Villa v Fulham Report - 3 Points Just The Job!
Attendance: 32 917
Ok, well that wasn't pretty... to be fair it doesn't really need to be, I'd love to be entertained but I'd rather be bored to a 2-0 win than have pretty football and see us lose games.
If I was a Fulham fan I'd be a bit concerned, the team offered nothing fight, play or entertainment wise yesterday, in fact the game - a very standard Premiership offering - matched the weather, dull, grey and wet! Now if we'd lost that, our fans would have been up in arms but the early goal - Gabby pressure resulting in an own goal - settled the Villa boys down and although nothing flowed very regularly throughout the match, we certainly did play the better football. Then again, that is really damning with feint praise because Fulham set the bar very very low.
I'm surprised this is the same club that ran us ragged at the end of last season and came out 3-1 winners at Craven Cottage but hey, they aren't my worry, only Villa interest me and we've chalked up 3 more points, if the season proves to be a long hard one, (who knows just yet, the league is yet to settle and it is impossible to assess anyone's real form) then we need all the points we can get (queue football cliché) early doors.
The 4-5-1 seems to work, I'm sure MON scratches his head as to why, you would think with the players we have that they could settle to any formation but no, we seem more solid, a bit more attacking and certainly more capable of winning when we play one up front and to be fair, it doesn't have to be negative, with Ashley Young and James Milner bombing up the wings - and having the freedom is seems to change around when they want - it can be more a 4-3-3. Good grief, sorry folks, I'm starting to sound like I almost know what I'm on about! It does make you wonder why, after the arrival of Heskey and the attempts to fit him in with the more traditional 4-2-2 that MON stuck with it for so long.
Both Steve Sidwell and more especially Nigel Hokey-Cokey seem to fit this system well and the latter especially - I watched him closely yesterday, in a totally manly way obviously - was working hard at organising and cajoling the troops. He did look a bit disappointed to come off late on making way for John Carew but again, that is squad football for you. There is talk of us still being after Jermaine Jenas, personally I can't see that, we seem to have a relatively good midfield bunch to pick from?
So Villa commanded from the first goal onwards, without really having to step up a gear. The question marks will maybe (MAYBE) come when we have to step up a gear or two, as it is an open question just how good we can be. The Liverpool performance did hint that there is battle and bottle there in the team, the local derby v the Blues will no doubt test that further.
The second goal, this time definitely from Gabby Agbonlahor, was very well taken from outside the box, name the last time he scored from outside the box, I seriously can't remember. The only flipside to that is Aaron Hughes was stunningly poor backing off instead of closing down Gabby, there aren't many Premiership defenders who will give him that space through the course of this season but you can only play what you have in front of you and hopefully that - along with his performance yesterday - might just bring him out of what seems a fairly long slumber, he has to take confidence from that and look to push on now as he is obviously fancied by the manager as our front line striker. That is a lot to live up to, hopefully the local lad will be more than able.
For confidence in our squad this season we so obviously need another defender or two but I have to say Ciaran Clark did himself and us proud yesterday on his debut and said after in an interview (and this guy is a very level headed lad who can speak well ... such a refreshing change to the usual um and ah stuff!) that he was disappointed not to convert the header chance he had, he is right, it was a good chance and would have made his debut even better but although it is clear he won't be - if we get the new signings muted - a regular just yet, he does have a future and once again our youth academy set up should be very proud and have all of our thanks.
I would point to the fact - as Ian Taylor did on the radio phone in on the way home - that we still maybe should have pushed for an out and out goalscorer this summer, the arrival of someone like Darren Bent (or Defoe a couple of seasons ago) really could have made a massive difference to the outcome of the season but again, as I said earlier in this report, it is quite early to start assessing where all the clubs stand. Gut feeling at the moment is we are going to do well to finish just outside the top six UNLESS we have a nice surprise signing wise or we meet more Fulham's who turn up tired and incapable of making a match of it.
I guess we'll just have to watch this space.
As for the game and entertainment, I'd happily sit through as many boring games as required as long as we come out the winners!
Star Man: Martin Laursen... no, he wasn't playing but he was there and saluted the crowd who so rightly reminded everyone, there is only one Martin Laursen. What a shame our rock is no longer able to play.
Nicky Shorey 7
Carlos Cueller 7.5
Ciaran Clark 7.5
Habib Beye 6.5
Steve Sidwell 7
Nigel Hokey-Cokey 7.5
Ashley Young 7
James Milner 7
Stiliyan Petrov 6.5
Gabby Agbonlahor 7
John Carew - on for Hokey-Cokey on 71