Glensider At Eastlands
City of Manchester Stadium
Attendance: 47 102
So there it is. All done and dusted. Our away programme for the 2009-10 season is now behind us, and once again we can post a very impressive record from our travels, resulting in nine wins, five draws, and just the five reversals. Not bad at all when you stop and think about it, in fact if we'd only been able to get our act together more often at Villa Park, then the score line at Eastlands would have been nothing more than a mere blip, as we marched towards a top four finish, leaving Manchester City, Tottenham, and Liverpool fighting it out to finish fifth, sixth, and seventh. Still that now is all if's, maybe's, and should have been's, but our failure, if indeed it is that, to finish amongst the top four, shouldn't detract from what has been another season of progression and development from Martin O'Neill's claret and blues.
We've posted more points on the Premier League scoreboard. We haven't stumbled, fallen, and faded away, as we so disappointingly did last season, in fact we've bounced back from defeats to get ourselves back into the mix, and we've all enjoyed two trips to Wembley Stadium, to support the club in games that have confirmed to the rest of the footballing world, that Aston Villa are truly back in business, and becoming a very serious challenger to break into that much prized and much sought after top four group, as well as looking good to lift a domestic cup trophy in the not too distant future.
Still, this isn't a review of the season, it`s a report on the events that transpired at The City Of Manchester Stadium. Its down to each and every individual out there, to decide for himself whether our efforts over the course of the campaign have met with their approval, whether they think enough progress has been made, and then decide how they personally think the club would be best served this summer, to ensure that 2010-11 see's us take that step up to another level, and hopefully bring silverware back to Brummagem B6. We all have our own views, opinions, observations and ideas as to what needs to be done, and no doubt over the next couple of weeks all will become clearer as Martin O'Neill and Randy Lerner make clear their intentions.
As for myself and my three regular traveling companions, we've been fortunate enough to attend each and every away game, and we were unanimous in our verdict that we've enjoyed the away-days. We've witnessed some very good Villa performances, both individual and team wise, enjoyed some tremendous results, seen some superb goals from our favourites, and very definitely we give the two thumbs up to the 'Villa on the road party', which has lasted throughout the ten months spanning August through to May (just about). Its been fun, no complaints from us.
Back then to Eastlands, and the important head to head with one of our rivals throughout the season for a final top four finish, Manchester City.
Villa fans aplenty on the M6 as we headed northwards. Many sporting fancy dress, clearly putting the inhabitants of our vehicle to shame, we being more soberly dressed in our replica shirts and assorted 'bottoms'. We were unanimous in voting the Gordon Brown masked Villan as being the pick of the bunch, although in fairness, there were many in contention for the Garb Of The Day award. Browny just shaded it though, he looked just like our much maligned Prime Minister. Maybe it was him after all?
No surprises in Mart's team selection, nor why should there be? These guys have done him and us proud, are clearly viewed by MON as our strongest starting eleven, and were more than capable of seeing out the season with the two victories that would give MON the five out of five victories that he had asked for. Sadly though, as we all now well know, it wasn't to be.
Brad Friedel, Carlos Cuellar, James Collins, Richard Dunne, Stephen Warnock, Stewart Downing, James Milner, Stan Petrov, Ashley Young, Gabby Agbonlahor and John Carew.
On the bench, Brad Guzan, Habib Beye, Steve Sidwell, Luke Young, Emile Heskey, Nathan Delfouneso, and Nigel Reo-Coker.
Great atmosphere inside the stadium, and while we were heavily outnumbered, it was obvious to all that we didn't intend to be outshouted.
Richard Dunne had received a tremendous ovation from the home crowd, however we were unable to reciprocate (or otherwise), as Gareth Barry was a no show. Shame that. I liked Gareth, still do. Great Villa servant, nice guy, and I never object to watching quality footballers like him strut their stuff.
Our hosts were lively in the opening stages, as any team boasting Bellamy, Johnson, Tevez and Adebayor in their ranks have every right to be. They pushed us back with some slick attacking football, but in truth never really looked like breaching our defence.
Now I must say that I am not Carlos Cuellar's biggest fan, far from it, and at times I have been super critical of him and his failings (be it at right full back or in central defence), but today he was immense. In the words of the great Paul McCartney and the even greater John Lennon, he was here, there, and everywhere. Yes, he included one or two of his specialties in today's repertoire, you know, those simple ten yard passes that find either the opposition or roll harmlessly out of play, but this was far and away his best performance in a claret and blue shirt. He actually looked a decent defender, and I never, ever thought that I'd ever be saying or writing that. See, even experts like yours truly get it wrong sometimes. Yes, credit where credits due.
From the first real opportunity of the game, Brad came up with an unbelievable save to deny Bellamy. The boyo raced down the left wing after playing a neat one-two with Vieira, skipped past Cuellar, before having his deflected cross somehow palmed over the crossbar for a corner by Brad. As it looped into the air following the defection I think we all behind the goal feared the worst. It looked in all the way. Thankfully Brad didn't see things our way. Great save, right out of the top drawer.
Then we silenced the home lot, while at the same time sending the traveling Villans wild, as Big John Carew stole in to put us 1-0 ahead. Stewart Downing played a neat through ball into the path of the Norwegian, and his low effort from the right side of the area somehow managed to squirm beneath Fulop in the City goal.
The home side responded immediately, and almost grabbed the equaliser just ninety seconds later. Bellamy, continuing to look lively, whipped in a fine cross from the left towards Adebayor at the far post, but once again Brad was equal to the task, making another outstanding save, pushing the ball over the crossbar at full stretch.
Up the other end Fulop fumbled a stinging drive from Milly, claiming the ball only at the second attempt, and then Big JC came close to setting up our second goal, holding the ball up on the edge of the area, before playing in Gabby, who laid the ball off to Stewart Downing, who struck a fierce first-time effort just wide of the post. Nice move.
City had a couple of penalty appeals turned down, both would have been extremely harsh had they have been given, but then with us looking good to go in at the break holding on to our one goal advantage, Stephen Warnock brought down Adam Johnson as the winger looked to go past him, and referee Clattenburg had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. No complaints, blatant penalty, the only annoying aspect was that Johnson looked to have pushed the ball too far ahead of him, and probably wouldn't have kept the ball in play. Stevie Warnock probably didn't need to attempt a challenge. Anyway, up steps Tevez, 1-1, although Brad came so close to making the save.
Straight from the kick-off we were very close to re-taking the lead. John Carew was played through just inside the area, and saw his effort beat Fulop in the City goal, only to rebound back off the crossbar.
The home lot came straight back at us, and scored their second goal of the contest. Two goals in two minutes. Vieira found Johnson on the right, and he pulled the ball back across the face of goal, where Adebayor gleefully poked the ball home from six yards out. 2-1, what a turnaround, what an amazing couple of minutes. At least the break gave us a chance to catch our breath. We needed it.
The second half got underway, and Stewart Downing came close to setting up the equaliser. He curled a peach of a left-footed cross into the area from out right, and Ashley Young looked certain to level matters, but he just couldn`t connect with a header at the far post. We were pressing, without really threatening, whereas City looked a danger every time they broke.
Martin brought on Delfouneso and Heskey for Warnock and Carew, while the dapper Mancini responded by bringing on Wright-Phillips for Johnson.
Immediately after the substitutions, we had a chance to level but Richard Dunne`s glancing header from 10 yards out was easily taken by Fulop.
Young Nathan Delfouneso came close to scoring his second Premier League goal of the season on eighty minutes. Ashley Young whipped in an inviting cross from the right, but a City defender did well to get in front of Nathan and head the ball clear.
As we pushed forward City were breaking on the counter, and to be honest, a third goal for them looked more likely than a second for us. James Collins was up front now adding his height and weight to the cause, but we were looking exposed at the back.
Ash had enjoyed a very good game for us, and certainly looked our best chance of getting back into the game. One superb cross to Nathan Delfouneso was blocked by Zabaleta, before another cross into the area was headed away by the City defence, as James Collins looked as if he was in with a chance to equalise.
Bellamy, who had been a threat throughout, finally wrapped things up for City in the last minute. Little Wright-Phillips was the architect, superbly beating two of our defenders, setting up Bellamy, who blasted an unstoppable effort past Brad and into the top corner. 3-1. All over.
So there we were. Beaten but not disgraced. We didn't go out with a whimper, but on the day, City's extra attacking options were just too much for us. We gave them some scary moments, no doubting that, but they shaded things and deserved the three points.
Well thanks for letting me share these reports with you all throughout the season, and thanks for reading them. They would have been somewhat pointless without your responses and comments, and whether you agreed or disagreed with me, I always enjoyed reading your feedback. Thanks too to Jonathan for providing me with the opportunity, for putting his trust in me, and for allowing my reports to appear exactly as originally penned. I've thoroughly enjoyed it all.
Right, here we go. The Glensider 'foursomes' marks out of ten awards.
Brad Friedel - 7
Carlos Cuellar - 8
Richard Dunne - 7
James Collins - 8
Stephen Warnock - 6
Stewart Downing - 7
Stan Petrov- 6
James Milner - 7
Ashley Young - 8
Gabby Agbonlahor - 5
John Carew - 7
Emile Heskey - 5
Nathan Delfouneso - 6