I can’t help but feel partly to blame for Villa’s demise to Sunderland last night after earlier in the day publishing a post saying that Emile Heskey had been Villa’s most important player this term. In a game which eventually saw the result decided by a fantastic strike by ex-Villa loanee Phil Bardsley, Heskey had the proverbial and probably inevitable shocker after I had bigged him up for some impressive displays. Two glaring misses in the first half, one of which my Mother could have put home, the striker’s miserable evening was capped when he sent off for raisning his hands to the face of Jordan Henderson. Harsh, yes. Stupid, definitely. Going down to 10-men saw Houllier’s struggle to contain Sunderland before conceding to Bardsley long range effort. Sunderland were also reduced to 10 minutes before the end of the game when Bolo Zenden picked up a second yellow but the visitors clung on for a second 1-0 win over Villa of the season. The full-time whistle was met by choruses of boo’s and ‘get Houllier out’ chants which has quickly overshadowed the club’s recent 3-3 draw with Chelsea. The fact that the champions lost to Wolves this weekend, with the Midland rivals dumping Villa into the drop-zone, makes that result less impressive and makes Houllier’s position in an extremely precarious position.
Villa’s French manager stuck with the XI that had started at Stamford Bridge on Sunday after Gabby Agbonlahor shook off a groin problem. Steve Bruce also stuck with the side that thumped Blackburn 3-0 at the weekend, a side that has now kept clean sheets in half their games this season, 11 in 22.
It’s fair to say that the game was far from a classic with real chances few and far between in the opening exchanges at a nervy Villa Park. Sunderland’s Steed Malbranque had the first half chance of the game after Carlos Cuellar failed to connect with a cross at the back post but the midfielder couldn’t test Brad Friedel.
Villa began to gradually impose themselves on the game and Craig Gordon saved well from a teasing Downing free-kick under pressure.
Ciaran Clark was booked for the seventh successive appearance from the youngster for a bad challenge on Jordan Hendeson on the half hour and the 21-year-old’s disciplinary record certainly needs improving.
The chance of the entire match feel to Heskey 5 minutes before half time after Downing dispossessed Zenden, on for the injured Meyler, at the by-line and pulled back for the forward. Heskey miscued his effort with an open goal glaring from just 4 yards straight against the bar and that was a sign that he probably should have gone home there and then.
The 31-year-old then missed another glorious chance after Ashley Young had found him unmarked with a decent cross but Heskey could only head wide. Definitely time to go home.
The second half started slowly but the away side had another chance through Malbranque when Collins, booked in the dying stages of the first half, failed to clear with his head and allowed Bent to tee-up the Belgian on the volley but the former-Fulham man could only fire over.
Collins was again involved as Sunderland looked to break the deadlock when he was out-muscled by Bent who took the ball round Friedel but the big centre back atoned to clear the striker’s goal-bound shot off the line.
Zenden picked up his first yellow before Heskey saw red after 68 minutes. Villa played on after a tough tackle from Reo-Coker had left Sunderland substitute Asamoah Gyan on the deck which Henderson did not take kindly to. With the ball finally out of play the Sunderland midfielder stormed up to Heskey in protest who responded with a light push to the face which referee Peter Walton deemed to be a red card offence. Now you can go home Emile!
After a Zenden free-kick was blocked but not cleared the ball broke on the edge of the box to Phil Bardsley, who had a short spell on loan at Villa Park, and the full-back unleashed a stinging drive past the hapless Brad Friedel and into the bottom corner with 10 minutes remaining.
Villa failed to react to falling behind despite bringing on Marc Albrighton and Barry Bannan late on and the only real occurrence after the goal was the dismissal of Zenden who picked up a second booking for a foul on Petrov after 86 minutes.
A decent performance against Chelsea was backed up with a pretty abject one to say the least with Villa looking out of ideas and out of form. It’s hard to see what supposed dramatic changes Houllier has made other than the fact that we getting much worse. The Frenchman hasn’t sacrificed the attack by shoring up the defence, a defence which is the worst in the league might I add, and he certainly hasn’t sacrificed the defensive side by playing expansive attacking football either. Not good.
The manager’s position has again been assured by the board who remain ‘in support’ of Houllier but one would suggest that a defeat in the FA Cup to Sheffield United at the weekend would mean the following derby game with the Blues may well be make or break from the somewhat lifeless Frenchman. Relegation zone and one point above the bottom of the league urges me to think that the manager’s time should be up if we can’t win at St Andrews. Houllier’s 3 wins in the league have come against Wolves, Blackpool and West Brom, hardly scalps!
Villa Player Ratings
Brad Friedel – 6 – did little wrong with little to do
Carlos Cuellar – 6 – caught napping on occasion but some assured touches
James Collins – 5 – struggled with Bent’s presence despite one goal saving block
Richard Dunne – 6 – decent enough but booked
Ciaran Clark – 5 – shaky after good game last time out, poor challenge led to another yellow
Stewart Downing – 7 – should have had an assist but Heskey missed, Villa’s best
Stiliyan Petrov – 6 – quiet and looked jaded
Nigel Reo-Coker – 6 – lacking usual energy
Gabby Agbonlahor – 6 – makes little impact from the flank
Ashley Young – 6 – some poor deliveries, not at his best
Emile Heskey – 4 – let’s just say he had a night to forget
Marc Albrighton – no time, needs to be recalled
Barry Bannan – no time again
- Preview: Tottenham Hotspur vs Aston Villa – Prediction, Team News, Line-ups
- Huge Test for Emery – Aston Villa Predicted Lineup and Preview vs Tottenham Hotspur
- Aston Villa eye Europa Conference League success after impressive 2022-23 season
- Aston Villa forward Cameron Archer set to join Sheffield United in £18.5m deal
- Aston Villa in July: Four preseason fixtures as Emery aims for another excellent season
- Aston Villa make formal offer to sign Villarreal star Pau Torres
- Preview: Aston Villa vs Brighton & Hove Albion – prediction, team news, line-ups
- Preview: Aston Villa vs Newcastle United – prediction, team news, line-ups
- Aston Villa in April: Next seven Premier League fixtures
- Manchester City vs Aston Villa Preview – Prediction & Potential line-ups