Sunday 31st October 2010
Aston Villa 0-0 Birmingham City
Sunday afternoon saw the epic battle between fierce rivals Aston Villa and Birmingham that wasn’t so epic at all. A competitive game which lacked creativity, imagination and overall quality turned into a bit of a Halloween nightmare for the home fans. Villa set up with a defensive line-up which had many Villans scratching their heads in what is the most important game of the season for the majority of the home support. Gerard Houllier’s team selection will be questioned after setting up with what appeared to be a 4-1-4-1 formation. The tactics left no room for flair and attacking threat in a first-half in which I hate to say, Birmingham should have led. A lack of support for Emile Heskey in the opening hour of the match seemed an extremely negative approach which Alex McLeish and Blues fans would have loved. To this point I haven’t really questioned any of Houllier’s decisions come match-day but I have to concede that a more attacking Villa line-up should have won the game on Sunday. A full yet brief match report follows, summing up what was a drab and disappointing affair at Villa Park.
The Villa line-up saw a welcome return to action for Stephen Warnock and Luke Young after three games out through injury. Undoubtedly the biggest selection shock would have been the inclusion of young Ciaran Clark in a holding midfield role for the hosts. The natural centre back signed a new 4 year deal at the club this week and was rewarded for a decent display in midweek with a surprise start in the derby. Clark was joined in the centre of midfield by fellow defensive minded players, Nigel Reo-Coker and Steve Sidwell. I would have hoped that this would mean that Ashley Young and Downing would have supported Heskey in almost a front three but such hopes were never met.
The game started very tetchy and even as one might expect in a local derby, with no-one wanted to make the first mistake. This fear seemed to cripple the Villa players for much of the game and consequently led to a lack of impetus and guile.
Very little to report in the first half for either side in a period which Birmingham progressively controlled towards half time. The visitors had a few half chances shared between the likes of former Villans Gardner and Fahey.
Villa’s only real chance fell to Heskey who was inches away from connecting with a superb Ashley Young through-ball.
A curling effort from Craig Gardner and a decent handball shout for the visitors against Villa captain Nigel Reo-Coker was this pick of a frankly dismal 45 minutes.
The battle between ex-Villa player Gardner and Reo-Coker was possibly the main talking point of the match as they exchanged some fierce challenges throughout the encounter. It appears there is no love lost between the former team-mates who came to blows after the Birmingham midfielder wiped out Reo-Coker much to his disapproval.
Reo-Coker almost had the last laugh before this ruckus however, when his decent effort from range was well saved by Ben Foster after the restart. Houllier then brought on another young talent in Barry Bannan for Steve Sidwell as he looked to give his side more attacking options.
The little Scot looked lively on his arrival and impressed alongside Ciaran Clark in midfield. The latter was victim of a cynical challenge from Scott Dann who was rightly booked. Bannan was in action when his curling, 20-yard, left footed effort produced the best save of the match from the Birmingham keeper.
Reo-Coker was booked for his role in the altercation with Gardner who had clearly rattled the Villa skipper. Manager Houllier was taking no chances and withdrew his captain 10 minutes from time, replaced by John Carew.
The introduction of the big man as a second striker finally saw some threat from the home side and a knock down from the Norwegian was bravely met by Ciaran Clark. The Villa man threw his head on the line in between defender at goalkeeper and his effort sailed just wide of the post before being clattered by Foster.
Ashley Young came closest to scoring in the dying minutes of the match after running at another ex-Villa player, (can’t you bring through your own Blues?) Liam Ridgwell. The Villa winger managed to work half a yard and get a fizzing shot away which struck the outside of the Birmingham post to the agony of the home fans.
Birmingham then had possibly their best chance to seal all three points when man mountain, Nikola Zigic headed wide a Larsson free-kick.
I can’t help but feel that if Houllier had set out his side as he looked to in the closing stages of the match, that Villa would have taken all three points. On a positive note I am pleased to see the Frenchman handing chances to youngsters such as Clark and Bannan who the manager is clearly a big fan of.
A miserable display was met by a deserved miserable result and rather than putting themselves three points off a Champions League spot, Villa find themselves 3 points above the relegation places in a worrying 13th. Even more worrying is the fact that Villa are without a win in 4 league games and have scored just 9 goals in 10 games (made worse by that fact that it’s just 6 in their last 9 for the Villa).
Villa Player Ratings
Brad Fridel – 6 – very quiet day with no real saves to make
Luke Young – 6 – comfortable return from injury
Richard Dunne – 6 – good enough but off the pace at times
James Collins – 6 – decent again but some misplaced passes
Stephen Warnock – 6 – as good as the rest of the defence, booked AGAIN!
Stewart Downing – 6 – offered little, disappointing after midweek cameo
Nigel Reo-Coker – 6 – battled but rattled, booked and subbed
Steve Sidwell – 5 – anonymous
Ciaran Clark – 7 – Villa’s best midfield performance from a defender
Ashley Young – 6 – bystander for much of game, unlucky to hit post
Emile Heskey – 6 – worked hard to no avail, isolated
Barry Bannan – 7 – bright cameo, looked to attack
John Carew – 6 – offered much needed threat but no chances
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