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Season 2011-12
COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY

From my seat: Aston Villa (A)

By Ken Buckley   ::  14/01/2012
 19 Comments (»Last)
Summer sun and clear blue skies on a freezing day sort of summed up the game ? coulda, shouda... but didna.

Clattenburg was the official after some four years absence due to his homage to the dark side. He got some but it wasn?t anything to write home about but a Blues home game for him against the dark side may still be some way off. To think that this ref plus Atkinson have been elevated to FIFA?s elite list beggars belief. It?s not that they are bad refs, it?s the perception that they are celebrities first and refs second that infuriates fans of all teams outside the Sky preferred teams.

We had ex-Manc Gibson making his debut and a first start for Duffy as the central defensive preferred pairing are crocked, along with many others, so it could well be described as a patched-up Blues that took to the field.

We started well and the first time the ball arrived at the feet of Gibson some 30 yds out, the inevitable shout of "Shoot" was heard, such is the reputation he has brought from down the East Lancs Road. I was hoping he may have more than this in his locker. As the game progressed, he showed that he did.

Villa having England internationals Bent and Agbonlahor up front seemed to have the firepower to trouble us but early signs were that Heitinga and Duffy could look after them and themselves. Heitinga soon showed Bent who was boss when he tripped him in a Dutch way that was effective, deserved a booking but got away with it. Elite refs? ?Yer avin a laff? ? you could almost see the smirk as the kopite gave the finger wagging message that he knew best.

Our first real chance came when Gibson showed that he has an eye for a decisive pass when he split the defence and found Cahill who attempted to hit a ball that came over his shoulder but his haste to break his goal drought was such that he had completed the movement before the ball had reached him and the chance was gone.

Drenthe was on the left and he was more of a menace to our defence than the Villa players ? giving the ball away, not tracking his runner, and not seeming bothered. Real Madrid signed him??

Baines got a good free-kick into the box, Saha met it but could only guide it toward the keeper who parried out but alas not to a silver shirt and Villa cleared. Warnock almost scored in his own goal but for a quick and instinctive intervention by Given.

Donovan got in down the right and put in a dangerous cross that Saha seemed to be running onto but he lost out in the physical battle with Hutton and the chance went. "Be stronger and fight harder," I thought to myself... We were getting the chances but ? in keeping with the season so far ? looked to have little faith in converting.

The Villa crowd went all Goodison-like, bemoaning their team's home form, and started to get on the backs of their players as the Blues continued on top but that clinical trait was missing, yet again, anywhere near the box. Drenthe took corners but was Arteta reborn as he hit the first man with regularity. Wouldn?t you think they could vary it after the first attempt fails???

The game then entered a familiar phase. Everton, being unable to convert when on top, drifted off the pace, allowing Villa to press more, with Howard having to earn his corn with a couple of smart stops.

Half-time and the faithful seemed in boisterous spirits despite our reasonable support play going unrewarded. It was also noted that Fellaini could have been sent off in that first half when he was booked for a foul that he did not agree with and slammed the ball into the turf and away right under the nose of the ref, who chose to ignore it. I just wonder did that have anything to do with the last time he reffed us? Fellaini was one lucky man...

Second half and both teams seemed to want to press and play, yet with neither wanting to give anything away, which led to a staccato-type game that was in truth a touch boring. The odd chance at both ends first when Drenthe was tumbled and the resultant free-kick saw Fellaini power in at the far post and get a header on target with power but would you believe it hit Given and rebounded away. Villa had a corner that produced a scramble that first saw Howard flap and fail to gain distance but the follow up effort was straight at him.

We reached the hour-mark and we looked slightly on top, certainly the more composed, when Villa?s best player Albrighton put in a cross. Duffy made a rare mistake as he failed to clear properly and presented the ball to Ireland who poked the ball across goal and Bent sort of looped it into the net somehow avoiding about six Everton bodies. From my position, time seemed to stand still as the ball went in just looping in slow motion beyond a statuesque Howard. A goal behind, away from home, and, with our scoring record, optimism was not high... but a quick glance at the proey showed the Villa to be no better than us in any department so I thought: "Who knows?"

The manager then made a very sensible move in hooking Drenthe, who in my opinion was dreadful and more use to Villa than us, replacing him with Big Vic. Donovan went left and Vic right. Boy, did the manager get that one right for, on the 70th minute, the move of the match took place when Donovan raided at pace in from the left and delivered a sumptuous pass of all the right proportions to find Big Vic who had made a very good intelligent run into the box keeping himself onside. The master of one-on-ones, Given, was left with no chance such was the quality of Vic?s finish. The roars and the songs came forth. Vic was beside himself and hey, why not? ? we had actually scored a goal ? and a damned good one at that.

We then had a scare when Vic, in trying to prevent the ball going for no more than a throw-in went down apparently in agony with no-one near him. "Here we go again," we all thought but, after a little attention to the knee and a lot of attention to the verbals, he seemed satisfied he was not in danger of another few months out and rejoined the fray.

Both managers didn?t know whether to stick or twist yet both made positive substitutions, with Villa bringing on loanee Keane and Moyes responding by bringing on Bilyaletdinov and Stracqualursi for the knackered Saha and Gibson. Unfortunately, such is their prowess, little changed and the game ended on a note that sort of summed up a poor spectacle when Cahill strode forward in one of those situations where you dream he fires in, leaves the keeper rooted to the spot, and bulges the top corner of the net; in this case, he hit high and very wide! Still... next time, maybe.

MotM ? Difficult for me today as I thought Donovan was our best and most gifted player, but I will give it to Duffy who, after all, came in because we have no-one else, and the manager?s reassuring words that he urgently needs another centre-back ringing in his ears could not have filled him with confidence, yet he played a simple honest game that I only saw one lapse in and he responded to Heitinga who constantly looked after him and talked him through. It could not have been easy for the lad but from my seat he was competent and very few hoofs.

Overall, the sort of game you would expect from two teams who are mirroring each other in terms of form and goal-scoring ability. To get one point was a little disappointing but, when you realise we have only won there once in yonks, then a point is better than nothing.

Our new man Gibson seemed quite well received by the faithful and he showed he can keep things ticking over, pick a pass, and be aware of what is around him. He came to us because he wanted regular games. Considering the players we have to come back makes me wonder what the club may have in mind...

Once again, I am feeling that it is a great shame that Landon has to go back so soon. We can?t replace him and it is in some ways cruel on fans to just let us have a glimpse of what might be if we were in better shape off the field.

Still he is still with us for the visit of the resurgent Blackburn. Goals and a win at home would be just right to lead us into the Fulham cup tie where we have the chance to get that bit nearer to Wembley. Well you never know.
See you there
UP THE BLUES

Reader Comments

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Andy Crooks
020   Posted 15/01/2012 at 00:21:08

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Excellent stuff,Ken. I agree about Duffy and think Heitinga helped him immensely. If we have any money to spend on a loan or whatever don't waste it on a centre half.
Luke O'Farrell
021   Posted 15/01/2012 at 00:22:06

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Good stuff as always Ken.

In terms of the point made about corners, I don't always think it's the delivery that's at fault. We very rarely have anybody on or attacking the near post. This leads to the opposition always being first to any near post corner.

It's the sort of stuff you get taught as a child, playing football. Always have at least one player back post and one at the front.

Drenthe's worst game so far. The Saha - Cahill pairing needs to be axed. Both are well short of form and have been for quite some time. Vellios and Victor have done well in their brief cameo. I would give them two a chance.

Duffy did well on his full debut, although he seemed at fault for the goal; maybe showing his inexperience. Gibson looked good, used the ball well and was good in the tackle. He's no world beater but he's a better CM than Cahill, Neville or Heitinga; that's a start.
Andy McNabb
025   Posted 15/01/2012 at 01:08:00

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Thanks Ken. You won't stop doing these reports, will you? Always a balanced account.

Positives - Duffy and Gibson (although your comment about what Gibson can offer in comparison to Rodwell etc was a good one). Also good to see Heitinga playing where he should.

Negatives - It's sad but not sure Drenthe will ever be more than a loose cannon, wherever and for whoever he plays.

Blackburn will be interesting. I'm not a betting man but there must be very short odds on the Yak getting the first goal. He is just the sort of player to do that.
Keith Glazzard
026   Posted 15/01/2012 at 00:54:36

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Yes Ken - agree. Gibson should be an improvement on most of our other options and Duffy certainly has the makings. Its good that he has Heitinga alongside him. A world cup final centre half must have a bit of experience to pass on.

Our goal was an object lesson in just about everything we have been doing wrong this season. An accurate throw from Howard, to one of our players - thankfully Donovan - who moved forward rapidly, leaving the defence no time to regroup and set themselves up. A great pass (forward) to a player capable of finishing, who was put in the position to show how good he is, and I don't mean Saha.

We very rarely see anything like this these days. What we usually get is 23 passes leading to nowhere. I'm not saying that we should hoof the ball upfield to see what comes, but we need the kind of penetration that Donovan provided in that crucial moment.
Alasdair Mackay
028   Posted 15/01/2012 at 01:33:17

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Duffy will be a world-class Centre Half in a season or two, but he will need to grab this chance with both hands! He did well against Villa, but realistically will play another 2 games at least before we even have another option there, so what he needs to show know is that he can learn quickly and maintain consistency.

Gibson was excellent, considering his lack of football, although I have to agree that his signing could well see one of Rodwell or Barkley shipped out for big money. I certainly hope not, as with everyone fit we now have a very strong squad in central midfield.

Saha and Cahill have as much confidence as Stracqualursi has talent. I don't know why Moyes brought him on in stead of Velios.

Drenthe was poor tracking back today and it didn't run for him going forward, but his pace will always cause problems, even when he is playing badly.

Donovan was magnificent today. Comfortably Man of the match,
n
Chris Wilkinson
029   Posted 15/01/2012 at 01:53:32

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Alasdair, Duffy will be World Class? Just how many world class players do you think there are in the world? He will be a good player, but seriously world class? Not even close.
Derek Thomas
031   Posted 15/01/2012 at 02:51:29

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Clattenberg: we all know the history;

' They ' know that he couldn't go on not reffereeing us and must have had a word in his ear something along the lines of... just call it as you see it, keep it sensible and low key and remember that the players and the goals are there to make the headlines not you...and on that performance I would take him as a reff every week.

On the football side, we gave for us, a semi decent performance. The longer Duffy and Heitinga play together the better it will be for both of them, no need to rush Distain back before he is ready. Let Duffy have his few games.

Both he and his Manager will be have a lot more confidence in his ability to perform at this level, when he is next required. Early days yet but Distans age is no longer as worrying as it was.
Roman Sidey
033   Posted 15/01/2012 at 02:56:01

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Andy McNabb, not being a betting man, you may need some help understanding odds. If a player has extremely little, or no chance of being first goal scorer in a match, they have very LONG odds, not very short odds.

Good report, and I think Duffy was great. I would keep him and Johnny together for a while despite fitness of other two - maybe bring Distin back in at LB and push Baines up into LM. I don't think the young Irishman was to blame for their goal at all. That blame has be put at the hands of Fellaini, and I can't believe Heitinga didn't give the lad a complete dressing down for what he did there.
Peter Barry
034   Posted 15/01/2012 at 03:29:15

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All I can say is thank God the Yak got a 'red' today and will not be eligible to play for Blackburn next week.

The game was on here in Bali at 1 am after it and the other matches had finished so I stayed up to watch even though I knew the result. Interested to see how Gibson and Duffy played. As far as I can see both will be useful additions to the squad, not world beaters but adequate for a team of our current stature.

But at half-time I couldn't take any more the football by both sides was so dire, predictable and boring. I think Drenthe's problem is that Dour Davey has got at him so he can't play his natural game as he is constantly thinking Dour Davey mandated ' 'track back defensively'.

Landon Donavan as ever produced and its difficult to see where the Everton threat will come from when he leaves. So I went to bed ? the best thing to do in the circumstances.
Tony J Williams
051   Posted 15/01/2012 at 09:47:39

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Peter, by "natural game" do you mean consistently giving it away?

Doesn't matter if you have been told to get back and defend, this should in no way impair your ability to pass a ball to an open player.
Paul Olsen
053   Posted 15/01/2012 at 09:54:20

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I agree Duffy did well, but he was partly to blame for the goal alongside others.

We have a tendency of hyping young players who play a couple of decent games. Let´s not overhype Duffy, he looks promising I´ll agree but he is not better than Jags/Distin just yet.
Steve O'Malley
058   Posted 15/01/2012 at 10:17:11

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Roman. You said something there I have thought for a while to try and solve the left midfield problem. Push Baines up to LM, he has the skills to slot in. Play Distin at LB the same way that Lescott used to play there very effectively.
Bily is a waste of time, Drenthe is obviously either hot or very very cold. He was a complete liability yesterday. Fellaini had one of his worst games for a long time but I have to admit to sitting on the fence with him. He is Drenthe like either hot or cold and when it's the latter he is a very frustrating player to watch, particularly his lack of urgency.
I also agree with Andy#20 the last thing we should be spending money on is another CB
Al Reddish
062   Posted 15/01/2012 at 10:44:39

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Peter, I know Moyes has his fair share of critics, but Drenthe was shit yesterday, as he has been in other games he has started. Maybe another good 'impact sub?'. A special well done to Heitinga though, who is showing what he is capable of in his right position and coached Duffy throughout the game........maybe time to give him a run and cash in on the older Jagielka?
Gary Mortimer
066   Posted 15/01/2012 at 09:56:54

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In defence of our Royston, most of our players will look to play a sideways or backwards pass first, a forward pass second, dribble past someone third.

Drenthe does try and do something different - unfortunately yesterday everything he tried did not come off. I'm happy for him to continue this, but first think about where he is. The mistake yesterday ultimately led to their goal and with hindsight he should have played the simple ball to Cahill.

Duffy and Les Paul looked ok to me. Saha and Cahill need serious shooting practice.
Mike Allison
069   Posted 15/01/2012 at 11:06:11

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I play Saturdays so sometimes all I see of our Saturday games is highlights. Drenthe is usually involved in them as he actually makes things happen. He may well have been awful yesterday, I'll take your word for it, but I think he's the type of player who isn't going to be consistent.

I also think we've got enough 'consistent' players (consistently average/underwhelming) and it s the managers job to set the team up in the way that allows Drenthe (and, actually, preferably one other) to take risks on the ball that sometimes won't come off. If he gets the ball ten times, does the easy thing twice, loses it six times and creates two goalscoring opportunities he's doing an extremely useful job no-one else is capable of.

So yes, he may have the odd shocker, but for me he has to be one of the first names on the teamsheet because he's the only one in our squad, with the possible temporary exception of Donovan, that can provide that little spark of something different that can hurt an opponent.
Danny O'Neill
086   Posted 15/01/2012 at 13:17:39

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Thanks for the assessment Ken - always balanced in comparison to those written in the immediate aftermath with emotions running high.

Having looked at the highlights, whilst you could criticise Duffy for the poor clearance out that led to their goal, did anyone else not think Heitinga & Fellaini between them could have dealt with the second cross as it came in?

Anyway, good point in my book just a bit frustrating as it looks as though we could have / should have won it. Keeper returns and pulls off a couple of outstanding saves (even if one was from his own player)......why us?!!
Kieran Kinsella
109   Posted 15/01/2012 at 16:14:11

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Ken,

I agree about Gibson. For a club that only employs one left back, it is hard to imagine Everton holding onto four relatively young and "potentially" good central midfielders (Rodwell, Barkley, Gibson and Fellaini) in the long run.

I assume BK plans to offset the $500k cost of Gibson by selling Rodwell or Fellaini for $15m in the summer. I know they both have new contracts but so did Arteta so I assume their contracts were intended to generate an eventual transfer fee in the same way as Arteta's.

I guess that in speculating about this I am "betraying" the club and will be held liable by Elstone if a handful of people stay away from the next game.
Mick Quirke
119   Posted 15/01/2012 at 17:05:40

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We have to sort out that striker situation and Drenthe is clearly an option from the bench, not from the start.

However, if you think about yesterday's back 9 (ie without Saha and Cahill), then it looks pretty solid, and we have Ossie, Rods, Distin and Jags to come back. If Moyes were ever brave enough to play a fit Coleman before Hibbert or Neville and we really would have options on both flanks.

We'd create chances but we need someone to put the ball in the onion bag. Will Vic keep growing in confidence? Will he stay fit? In terms of other forwards Denis clearly doesn't have the quality, Saha's finished and for some reason Moyes doesn't seem happy with Velios. So it's a fit VIc or a proper forward signed, otherwise any improvements in midfield that Gibson and Donovan bring will come to nothing.
Peter Barry
187   Posted 16/01/2012 at 03:03:55

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Tony J Williams here is a link to Swansea's game where a manager gets 'mediocre' players to play good football. Something Dour Dire Disastrous Davey finds it impossible to do. Or are you going to try and say this is just a 'flash in the pan' or Swansea has a team of superstars or any other such BS to try and defend Disastrous Davey.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2086963/Swansea-3-Arsenal-2-Danny-Graham-clinches-points-goal-thriller.html

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