Date: 13th March 2008 at 11:20am
Written by:

Ok, lets face it, that game was dire from Villa. The team came out like snails not the rampaging lions we expected and something just didn’t seem right. Certainly the people around me were scratching their heads at the tempo of the Villa boys, the way the first half shaped up you would have thought this was a nothing to play for, end of season game not one where we needed a win to stay in touch with 5th place and out of reach of the chasing pack.

The lack of will, aggression and possession was quite shocking, I had to check with my mates (yes, I have mates – I think paying people to go to the football with you counts as mates anyway?) where Boro were in the league, 1st or 2nd because they were first to everything and making all the attacking plays. Not what had been expected of this game and once again, every time us Villa fans start to get excited and expect a win, the teams complacency gets slapped right back down.

Ok, ok, this was just one game and at the end of the day, we didn’t lose it at least, but a draw at home v a team played off the park by Cardiff City at the weekend was not good enough, nor was the shape of the team or the tactics.

{Flame suit on}

Why play Ashley Young on the opposite side to where he is effective? It made no sense and Shaun Maloney yesterday had the look of a little boy lost, totally out of his depth which is the first time I’ve seen that. They ended up swapping sides anyway so what was that all about?

Why play Zat Knight when the experienced Sweden international Olof Mellberg was available? (I could go on and say why by an average player like Zat, from an average team like Fulham, when we had better in Gary Cahill who is now being eyed by Capello for England). Zat, – and I’m not trying to make a scapegoat here, just passing an opinion – as he, like it or not was once again responsible for giving a goal away due to a silly mistake. He tried to pass the ball where no Villa player was and gave Boro the gift of possession in a dangerous place, a gift they took with great thanks.

Craig Gardner – who always gives 100% and could make a very decent midfielder for us, is not a right-back. Fair enough nor is Olof BUT at least Olof has experience playing there. A massive risk was taken taking off Gardner for Olof in the second half because before the first half was out, Martin Laursen had started limping after a 50/50 challenge. I hate to think what would have happened if he’d not been able to run that injury off in the second half. We certainly had no other options on the bench and I’m sorry, only one person is responsible for that.

Why the long ball tactics? I thought we’d got away from that in recent games and that we were actually starting to play with some style. Not the managers fault I here some say (yes, I have voices in my head!). Well, from where I was sitting – right by the bench incidentally – it very much is his old fashioned 90’s tactics to hoof because the one time Scott Carson showed a bit of initiate and tried to play the ball out from the back, like truly great teams do, Martin O’Neill went ballistic at him and told him to whack the ball up the f***ing pitch. I’m sorry but WHY? Huth and Wheater could not believe their luck that all they had to do all game was head away long balls, they lapped it up. Easy tactics for modern defenders to counter. This is 2008, not 1990 and Villa are not Wimbledon. If Villa had brought the ball down and actually passed it about, we’d have walked all over Boro, of that I have no doubt but then, last night the team all seemed allergic to the ball and couldn’t wait to get rid of it, half the time to a Boro player.

{Flame suit off}

So Boro went one up following an error and still looked more likely to score than Villa and if not for an awful shot by Mido from 7 odd yards out, they would have been 2 up and it would have been game over. Mido happily shot into the sky when it would have been easier to score. He still looks a major threat, but only to the pie man who tries to hold some back for other customers! Villa equalised via a penalty, Barry took it with aplomb which to be fair was the only thing he did right all night – a very unusual thing to be saying about our usually most consistent player. I haven’t seen the replay so don’t know if the penalty was fair or not – don’t really care either – but the way the Boro players were protesting, I can only assume they felt it was harsh!

I repeat, this was just one match, but it was a match where we threw away two valuable points in the same fashion we threw away three down at Fulham. We are not and never have been good enough to just turn up to win, the sooner this lot realise they have to battle 100% every minute they are on the pitch, the better. To play well against the top teams is all well and VERY good but they have to show up for the league strugglers as well, arrogance does not win championships or earn European places.

That isn’t taking anything away from Boro, they played well and deserved all three points. I’d also salute the few hundred of their fans who showed up to shout their team on. A long journey to visit a place where most if they were being honest would have expected little change and after recent results and awful performances by their team, those few hundred really were REAL hard core fans. Respect!

Ok, so we have Pompey at the weekend, one can only hope we come out fighting from the start, show the passion that was totally missing last night and come back with something, if not they’ll be in 6th and we’ll be on the slide which would be a shame after such a valiant effort by such a small squad this season. With Everton still to come, it is all still to play for but last night put a huge dent in our slightly lofty aspirations for 5th. If we play like that again, we’ll not even finish 6th.

I have to wonder if the team were suffering from a bug or something, all did not look right last night, maybe it was just a bad day at the office?

Player Ratings

Scott Carson 5
I’m no expert but it looked to me like he should have saved that goal.

Wilfred Bouma 7.5
I think he was excellent and saved us being beaten

Martin Laursen 6
Most unusually he missed a few headers last night!

Zat Knight 5.5
He did make a few crucial tackles that had to be timed right but giving the ball away for the first goal and then not getting back to correct his error cost us the points.

Craig Gardner 5
Had rings run round him and was brought off. He isn’t a right-back, but then we don’t have one of those do we?

Ashley Young 6
Very quiet game, came more to life when moved to his more natural side but things just didn’t come off for any of the players last night.

Gareth Barry 5.5
Worst I’ve ever seen one of my favourite players perform. Took the penalty well though which always takes bottle.

Nigel Hokey Cokey 5.5
Dillied and dallied and gave the ball away. Had a few chances to shoot and passed sideways instead. A lot more to come from him hopefully.

Shaun Maloney 5
Awful performance, looked like a little boy lost at times and I don’t think he’d have been able to pass wind if he tried. Looked very off colour.

Gabby Agbonlahor 6
Difficult to rate because the hoofing tactics don’t and never will suit him, he needs balls to feet to run at defenders. If a pratt like me can see that then …. ?

John Carew 6
Another difficult to rate, he might be a big bloke but that doesn’t mean he wants to be playing with the ball in the air all the time with ineffective flick ons. Again, this isn’t the 90’s and this isn’t what he would be expecting surely?

Harewood (on for Maloney 46) 7
At least he cares! He did try but not the impact he’d have hoped for but probably our best player in the second half.

Mellberg (on for Gardner 46) 6
Steadier than Gardner, still better in the centre though.

Agree or disagree?
Our man of the match poll currently has Bouma ahead by some way and only Harewood and Mellberg also being voted for. That shows what people thought of the rest last night. Agree or disagree with my ratings? Why not put your own down in the forum or article comments, I’m always fascinated how we all watch the same game and see such different things!

On the bright side, my pie and water was nice as was 90 minutes of fresh Aston air. Always like to end on a positive!