Date:Saturday March 31 2012
After the manner of last week`s performance against Arsenal, it was understandable that some of the most vigorous questions about McLeish`s tenure so far have been asked in the run up to this game, but this has all been completely overshadowed by the gutting news that broke yesterday about club captain Stiliyan Petrov.
Showing a tremendous touch of class, the group behind the latest McLeish out protest announced that it was no longer going to go ahead and that all thoughts and prayers should be with Stiliyan`s family at this time. It`s a decision that everyone understood, and the overwhelming support for Stan was shown today by several choruses of his name, even one by the Chelsea fans, and an immaculately observed minute-long applause for him when the clock hit 19. I want to wish him and his family the very best in his battle against this illness; I hope that he makes a full and speedy recovery and that we see him playing for Villa again when the time is right.
In terms of that game itself, the Villa performance was pretty flat for the first 70 minutes. After a rousing fightback was beginning to cause Chelsea a good deal of problems, we once again were the masters of our own undoing when we failed to defend yet another corner this season to concede a third goal. One big plus to take out of this game I think was the level of desire that the promoted academy products showed to get back into the game and not give up. To be honest as I was watching the game I couldn`t help but question whether some of the blocks that we were seeing today would have been made by some of the more senior absent players, and Lichaj`s long throw looks like it could be a great weapon!
I think that Stephen Ireland deserves the man of the match title today too. Even when the chips were down, he was the only player who consistently looked to create something, who wanted the ball even when nobody else did, and who tracked back and stuck his foot in in ways that Gabby and Weimann sometimes struggled to do.
The Londoners have been on good form of late, and an entertaining game got off to a frantic start. The Pensioners looked fragile at the back but potent going forward, and this was proven when Juan Mata wriggled his way through before squaring to the now-maligned Fernando Torres, who had an effort blocked, but not before smacking Nathan Baker in the face, and the ball rolled for England`s latest apparent attacking saviour Daniel Sturridge to neatly finish.
Although the game was only 8 minutes old at this point, it`s fair to say that this was the highlight of an extremely dull first half, so I`m going to skip straight to half time, and the next highlight, which was mocking David Luiz as he was substituted early, so that I don`t make any readers traumatised by reliving the events of that half needlessly.
The second half began with a little more spark but our corner-shaped Achilles heel struck for the first time in this game when Eastern bloc defender Ivanovic waltzed through and finished nicely to seemingly put the game out of reach for the claret and blues.
Things gradually started to hot up, and this was culminated when Marc Albrighton came on. The extra width really seemed to add something that we sorely needed with the way the game was developing, and a mere 7 minutes after the Tamworth lad`s introduction, Villa were back in the game.
Villa got a throw-in near the Holte End`s left-hand corner flag, and after an earlier long-throw ended up in Petr Cech`s hands, he picked up the ball again, shaping up to do the same. The results the second time round were much more desirable, with James Collins finding himself between two Chelsea defenders and he beat the pair to the ball, with the impressively guided header looping into the net.
This injected some much-needed life into the game, and 3 minutes after a curling Marc Albrighton cross was bundled in by the multi-purpose American defender Lichaj. In truth I would have taken a point at this moment, as would Alex McLeish I`d have thought, but this is his Villa side we`re talking about.
The joy was unfortunately short-lived, as another 3 minutes later Ivanovic got his second. I`ve never seen a defender on a hat trick before today, but that`s what happens when you`re so predictably terrible at defending set pieces I suppose. This has happened under two successive managers now, what the hell do these players get up to on the training ground?
Then came the unfortunate but also painfully inevitable sucker punch. When it gets to the point where you`re throwing players forward to try and salvage a game that you`ve slip out of your grasp so easily, you always leave yourself open to the counter, and that`s exactly what happened when the pacey Torres got hold of the ball to finish with aplomb past Shay Given.
Things are looking a little more uncomfortable at the bottom now after some recent results have gone against us, but I`d like to think that considering Stoke and Liverpool`s recent form, in the circumstances that the players will show a little bit of bottle and get 4 points out of those games to make things more comfortable. I think that`s a completely achievable target. Wigan have managed to beat both those clubs recently, and with all due respect we do have better players than Wigan.
Anyway, I hope you all have a good Easter and I`ll hopefully be reporting on a much-needed 3 points against Stoke. I hope those aren`t famous last words!
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Date:Saturday March 31 2012
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