After a day to grieve over what was really a hit and run from the Blues on Wednesday I have had time to reflect and collect my thoughts! It seems at the moment that Aston Villa cannot buy a win and if you can find me a manager whose new job has started with worse luck then Gerard Houllier I’m all ears. A dominant and much improved performance from the forgettable 0-0 draw at Villa Park last month still saw Villa knocked out of the League Cup. A Semi-final with West Ham awaited which almost had me sobbing into my lonely corner of shame as Villa looked to build on their Final appearance last season. Without sounding too much like a broken record, Villa couldn’t really have been missing many more players once again against the Blues though a goal-scoring return did give us fans something to cheer. Still, poor defending in the first half and a lack of cutting edge meant that all Villa’s possession and passing football came to nothing in a 2-1 defeat at St Andrews.
Villa traveled the short journey across the City with the usual casualty list. Heskey, Petrov, Reo-Coker, Sidwell, Delph and Albrighton while the likes of Stephen Ireland (illness), John Carew (fitnessless) and Carlos Cuellar (lacking match practiceness) sat on a stronger looking Villa bench. Injuries led to starts for Bannan, Clark and a return for Jonathan Hogg at the heart of midfield. Gabby Agbonlahor returned up front after a stomach upset had kept him out of the 4-2 defeat to Arsenal.
Birmingham were missing the likes of Hleb and McFadden while ex-Villa midfielder Craig Gardner made a comeback from injury to earn a place on the bench. The hosts set up with two strikers, Jerome and Zigic, after the two teams had cancelled each other out with one up top last time out.
The start of the game was a sign of things to come in the first half with frenetic and often careless play leading to a fast paced opening. Cameron Jerome was causing real problems for the Villa back line with James Collins and Richard both guilty of some hairy moments. It was Jerome who had the first effort on goal though his drive was never going to have enough to beat Brad Friedel who saved low.
Villa then began to settle and a string of corners forced a goal line block from Zigic after a James Collins header after Downing had delivered.
It was the home side who netted first perhaps slightly against the run of play when indecisive defending from Villa’s centre backs led to the rightful award of a Birmingham penalty. James Collins had earlier let a high ball bounce after a misunderstanding with Friedel and he was again guilty of the same crime.
A comedy of errors saw Richard Dunne mistime a header, only managing to flick the ball on further towards the Villa goal. Collins then let the ball bounce before a weak attempt at a clearing header was gathered by Jerome who in turn found the oncoming Bowyer. Richard Dunne came charging back to atone for his earlier error but only succeeded in piling into the back of the Blues midfielder, giving away a clear penalty. The spot-kick was duly dispatched, if a little tamely, by Seb Larsson to make it 1-0 to Birmingham.
The goal forced the Blues into life and the oaf-like figure of Nikola Zigic showed his incredible snail pace reactions to allow Luke Young to deny him a clear chance at goal.
The hosts then thought they had doubled their lead and probably should have done so. A Larsson corner eventually fell to Zigic who struck towards Friedel. The veteran keeper made a hash of the save and appeared to fumble the ball over the goal line. Villa’s mate on the line confusingly gave an offside decision, much to the relief of Houllier’s side.
The visitors immediately took advantage of their good fortune when Jonathan Hogg slipped Agbonlahor through. The striker managed to hold off his marker and dispatch a precise finish into the opposite corner and past Ben Foster for his third goal in successive games at St Andrews.
Birmingham then broke once more and Jerome should have done better with a one-on-one after being put through by the lumbering Zigic after more slack defending. The striker left it to late to shoot as Friedel closed him down well forcing a dragged, chipped finish to sail wide of the mark.
Villa maintained possession well but without any real chances going into the break with the scoreline at 1-1.
The bookings began to flourish in the second half with Villa starting the brighter. The away side were well on top when Dann was followed into the book by Carr.
An end-to-end attack saw Friedel save well at his near post from a Fahey cross only for Villa to break and Foster to make an almost identical save from an Ashley Young delivery within a minute. With Villa firmly in the ascendancy they struggled to break through a resolute Blues defence with a 20 yard effort from Bannan easily kept out by Foster.
Hogg was workman-like in midfield, twice nailing challenges on Lee Bowyer, the second of which saw him earn a yellow card, before the experienced midfielder was replaced by Gardner. The substitute came close after a clever turn saw him with space to shoot a long range effort wide of Friedel’s post.
Villa’s best chance came when Ireland who replaced the injured Bannan had a well hit first time shot saved by Foster. The rebound fell to Young who perhaps should have converted from close range but former Villan Liam Ridgwell blocked his effort. In an attempt to retain possession Young caught Ridgewell and went into the book for the fifth time this season meaning he will miss the Liverpool game through suspension.
With five minutes remaining McLeish’s side broke away after Jerome found space on the right flank. His smart cut back made its way to Zigic who had been hugely ineffective in the second period. The giant front man managed to get a shot away which looped off the sliding Luke Young and over a flapping Brad Friedel.
Ciaran Clark had a great chance to rescue a draw for Villa and send the game into extra time but his near post header from a Downing cross flew just over. Despite Villa pressure and the introduction of Delfouneso and Pires, Villa couldn’t find the elusive equaliser and the game finished 2-1. Bad times for a desperately unlucky Houllier and his young Villa line-up.
Villa Player Ratings
Brad Friedel – 5 – unconvincing, nearly fumbled the ball in and could have stopped the winner
Luke Young – 6 – probably the best of a bad bunch in the Villa back four
James Collins – 6 – decent second half didn’t atone for dodgy first
Richard Dunne – 5 – two errors in first goal, better in second half
Stephen Warnock – 6 – supported midfield well on the left
Barry Bannan – 6 – ineffective on the wing, bright when cutting inside
Jonathan Hogg – 7 – battled valiantly with some crunching tackles, good to see
Ciaran Clark – 7 – not overawed and fought well
Stewart Downing – 6 – sub-par deliveries in average display
Ashley Young – 6 – made nuisance to little effect
Gabby Agbonlahor – 7 – retained possession well and looked sharp with quality finish
Stephen Ireland – 6 – good on the ball and decent effort on goal, needs to start
Nathan Delfouneso – no time
Robert Pires – no time
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