Writer: J P Fear
Date:Sunday December 4 2005
St James Park
Midnight, I've just got the last Tyne and Wear metro home and I now have to wait until next season before I can see the Villa play right on my doorstep. And have a rake of pints afterwards. I love going to Villa Park but the 4 hour drive each way is a bit off putting. It's nice to be able to get a bit of a lie in before the game as well.
Anyway, here's my views on what has been a pretty long day for me.
I love the Geordies. As a race, they're probably some of the nicest people I've ever known. Went for a few pre match drinks in a place called the Pig and Whistle and felt totally safe and welcome standing in front of the stage, wearing my Villa shirt. What was on the stage shall remain unspoken about. Walked from the Bigg Market to St. James' amongst the Geordie hordes and got nothing but good will and good humour from them all. The general consensus was that we could expect a terrible game between two teams low on confidence. All week the noises coming from Villa Park had been that the players owed us, the fans, a big performance. My wish that they all be dropped and made to pay for their midweek indiscretion went unfulfilled. Only one changed, Bouma in for Samuel. Well, at least he can kick Solano up in the air. And Aaron Hughes got a good reception, which is always nice to see. I think I'm going soft.
From Row Y in the Sir John Hall stand the view of the match was pretty sketchy. I didn't bring my binoculars with me and the vertigo was really starting to effect me but, from what I could tell in the first half, all this talk of 'we owe the fans' had completely slipped their mind. Mellberg was trying to lead by example but for some reason we couldn't string more than 3 passes together before gifting it back to the Barcodes and inviting them onto us. It didn't help that our midfield had gone completely AWOL. Lee Hendrie was running around gamely, sticking his foot in and try to combine a little bit of creativity with a little bit of aggression. More of both would have been nice but he did still look sharper than I expected him to after so long without a run in the first team. Baros and Angel didn't seem to click at all and our full backs were being mercilessly put to the sword. That’s not to say they were playing badly. I thought they were doing well but just struggling to cope with the running and crossing of Solano and Ameobi. I was even impressed with how Ridgewell seemed to be coping. His positioning was quite good and makes up for his shocking lack of pace. But he has this infuriating urge to grapple with the man he's marking, and when Shearer went down about 4 yards outside the penalty area I fully expected Solano to pop in the free kick. Now I know Shearer is infamous for going down at the slightest sign of contact. I'm not a professional footballer and I know that. So what else did Ridgewell expect when he wrapped his arms all over him. Luckily Solano mis**t the free kick and it went for a corner. But not long after, Ridgewell managed to give away his 4th penalty in 5 games. I haven't seen a replay of this so I'll reserve judgement but the referee seemed to have a good view and I don't think it's a coincidence that he's the one giving them all away lately. Shearer managed to avoid his Tommy Sorensen hoo doo and Newcastle went in at the break 1-0 up. We were truly awful in the first half to be honest. Granted Newcastle weren't much better. That toothless ex-miner I had been talking to in the queue for a burger outside had it right.. Terrible football between two terrible teams.
Second half really didn't seem to offer much of an improvement. Davis and McCann continued to be anonymous and Villa persisted with hoofing the ball up to Angel and Baros, both of whom seemed to have totally given up. McCann was carrying a yellow card from the first half so he was forced to cancel his plans to kick everything that moved. Angel had a few nice touches and managed to link up nicely with Hendrie a few times but whenever it came to a killer final ball, our strikers seemed to be at the footballing equivalents of John o Groats and Lands End. I think we forced one save from Given after a corner, Gavin McCann chested it down and struck it nicely but still, with a keeper of Given's class, you need to really get it right. The abiding opinion was that the game was going to continue to be awful and the clock would run down. But then O'Leary finally appeared from the bench and made a couple of much needed changes. Davis and Angel off, Bakke and Moore on. And suddenly, Villa seem capable of keeping the ball. What's more, we're attacking with a bit of purpose. Boumsong and Bramble, the weakest centre half pairing in the Premiership if you ask me, showed signs of cracking and now they were the ones playing the panicky long balls out of defence. Gareth Barry, who had been our best player in a poor first hour, was everywhere. I've been his fiercest critic many times but I was very impressed. And, if I'm not mistaken, it was his tenacity and desire to keep the ball that led to our goal. It's all a bit blurry but what I do remember is the ball boucing off a defender and falling into space. Cue Gavin McCann to run on to it and, having tested Given once before, he knew how to beat him this time. Nestled nicely in the corner, it's 11 and it's game on.
Confession time.. The reason the goal is a blur is because I was txting my mate who wasn't at the game. The text read 'I've had enough of this, leaving now. What pub are you in? Get one for me and I'll be there in 15 mins'. That text never got sent and I didn't embarrass myself by leaving a match early for the 1st time ever. Close call though.
At 1-1 Newcastle were totally deflated and O'Leary hovered about 3 or 4 yards from his bench, just close enough to be comfortable but far enough out to be seen to be doing something. Our chants of 'We forgot that you were here' seemed to have struck a chord Geordie fans in their thousands began to abandon St James' Park, convinced that it would remain 1-1 and desperate to get that early train home. Our boys seemed to have other ideas though, which was a nice change to see. Luke Moore and Milan Baros simply have to be a better choice than Angel/Baros. Based on this display, Angel must be relegated to 4th choice striker. Sad to say it, but I think he's lost the desire. The new front partnership was scaringthe bejaysus out of Newcastle and, despite Bowyer joining the fray, we looked the most likely to score a winner. Shearer was getting desperate to create something and the referee became wise to his antics. And in the last few minutes it looked like the final whistle would come too soon for a Villa side now desperate to score a winner. Then Milan Baros was felled in an incident remarkably similar to the one against Doncaster on Tuesday. From 12,000 feet about Newcastle we could see it was a clear penalty. Thankfully the self confessed Bluenose referee saw it that way too, and us fools in the away section celebrated 3 points.
2 weeks after I moved to Newcastle from Dublin in October 2003, Villa came to St James' and I was proud to see my first ever Villa away game from the away supporters section. On that day it finished 1-1, with Sorensen saving a Shearer penalty in the last minute. Leaving the ground we had chanted Shearer's name and celebrated having grasped a fantastic 1-1 victory when we had been absolutely battered for 45 minutes. When Gareth Barry stood 12 yards from goal waiting to be handed the ball I remembered him scoring 2 penalties in the very same goal last season, and I remembered Shearer's miss the season previous to that. Maybe it was fate that resulted in Gareth scooping it over the bar and sending the Geordies into raptures and getting their revenge on me for my jubilation 2 years ago. They say these things even themselves out over the passage of time. We didn't deserve to win today, neither side really deserved to lose to be honest. It had been a terrible game played by two poor teams. But it did go to show that if we can keep our midfield strong and give the forward line a bit more to play with, we'll cause defences problems. It also illustrated that we need to tie Liam Ridgewells arms to his sides.
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Date:Sunday December 4 2005
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