance. Just under 39 and-a-half thousand is, I think anyway, a fantastic attendance for a Boxing Day game considering the travelling difficulties, temptation of Sales shopping and, not least, the recession that we are still in that has not left much money spare in peoples` pockets.
Also, we have to remember that we have lost to a fantastic team that is in the Champions League, wiped the floor with the Italian champions and also contains a player that could grace any team in the world in Van der Vaart. He has scored all four goals in Spurs` two games against us, so without him we would have won both games 1-0, to put things into context. The point about us being similar to them not so long ago is valid and I think it is right that we should debate just what has happened, but, sadly for Villa, Spurs have made the jump, we haven`t, and that is the all too depressing truth.
The game started with both ‘keepers having to make saves to deny their attacking opposites. Gomes saved a deflected Albrighton shot and Friedel reacted quickly to stop Jermaine Defoe in his tracks.
Villa were then denied a penalty, a decision that had the Holte up in arms after Heskey appeared to be fouled by the Brazilian`s outstretched arm, but the referee failed to point to the spot.
Then it was Tottenham`s turn to moan after they protested that the ball had not gone out of play during a move that ended in Kaboul, our nemesis ever since he scored the equaliser in that 4-4 game, slotting home, but again, the game stayed goalless.
Not for long though, as the White Hart Lane club took the lead on 23 minutes. There was no denying the quality of the first pass by Modric but defensively, from Villa`s point of view, the goal was an absolute disgrace. Hutton`s cross didn`t get cleared despite at least two defenders throwing themselves at the ball, which presented Dutchman Van der Vaart with an easy tap-in.
More drama was to follow however with the aforementioned Defoe receiving a red card for elbowing our Welsh colossus James Collins in the face during an aerial battle. Harry Redknob was predictably moaning about the incident after on TV but I am sure that he of all people is aware that now, if you lead with your elbows in that situation, you`re in trouble.
Heskey was taken off after he picked up an injury and was replaced by Nathan Delfouneso before the break and at half-time the man who was living most dangerously, Mr Jonathan Hogg, a favourite of mine, I`ll admit, simply because he gets stuck in, was replaced by Stan Petrov, whom it was great to see back.
Fast-forwarding to the goal that killed Villa hopes, a Spurs counter-attack was started by that Dutchman, who released Gareth Bale, the victim of predictable ‘sheep shagger` chants before somebody behind me said, “don`t say that, or Collins will get pissed off as well” (touché), to start a mazy run that saw him pass to Lennon who in turn set-up Van der Vaart for a cool finish.
Our second-least favourite Frenchman Robert Pires then came on and didn`t do a great deal but the boos that greeted his entrance, whoever they were aimed at, were still completely unjustified in my opinion when the team is two down and needs our backing to get back into the game.
Marc Albrighton then gave us a little bit of hope back in what was practically a carbon copy of Villa`s second against Albion in the sense that an Albrighton cross went in after Collins threw himself at it but missed. The difference this time however was that it didn`t need Heskey there and the curl alone was enough to send it sailing past Gomes. In all honesty though it was just too little, too late.
That pretty much wraps it up for this week. I still can`t believe that we failed to put away any of our twenty-six, yep, twenty-six according to the BBC, shots or that we failed to make any of our sixty-three percent possession count for anything. I think that backs up what I was saying earlier and we just have to hope that (a) Houllier`s master plan comes together and (b) that includes a striker somewhere. If those two things combine, I`m confident that it won`t be long before we return to Europe.
Finally I just want to say that I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and that the result didn`t spoil it for you too much! I hope you have a great time seeing in the New Year and I hope that 2011 is a fantastic year for every Villa fan out there.
Brad Friedel 7
Eric Lichaj 8
Stephen Warnock 6
Carlos Cuellar 6
James Collins 6
Marc Albrighton 7
Stuart Downing 6
Fabian Delph 6
Jonathan Hogg 6
Emile Heskey 7
Gabriel Agbonlahor 6
Nathan Delfouneso 5
Stan Petrov 6