After another tight game at the weekend led to a disappointing defeat it seems that Gerard Houllier may just need a little luck to revert back to winning ways. Decent performances in the club’s last 3 games have bought just 1 league point and perhaps the reason for this being 1 league goal. After starting promisingly against Tottenham, a club whom Villa have previously seemed to fear under MON, Albrighton gave Villa a deserved lead. Rafael van der Vaart proved to be too hot to handle, despite arguably warranting a point from the tough clash at White Hart Lane. The champions of Chelsea were next up at Villa Park and Houllier’s men more than matched their opponents for most of the game. Other than two efforts that hit the woodwork for the visitor’s Villa had more real chances and could have nicked the points late on through Reo-Coker. Saturday’s defeat to Sunderland was probably the most crushing of the lot after again starting brightly, Villa were beaten by a Richard Dunne own goal.
An open start to the game saw the first chance fall to the head of Steed Malbranque after decent work from Henderson had outfoxed Dunne. The little playmaker couldn’t direct his header, possibly the first of his career, on target and Friedel saw it wide.
Villa came closest after 7 minutes after an inch perfect through ball from Young found the run of Stewart Downing. The winger beat Mignolet at the near post but couldn’t beat the post itself as his low effort crashed back off the woodwork.
The away side then had claims for a penalty after Nigel Reo-Coker broke through the Sunderland rear guard. The tenacious midfielder failed to get a shot away after going down under a combination of challenges from Cattermole and Bramble. Seen them given but it would have been soft and NRC really should have worked the keeper.
Sunderland broke the deadlock after a sliding challenge between Petrov and Malbranque saw the later retrieve possession and cross to the front post. An embarrassing lack of communication from the usually assured centre-back pairing of Dunne and Collins saw the former finish expertly, sadly in the wrong end. Perhaps unsurprising as Richard Dunne holds the much sought after record of most Premier League own goals, now stretching to 8 which is pretty prolific compared to Villa’s strike force at the moment.
Sunderland then began to control the game up to half time with tireless midfielding and assured defending nullifying the threat of Houllier’s troops. Danny Welbeck came close to extending the lead and but for a fine save from Friedel it would have been 2-0 at the halfway mark.
Villa came out rejuvenated after the sucker punch of the goal and through all they had at Bruce’s backline. Unfortunately all Villa have offensively isn’t cutting it at this time and although a tactical change, which saw Young move in field replacing the substituted Stephen Ireland, swung the domination in the away sides favour, Villa couldn’t capitalise.
Undoubtedly the best chance of the half fell to Heskey who had battled well as the lone striker all game. A teasing low cross from Downing beat the Sunderland keeper and found its way to the path of the striker. Heskey appeared shocked that the delivery had made its way through and could only manage to step over the ball with an open net beckoning just 3 yards away.
Marc Albrighton had replaced the ineffective Ireland and caused a threat on the right and after running at the Sunderland defence his drive was too close to Mignolet who saved easily.
Villa created more half chances and had more penalty appeals correctly turned down but could not break the Sunderland resolve. A game, in which Villa controlled enough of to win, really should have been rewarded with a draw but when it’s not going your way it’s hard to stomach. Another worrying not saw Petrov hobble off in the first half with the Captain expecting a lengthy lay off with a knee injury. If Villa continue to play the way their playing then this blip without a win should end on Wednesday against Burnley in the Carling Cup.
Villa Player Ratings
Brad Friedel – 6 – fine save from Welbeck, could do nothing to stop Dunne OG
Habib Beye – 5 – uninspiring, King Carlos should be brought in
Richard Dunne – 5 – off day capped by woeful own goal
James Collins – 6 – Villa’s best defender on the day but didn’t shine
Stephen Warnock – 6 – booked again, enough said
Stewart Downing – 6 – in and out, unlucky not to score
Stiliyan Petrov – 5 – beaten in challenge leading to goal and injured short after
Nigel Reo-Coker – 7 – another claim for MoM on Villa’s behalf
Ashley Young – 7 – influenced the game when moved infield
Stephen Ireland – 5 – ineffectual, disappointing after last week’s improvement
Emile Heskey – 6 – one of Villa’s top performers again but missed a sitter
Steve Sidwell – 6 – energetic after inclusion
Marc Albrighton – 7 – bright cameo changed the game in Villa’s favour
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