To The Referee 1 - Nil (Match Report)
Attendance: 42 788
Football is a cruel game!
Soaking wet, freezing cold and more worried about whether someone was going to step on the robin red breast that had taken residence on the increasingly soggy Villa Park pitch is how the game started but despite the poor playing conditions, I think the crowd (both sets to be fair) and the players did their best to make a game of it.
Shame that I could not get out of my head on the long and slippy drive home the song '1 nil to the referee' !
Now those that read my rubbish regularly will know I seldom put the blame on anything officials wise as these things usually balance themselves out over a season and sometimes even over a game. But this ref, a certain Mr Probert, not slated down to be the ref in the match programme, should be ashamed of himself this morning, they seldom are mind you. The managers and players get fined when they criticise refs but a ref like that should have to come out with his so called ref assistant and explain why a) pushing someone twice in the face isn't a free kick and a yellow card b) why you can grapple Gabby to the ground several times and yet it is allowed but you can't do the same to ickle Stevie Gerrard c) WHY WHEN 40 000 PEOPLE IN THE GROUND COULD SEE THE BALL CLEARLY HANDLED IN THE BOX WHY A PENALTY WASN'T GIVEN?
That is nothing against Liverpool or their fans, it isn't their fault if a ref is incompetent and lets face it, if we got the decisions in our favour, we'd take it with a rueful smile as well.
Villa were more than a match for Liverpool, the balance of play flowed from one team to the other and the stats reflect that with a 49%/51% possession, 11/12 goal attempts 7/9 on target, 8/11 corners.
One vital statistic though, 1-0 and that came at the death.
Isn't it funny that Liverpool got their goal in the 3rd minute of injury time and the only reason we had 3 minutes is because the ref - wrongly as far as I can see - stopped play for Reina to change his boots. Where in the rules does it say that you have to stop play for something like that? Never seen it before and Liverpool weren't even prepared, the kit man had to run into the changing room to get the boots. Woeful.
The biggest criticism of Villa - again - is squandering chances. Gabby should have buried his chance, Downing was right in front of goal and hit Reina, who to be fair did well to parry it away and that could have done anywhere, but either side and Downing would have scored and then John Carew actually managed to find the energy to get into the box for once and flicked a header just wide when it seemed a fairly 'easy' task to at least get it on target. Then again, it is a bit cold for John now, got to make excuses for the mystifyingly strange Holte End hero. His theme tune should be UB40's 1 in 10 !
If fans of either side are honest, a draw would have been around and about the correct result but much like we found out against Arsenal, you only have to have one world class player in your team to be able to punish opponents and that player for Liverpool was Torres. One real chance, one goal, thank you and goodnight. That all resulted from a 'mistake' (not seen the replay to be honest) from former Liverpool player Stephen Warnock (who I'm told, don't think this is breaking a confidence, was gutted). To me it just looked like the ball rebounded and got to Torres who did the rest - and there was plenty left to do, certainly not as easy our the chances Gabby, Carew and Downing had.
We could have gone 8 points clear of Liverpool and it would have been game over for them top four wise but quality - expensive quality - pays and that is the difference. We don't have the right strike force, we haven't for years (even pre- MON) but MON has presided over a period where both Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent were available and both players (Defoe a season or so ago and Bent this season) pushed us into the top four, not just into the top four but kept us there. John Carew is too hit and miss, Emile Heskey isn't an out and out goalscorer, not a criticism, just the way it is and Gabby is still a kid (23) and can't be over relied on, especially when he has lean patches of up to 10 odd games. An injury to one of them (and the first two are very injury prone due to their size) and we have no real options, you can't rely on an 18-year-old kid in Nathan Delfouneso at this stage of his development no matter what some say.
We are again flirting with the top and again perhaps frustrating could end up so near and yet so far? Well, the season is only just over half way through so we can't say that yet, but our lads do look like they are tiring again and we have a few more fixtures piling up yet with the FA Cup and Carling Cup (two legged semi) to play through January along with some fascinating league games (Wigan away next up, West Ham at home, Arsenal at home, Fulham away - all in Jan).
This month will make or break us. We can beat Wigan, we can get points from West Ham and revenge against Arsenal for the away loss would be great, then there is Fulham, not a great record against them but they are beatable. Trouble is .... you know... it's a funny old game. We could end up the season with the bit really between our teeth, a Wembley final to contemplate and plenty of optimism for the rest of the season. As said, make or break really.
If there is a striker out there, Villa need to break the bank (and I know it is easy to say when it isn't your bank) to bring him to Villa Park. If not, despite a great effort and much heart at the club, we will potentially remain also ran's when Villa is the right size to be far far more than wannabees.
There were plenty of moans as I walked to my car, a great deal of anger and some of that is just pure frustration because for me the lads - apart from burying the chances and having to carry the usual JC passenger - couldn't have done much more last night. The effort is there, the final 1/3 of the pitch we just don't have a threat. How much would it cost to try to bring in a goal scorer? Potentially £20-30million. How much will it cost not to? It will cost us any chance of breaking this top four, that I'm afraid is a nailed on certainty. Some of the criticism seemed over the top mind you, 'couldn't string two passes together' seems harsh but 'couldn't score in a brothel' maybe justified for that game! I think it is mainly the culmination of years of being nearly there rather than the individual games now.
Over to MON and the club now, the decision really is theirs to be taken, no matter what decision they make, we'll still be there. I was talking (well, texting) with Vital member and mate James06 and despite the disappointment the final text to me was 'I'd still not swap my club for any other' and mine to him 'nope, no matter what they do, the buggers have our hearts and that is that'
Funny old game. Certainly no shame in losing to Liverpool and we have to bear in mind, with the tools at our disposal, we have 10 wins, the 5 draws are a bit costly and then 5 losses, only one of those was totally unforgivable (Wigan) although a few who went to West Ham weren't best pleased with that performance either. So second half of the season now here, we have plenty to build on, so no doom and gloom from me, some potential frustration mind you! COME ON VILLA.
Brad Friedel 7
Stephen Warnock 7
Richard Dunne 7
Carlos Cuellar 7
Luke Young 7
Stewart Downing 5.5
James Milner 6
Nigel Hokey-Cokey 7
Stiliyan Petrov 6.5
Gabby Agbonlahor 5.5
John Carew 5
Albrighton (on for NRC 72)
Sidwell (on for Downing 79)
Match Ratings Defined