Date:Sunday December 22 2013
Attendance: 26 003
Stoke City v Aston Villa
The morning starts with some irritable exchanges at Grizzly Towers. I haven't slept well and the Mrs now has the sinusitis that I had at Southampton. We flare at each other: I accuse her of planning Christmas right down to the pudding. 'I'm organic' I say; I don't so structure.' She states, with a very snuffly nose, that I am difficult. It is in this spirit that we find ourselves on the 13:07 cross country to Manchester Piccadilly via Stoke-On-Trent. It's an inoffensive journey, followed by a short cab ride to the Britannia, a plastic football castle on top of a hill, with two open corners through which a bracing Christmas wind blows.
Team news comes through on Twatter: It's a rag-bag selection today. Clark, Baker, Herd and Lowton are to set up at the back, with Albrighton, Delph Westwood and satellite launcher Tonev across the middle. Weimann and Kozak are up top. Benteke misses out through a knee injury, joining Vlaar on the treatment table, with Agbonlahor suspended. Guzan will therefore be captain for the day.
Again, there is no natural left back so we'll be rocky on the left side of defence. I now find this inexcusable. Lambert has now got sort this out in the transfer window as our problems at left-back and inside-left have been a persistent thorn in the Villa side for going-on two seasons. Yes, we have three playable LB's in Bennett, Stevens and Luna, yet the first two simply aren't good enough and Luna is becoming worryingly prone to injury. No surprise then as to how Stoke will try and undo us.
When the teams come out we are relieved to see that Baker is at central with Clark covering at left-back. No repeat of the Fulham débâcle then. A note of caution though: Referee Craig Pawson takes charge of the whistle. He is inexperienced at this level having recently been promoted by the PGMOB to the Select Group Referees.
We start brightly though the game soon settles into ping-pong dross. Ashely Westwood looks sharp in the middle, connecting well with midfield general Delph. He sends in a peach of a ball from a Villa corner. Nathan Baker is there with the diving header but it's saved at the bottom left-hand post. Good effort.
Some tetchy fouling begins. There's lots of muscle and elbow out there and a lot of huff but not much quality. Referee Pawson then shows his inexperience when Weimann is played through the middle on the edge of the Stoke area. Marc Wilson takes his legs. It's a clear red card, last-man offence because there is no way Shawcross is tanking across in time. A clear goal scoring opportunity is denied yet Pawson brandishes a yellow. Absolute bottler.
There's some handbags in the Stoke half. Albrighton ends up in the boardings after competing for a chalk line ball yet Stoke get the free kick. Boos all round from the sold out Villa away support. The ball is still pinned in the Stoke half. Delph then comes in with a heavy challenge. Ouch.
Stoke pose little threat going forward. A Geoff Cameron header flashes into the side netting after Assaidi swings the ball in from the corner. After a foul by Clark Assaidi sends in another ball, this time headed wide by Shawcross. You can't help but think the Stoke of old would have buried one of those chances.
We get another chance when some good exchanges in midfield lead to Westwood playing the ball to Albrighton, who cuts in and shoots with his left from outside the box but his effort is wide.
The best chant of the day is then belted out at a comatose Britannia by the Villa faithful. "Where's your famous, where's your famous, where's your famous atmosphere? Where's your famous at-mos-phere." No reply as yet from the Potters.
Stokes come again, Geoff Cameron crosses into the box but the cross evolves into a shot, mid-air leaving Guzan to tip over. Their best chance though comes from a Villa miss-clearance, Clark fluffing another Assaidi cross. It falls to Potters striker Arnautovic but his goal bound strike is blocked brilliantly by Baker.
At half-time I saunter off to get a drink and a chocky bar for the Mrs. I fancy a nibble myself though by the time I get to the concourse Stoke have sold out of anything hot or appetising. Whilst I am away some bloke falls head first down three rows, face crashing into the seats, leaving his feet dangling in the air. Mercifully, he manages to save his pie.
When I return I hear all about it from the Mrs, who is now really suffering. Not only is it a dull game, with her beloved Villa boys playing some real bottom-feeder football, but she's ill. That is no excuse though for any woman to ask a man at a football ground the following question: "Do you think we should get a disposal baking tray to cook our basted Turkey on? It will save on the washing up," she says. The fact that this question is legitimately posed is no doubt a direct consequence of travelling round the country watching 11 young men in the famous claret and blue of B6 attempt to pass a ball to each other in the vain hope that something might happen. That is how dull and uninspiring the football is - that I am now being invited to discus disposable baking trays and basted turkeys.
The second half starts with more tetchy bluster and a change: Arnautovic goes off for Adam who sparks Stoke into life. It takes him all of five minutes to do the damage needed. A long ball is brought down by Crouch and knocked on to Adam who takes Baker out of the game with a couple of touches before firing back across Guzan, the ball finding the net. On 50' minutes it's 1-0 Stoke.
There lead lasts all of 16 minutes. A defensive header from Pieters fails to find Begovic, allowing the tireless Kozak to nip in and slot one home. We all go mental. On 66' minutes it's Stoke City 1-1 Aston Villa.
Tonev then goes off for Bowery on 67' minutes. This substitution means that a player with no composure or footballing brain, who runs around like an electrocuted chicken firing balls towards outer-space leaves the field for an iron girder. "Sort it the **** out Lambert," cries the half-drunk Santa Clause behind me. "What with?" I say. Transfer window anyone?
We capitulate after 4' minutes. Geoff Cameron comes down our left -again- crosses in. Guzan misses it, the ball hits Crouch on the chest, but he is able to then poke into a gaping net from point blank range. There's suspicion of an arm there. A look to the big screen tells me that he's definitely got some of his arm on it. Still, dreadful defending from us. Cracked open down the left, with Clark drifting inside, offering no pressure and then some flapping from the Guzan. A poor goal to score. On 70' minutes Stoke 2-1 Aston Villa.
That sinking feeling is now rolling down my throat. Matthew Lowton, who has already been yellow carded, takes the ankles of a Stoke Player as Stoke make a break. It's a clear second yellow. The Stoke players, led by a rumbustious Shawcross, surround the referee. There's more handbags but Lowton escapes. That should have been a second yellow. The referee has bottled another decision, not that I'm complaining.
Bacuna comes on for Albrighton on 81' minutes. The game peters out despite some late pressing from Villa. At full time Stoke City 2-1 Aston Villa.
We catch the 18:07 home. It's a glory hunter express from Manchester, with Brummy reds on board, raving about their win against West Ham. They get some proper 'Judas' stick on board and when we get to New Street one unfortunate in a United goalkeeper jersey gets it in spades. Deservedly so as well. Can't help but feel a little envious because he's probably watched some decent ball today. Not so here.
By the time we get back it's nearly 8pm. Just enough time to spruce myself up for a Christmas knees up with my best mucker. I'm not a drinker so five pints, 3 shots and half a bottle of Jack later I'm spinning, singing Villa songs under the stars, banging on about all things Villa to anyone who wants to listen. The love never dies even if the football often does.
We now need to get out of this slump and get back on the points trail. Home against Palace is the perfect opportunity to do just that. See you all Boxing Day. Have a great Christmas and thanks for reading.
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Date:Sunday December 22 2013
|1.||Pride of Lions||1030|
|6.||Villan Of The North||238|
|Crystal Palace||1||-||0||Aston Villa|
|Man Utd||4||-||1||Aston Villa|
|12. West Ham||35||10||7||18||-10||37|
|14. Hull City||34||10||6||18||-9||36|
|15. Aston Villa||34||9||8||17||-14||35|
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