Here is Bazza’s take on our game against Villa yesterday. You can read my brief thoughts here. It was lovely to meet Bazza and his son and have a chat with him prior to the game. Unfortunately we were unable to meet for a drink afterwards. Maybe next time. 🙂
I hate early kick offs and when you have to travel from the distance I have to they are particularly irksome. I understand of course why it has to be this way but the other reason that I don’t like early starts is because the atmosphere is somehow never quite the same as a game played at 3 pm on a Saturday afternoon like it should be. I had set my alarm clock for 07.20 to get Jonny up in time so that we could meet up with Will in Guildford. I then did something I very rarely do and that was doze off again only to wake with a start at 08.20 so it was a rapid rise, dressed and out to get to the rendezvous point ten minutes late; something that Will pointed out gleefully was the case. We stopped for a coffee and a sausage sandwich at the Wild Bean Café which cheered us up and we made excellent time up to Birmingham to pick up Will’s Uncle Frank.
Chris was mixing with the great and the good in the hospitality suite for this one. Some time back he had successfully bid for a golden disc that Jasper Carrott had put up for charity. It was for that daft song ‘The Funky Moped’ for those that remember it and Chris was to be awarded with it from the great man himself during the game.
The pubs were closed prior to the game so it was a case of getting into the game early. I did have chance to meet up with Kev (Kevin Ball) and Mike (Aylesburyblue) from Joys & Sorrows and it was good to talk with them and Kev’s son Jordan.
Soon the appointed hour of 12.00 noon arrived and the game kicked off. It was very disappointing to see such a modest crowd of 22,287 for a major derby in the Premier League but the time of day and the fact that it was televised undoubtedly had an effect on the size of the crowd.
Blues made three enforced changes with Scott Dann looking to be a long-term absentee because of a serious hamstring tear, Cameron Jerome with a less serious but similar injury and Seb Larsson suffering from a hip and groin strain that he has been carrying for a while. This meant that new recruit Bentley could make his debut and David Murphy continued where he left off at Upton Park at left back. Liam Ridgewell moved into the centre of defence to fill the void left by Dann and Matt Derbyshire was recalled up front with Hleb operating just behind him.
Gerard Houllier made four changes for Villa as captain, Stylian Petrov, James Collins, Stewart Downing and John Carew brought in with Carlos Cuellar, Robert Pires and Barry Bannan dropping to the bench. Ashley Young and Emile Heskey were both ruled out through suspension.
Blues did not start well and sloppy play by Ben Foster resulted in his hashed up clearance going straight to our nemesis, Gabriel Agbonlahor. The striker forged into the box and should have scored from 10 yards with just 33 seconds on the clock. His shot sailed over the bar instead to the relieved jeers of the Tilton. Blues looked edgy and nervous and failed to heed this early let off and were once again fortunate to see Stewart Downing’s shot barely a minute later flash just wide of the post.
Blues recovered their composure and Bentley brought the home crowd to its feet by making a pacy run down the flank which was brought to a shuddering halt by a crude, industrial challenge from Richard Dunne, which rightly earned him a booking with less than five minutes gone. The free kick was cleared to Craig Gardner but his half-volley passed harmlessly over the bar. Johnson had another effort when he met Bentley’s cross a few minutes later but this effort was also wide of the mark.
The game was being played at a decent tempo but it was Villa who were looking the most dangerous. They went close to scoring on a couple of occasions when the cross bar came to the rescue. Kyle Walker’s far-post cross was headed back by Agbonlahor and Carew’s flick sent the ball spiralling over Foster but the ball bounced off the top of the bar. Within minutes Ciaran Clark’s cross drifted over Foster but again bounced off the woodwork. In between these close calls Carew struck the bar again with a header but he was climbing all over Johnson and the referee blew up for a free-kick.
Blues’ did have their moments however and carved out the best opening of the half when Gardner out-muscled Walker on the left to win possession and his low cross landed at the feet of Derbyshire. In a similar incident to the one at Blackpool, the striker once again fluffed his lines, took his eye off the ball and completely missed his attempted side-footed effort. This was a great chance and should have put Blues ahead.
Blues began to take control towards half time and Keith Fahey, operating in a central midfield role alongside Barry Ferguson twice tried his luck from distance after good work involving Alexander Hleb and Ferguson. Unfortunately his efforts were either wayward or lacking the pace to disturb Brad Friedel in the Villa goal. An excellent move saw Murphy burrow into the box to be clumsily challenged by Marc Albrighton but nothing was forthcoming from the official. This was a clear penalty but we haven’t been given one in the league all season so why should we expect one now? A shot by Hleb which was deflected behind by Collins and an effort from Albrighton who sent a shot just wide of Foster’s right-hand post brought the half to an end.
The second period started with Blues on the front foot. Within four minutes of the restart, Hleb won a free-kick 30 yards out and Bentley rolled the ball into Gardner’s path. The midfielder’s mis-hit shot was touched on by Murphy and Johnson diverted the ball past Friedel into the bottom corner to send St Andrews into raptures. Blues were in charge now and should have pressed home their advantage when they twice came close to scoring again in the space of a couple of minutes. Good work by Carr allowed Ferguson to win possession and race away before laying the ball into the path of Derbyshire. His shot was well parried by Friedel but as the loose ball rolled invitingly across the six-yard box there was no one following up for a tap in. Carr was involved again moments later as he crossed from the right. A miscued header by Dunne dropped to Gardner inside the area 15 yards out. His first time volley was slammed wide instead of into the net. This was a glorious chance and a miss which Blues were to pay dearly.
Villa started to rack up the pressure and brought on Delfouneso in place of Carew changing their formation to 4-4-2 and after a number of scares it was no surprise when after sloppy work by Blues, Villa levelled on 73 minutes. Albrighton’s cross was cleared as far as Collins and the defender’s shot found the bottom corner via a deflection from double-agent Ridgewell’s heel giving Foster no chance. Blues were now doing their best to lose a game they had been in control of and another mistake by Ridgewell resulted in Stewart Downing nearly putting Villa in the lead but Foster produced a good block from his shot laid on to him by Delfouneso after good work by Agbondlahor. Delfouneso almost won it as he blasted a fierce shot that Foster tipped on to the top of the crossbar. Then Ridgewell headed off the line after Dunne’s header had beaten Foster and then Collins sent the follow-up wide as Villa sensed all three points were there for the taking. Blues themselves almost clinched a dramatic late victory when Foster launched a long ball into the area and Zigic beat Friedel to the ball but his header drifted just inches past the post denying him the role of hero on this occasion.
This was a strange game in the end when Villa hit the woodwork on four occasions, although it has to be said it was only Delfouneso’s effort that presented any real threat, but despite this Blues could and should have won this game but they came so close to losing it and can consider themselves lucky in the end they did not do so. However, there were times when Villa rode their luck in different ways; they were very fortunate that Derbyshire did not score when well placed on at least two occasions, the penalty that once again wasn’t given and Gardner really should have buried his volley. Finally Zigic was six inches away from settling the match in the final seconds so in the end the sides had to settle for a point each which was probably a fair outcome.
The Good: Some of the midfield play; Bentley was excellent on his debut and interlinked well with Hleb and Ferguson; all three are proper footballers. Villa equally showed nice touches and interplay with Downing, Reo-Coker and Clark catching the eye. I thought Kyle Walker at full back was excellent and one to watch as he develops.
The Bad: The refereeing; absolutely awful performance from Mark Clattenburg. Got too many decisions wrong and his interpretations of some of the challenges were laughable. He is not alone in denying us a clear cut penalty award this season. I’m beginning to wonder what the odds are on a Premiership team not being awarded one in 38 games.
The Ugly: Both goals; scruffy efforts both with elements of luck attached to each of them. Fighting that broke out on the Coventry Road at the end of the match which prevented a lot of law abiding folks getting away from the ground quickly.
Birmingham City: Ben Foster 6, Stephen Carr 7, David Murphy 8, Roger Johnson 8, Liam Ridgewell 6, David Bentley 9, Barry Ferguson 8, Craig Gardner 7, Keith Fahey 7, Alexander Hleb 8 (Nikola Zigic 76, 6), Matt Derbyshire 7(Lee Bowyer 84, N/A)
Subs (not used): Maik Taylor, Kevin Phillips, Jean Beausejour, Jordon Mutch, Martin Jiranek.
Goal: Johnson (49) Booking: Carr
Aston Villa: Brad Friedel 7, Kyle Walker 8, James Collins 8, Richard Dunne 7, Ciaran Clark 8, Stewart Downing 9, Stylian Petrov 7, Nigel Reo-Coker 8 (Barry Bannan 71, 7), Marc Albrighton 7, Gabriel Agbonlahor 6, John Carew 7 (Nathan Delfouneso 71, 7).
Subs (not used): Andy Marshall, Robert Pires, Carlos Cuellar, Jonathan Hogg, Nathan Baker.
Goal: Collins (73) Booking: Dunne, Collins
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear) 5: Poor throughout.