It`s probably fair to say that most Villa fans were feeling fairly confident about this game after the result we achieved against Blackburn on Saturday, which did a good job of lifting the anti-McLeish feeling slightly, but we laboured surprisingly against a seemingly well-organised Hereford side that belies their current status as the second worst professional side in the country, going by the league tables of course.
The team sheet contained one or two surprises, although you could see the thinking behind them. Darren Bent, Stephen Ireland, Charles N`Zogbia and Richard Dunne were the only four players who were picked to start that you would consider ‘regulars` of the albeit short McLeish era to date, with the rest predictably filled with younger players or those who had otherwise not had much of a look-in so far this season.
I wouldn`t go so far as to say that I thought Villa played badly tonight because when push comes to shove I thought that we dominated possession and had great control of the game as a whole, but the final ball just wasn`t there tonight, and combined with the lacklustre finishing of chances when they did come along, yes, I`m looking at you in particular Mr Ireland, then this culminated in the general feeling that eighty of the regulation ninety minutes were extremely frustrating, if nothing else.
The scoreline was also fairly false in the sense that Hereford weren`t much cop either, especially in the first half, as their main method of attack seemed to consist of them punting the ball upfield where their attack would either be outmuscled by one of the central defensive twosome, Richard Dunne or Ciaran Clark, or the ball would be shepherded out of play by one of the two full-backs, Eric Lichaj or Chris Herd. A third, rarely seen, alternative option also included a Hereford player lying on the floor after being outmuscled, presumably attempting some strange sort of reverse psychology to try and trick the referee into awarding a free-kick, but after it failed the first time, they never tried again.
It was pleasing to see a lot of the fringe players given a chance, and the young players we have coming through do at least seem to be fairly comfortable with piling the pressure onto the opposition when it is needed, and not giving up. For me, that is the biggest plus to come out of tonight, and whatever anyone may say, I see absolutely no point in ripping the young players to shreds when they themselves would be the first to know that they need to continue improving to make a more long-term impact. Stephen Ireland was decent enough, and Bent worked hard considering he was played through at the wrong time for the majority of his time on the pitch, but I was surprised at the lack of an impact that N`Zogbia made against this level of opposition, but I am hoping that he will come good with a few more games.
It was also nice to see Jean Makoun playing, and although his passing left a little to be desired you just cannot fault his effort and commitment. To be truthful I`m also loving his karate kid specials! No player who plays Champions League football is bad, by definition, because the best teams, who qualify for that competition, have the best players, and I really, really want this lad to settle into English football and come good.
The game itself was a fairly one-sided affair, evidenced by the amount of saves that Hereford goalkeeper Cornell had to make compared to Guzan. The first half saw a good few efforts turned away by the young ‘keeper, most notably keeping out Ireland and Bent, the former from especially close range, as he wrongly went for power and not placement, or at least it looked that way from my seat in the Holte.
After the interval Marc Albrighton was the next claret and blue man to be thwarted, before he made his best save of the night by tipping a 25-yard effort over the bar that was hit ferociously by our new French wingman N`Zogbia. Hereford did have a few good minutes towards the closing stages of the game, further increasing the anxiety of the home faithful inside Villa Park, but the pressure finally told in the last ten minutes of the game.
The Bulls defence failed to clear a corner from young Tamworth lad Albrighton which was then eventually forced in by American left-back (at least on the night) Lichaj, and eight minutes later sub Nathan Delfouneso slammed home Andy Weimann`s knock-down to ensure that Villa are in the hat for the next round.
Given the circumstances of the night, that fact that Villa only needed ninety minutes to get into the third round of the Carling Cup in itself was a relief, and I believe that there undoubtedly were positives displayed tonight both on and off the pitch, particularly in the stands, where I thought that 21,000 was an impressive attendance given the talk of recent times, and a lot of the young kids in the crowd seemed to enjoy themselves, which is great, and hopefully it makes them want to come and watch Villa again, because without them, where does our next generation of fans come from?
I`d like to leave on that fairly positive note as we all get ready for the Brummie – Black Country derby at the weekend, I`m hoping and praying for victory after our reversal against them back in March! See you Saturday and up the Villa.
Brad Guzan 6
Didn’t have a great deal to do but looked solid when called upon.
Chris Herd 6
Looked a lot better defensively than the last time I saw him.
Eric Lichaj 6
Did well in defence and supporting the attack.
Richard Dunne 6
Did OK but as captain I would like him to have been more of a leader.
Ciaran Clark 7
Seems to be a good defender whilst being composed under pressure. A good mix.
Jean Makoun 5
I like his combative nature but he still needs to get used to the pace of the English game.
Marc Albrighton 7
Always running at the Hereford defence and making life uncomfortable.
Charles N’Zogbia 6
Was unlucky with his long-range effort but I wanted to see a better performance from him.
Stephen Ireland 6
Was unlucky with a second-half header but needed more shooting accuracy tonight.
Barry Bannan 8
Always looks comfortable on the ball. A better bet than Ireland at the moment in my opinion.
Darren Bent 6
Worked hard without getting a great deal of service.
Nathan Delfouneso 7
Showed some good movement and got a poachers goal.
Andy Weimann 6
Good work-rate and a nice assist for the goal.
Not enough time.