Aston Villa v Tranmere (LC) Match Report
Attendance: 15 319
Do not adjust your sets. Aston Villa have won at home and Darren Bent scored for the first time in a competitive fixture since February. You have to go back to a home game against Norwich, over 9 months ago now, for the last time Aston Villa scored three goals in front of their own supporters. You may argue that Tranmere Rovers, riding high in League One, should be eminently beatable by a Premier League side, at home under the lights. Perhaps so but right now we'll take what cheer we can get thank you very much.
Lambert put out a side with 8 of the starting eleven under 23. It's a young side and Lambert chose to shuffle it around after Saturday's drubbing at the hands of a rampant Everton, giving Enda Stepehns his first competitive debut in front of the the 15,319 souls who had turned out for the 2nd round League Cup tie.
Villa dominated the first half though struggled to offer any penetration with Steven Ireland playing some nice crisp football without ever finding the killer ball for the prowling Bent. Strike partner Weimann ran the line well looking to break, bringing curved runs and pace but also failed to threaten the Tranmere goal. Delph covered well, providing much needed tempo, bite and industry in the middle, allowing Ireland to carry the ball.
What is obvious is that, with confidence low, players are over thinking their game. What would be fluid and natural now takes longer. Thankfully, Delph was there on 38 minutes to capitalise on Villa's dominance when he converted Stephens' deflective cross. The relief was palpable.
Barry Bannan matched Delph for both work rate and drive and was nearly rewarded when his beautifully struck free kick shaved the crossbar. However, the diminutive Scot struggled to match Delph for pure physicality and aerobic agility. Although he found some nice balls and passes from deep it is perhaps the case that the Premier League is beyond him. Not so for Delph. On this showing he seems to be gaining confidence and looks to be in Lambert's plans.
Tranmere started with renewed energy in the second-half and it took Villa a good ten minutes to get going. It was another sluggish start for the home side though eventually the gulf in class began to show. Weimann missed a good chance to make it 2-0 in the 64th minute when he headed over Lichaj's floated ball though Herd put it beyond doubt when he stuck in Ireland's driving pass/shot from close range. Villa rose in confidence and with superior fitness and class beginning to show, Bent was able to get on the score sheet after substitute Holman burst into the box and cut the ball back. Bent obliged by hammering the ball into the roof of the net on the 81st minute. It was a clean struck finish and one well received by a grateful Holte End.
Holman continues to show flare and bottle. He brings a high energy game and some much need guile to the pitch. Moving comfortably from left wing to inside left, Holman gave the team new options and ideas and ran with the ball well when he came on. He seems perfect as an impact sub. Whether Lambert will fancy him as a starter remains to be seen.
Of equally note was the performance of Graham Burke who came on in the 76th minute. He wasted no time in aiming a hard hit low drive at the Tranmere goal. Having announced his arrival he showed good movement, touch and presence merging well into the pace and fabric of the game. On this brief cameo I expect him to get more appearances.
It was perhaps a shame that N'Zogbia, who is working to rebuild his game at Villa, was brought on in the 71st minute instead of Daniel Johnson. I understand Lambert's reasoning. N'Zogbia needs confidence and a chance to find his natural game after a terrible first season at a club in conflict. To his credit, N'Zogbia is making the right noises and made some good, penetrating runs though lacked the confidence to move the ball from feet or strike with conviction when opportunity arose. Hopefully, Daniel Johnson will get his competitive chance soon.
However, I save the best news of the night till last: Nathan Baker was virtually immaculate at centre back. Another incredibly assured performance at the heart of defence which will no doubt leave Lambert impressed. I am starting to feel that we have a gem on our hands. He was superb when he moved to the centre after Clark's dismissal on Saturday and hardly put a foot wrong tonight. His reading of the play, calmness, movement, command of the back line and tackling were first rate. I am excited to see how he performs on Sunday. He looks like a player stepping up and making a claim for a first team shirt.
All in all, a hard working professional performance from a young Villa side building it's confidence and finding its feet. Yes, the doubt and trepidation is still evident though the giant killing the media were waiting for happily did not occur. Instead Villa dispatched Tranmere Rovers (who seemed to enjoy being off-side) without ever really been threatened. It also gave Lambert another chance to run the rule over some of the players banging on the first team door, whilst giving the other players valuable game time and a chance to breathe in some much needed confidence.
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