Grizzly: Stoke Home
Aston Villa v Stoke
We are both feeling under the weather. I am on a non-sugar, healthy eating regime which has sent my body into detox shock. Walking past beer and chips is difficult though I am mentally committed. Villa Button is coming down with the latest 'doing-the-rounds' virus so the possibility of a snore-draw against Stoke isn't quite enough to enthuse us with energy and drive. Still, it's a fine spring day, with lots of cold sunshine and brisk, cutting winds blowing in the chance of registering three home wins on the bounce for the first time since 2007. To achieve this gargantuan feat we have to beat a Stoke side who haven't won away from the Britannia Stadium since August 2013.
As Button points out, inconsistency is the hallmark of midtable football; that we have often beaten or drawn against a top 4 side only to go and lose the following week against a bottom 6 club. Let us hope then that the players show the level of consistency needed to get that all important win.
Do not expect the cloud based football we have come accustomed to from Stoke, though. Mark Hughes has got them knocking it around nicely with Peter Crouch in the sort of form that might alert Roy Hodgson to his towering heights. The Potters are on a good run so this will be a firm test, as always.
Team news comes in on Twatter as we take out seats: Bertrand comes in for Bennett. Other than that we are unchanged from last week. With cameras rolling and television audiences poised, Referee Clattenberg blows his whistle, sending us on our way. Game On then!
We start with high energy, pressing Stoke into their own half. A lovely ball up the line from Bertrand finds Delph. Some nice footwork... he's round the back of the defender....to the byline...pulls it back... Benteke... yes... GOALLLL. A buoyant Villa Park erupt into early celebrations. We've started where we left off from last week, with an expert incisive break. Man of the moment Delph, found Benteke who turned, smashing it up into the corner. On 4 minutes it's Aston Villa 1-0 Stoke.
After the re-start the team revert to a sitting tactic in the hope of sucking Stoke in. What follows instead are a run of niggling, petty fouls by both teams. El Ahmadi goes in on Crouch who hits the deck with a thump. That's the Villa man's first of the game but it's enough for Referee Clattenberg to show him a yellow.
In looking to launch a sucker punch we have let Stoke back into the game. More importantly, the energy and high intensity work rate that we pride ourselves has suddenly upped and vanished. The Holte End is ruffled. It lets the team know how it feels.
Marko Arnautovic is offering Stoke power and pace on the width and a lot of upper body strength with it. Bacuna, who was been sensational over the last few weeks, is struggling to cope. He's losing the second ball and the physical battle.
The ball comes to Odemwingie. He plays in Peter Crouch with a deft chip... who heads it to the Nigerian..in the centre of the box... Bertrand is flapping.... and he fires it past Guzan into the bottom left corner. Well, that had been coming. Vlaar and Baker are looking at each other as the Potter fans go potty. Bertrand had completely lost Odemwingie there. Ho hum. On 21 minutes it's Aston Villa 1-1 Stoke City.
I'm starting tom get that all too familiar feeling. I've seen all this before and I think I know what's coming next. Benteke is of a different mindset: he's corralling the players back to their positions and their game plan, wanting them to get on with it. We go straight at them after the break, drawing a foul and a yellow card from midfield enforcer Palacios and a free kick with it, though Baker's header flashes wide.
Stoke come back at us. Marko Arnautovic, who is ripping Bacuna's game to pieces, sends in a killer ball for Eric Pieters who catches the Villa defence napping...he finds the predatory Crouch with a ball to the box. Crouchy leaves Baker rooted, slotting home into the bottom right hand corner, past a helpless Guzan. Potter fans go potty again. On 25 minutes it's Aston Villa 1-2 Stoke.
The team look stunned. Benteke and Westwood are trying to get everyone going though heads are still spinning. The team up the work rate, Agbonlahor firing over after a power sprint across the Stoke back lines. More niggling fouls with Arnautovic needling the space and the ball at will. Bacuna just cannot cope with him. The Stoke man is caught off side a few times but the danger is still there. We start to move the ball quicker though we are not reading the play as we should.
On 32 minutes Weimann and El Ahmadi are replaced by Albrighton and Sylla. Apparently this is due to injury. The introduction of Sylla is is testimony to the lack of available talent. If you haven't got anyone better than Sylla on your bench who can play in midfield then you are in trouble. Big sigh - and yes you've guessed it - the Grizzly head is in the Grizzly hands.
We exchange blows with Stoke. Both teams muster speculative efforts from corners though it's Stoke who are in control here. They are soaking up our probing play with comfort and ease. Albrighton is digging in with some good work on the wing. He's taking responsibility but to no avail. Stoke come back at us, with some dominating incisive passing that has us chasing shadows. Arnautovic plays in a through ball. Baker should easily intercept... but it bounces back of his heel instead ... It falls for N'Zonzi.... he rifles one... GOALLLLLL. Potter fans in the top of the Dough Ellis go all potty once again. Steven Ireland, who could not play today owing to contractual conditions, will be loving this. On 41 minutes it's Aston Villa 1-3 Stoke.
Bakesy is getting pelters from the Holte End. Poor concentration and decision making has undone him again. He has been mostly excellent these last few weeks and has not looked out of place alongside Vlaar but his game has gone worryingly backward today. Real poor from the Worcester born Villan. Have a word, Roncrete.
We go down to the concourse just before half-time. We are all aghast and struggling to explain such a dismal turn around in our fortunes. Why are we playing in third gear? Where is the drive, the hunger and the high energy? Where are those lethal counter moves? Button rolls her eyes. "I told you," she says. "They always do this to us." Back down to earth with a crash.
The second half is a great demonstration of snore ball. Stoke take every opportunity to eat up the clock as we harry and push them, conceding foul after foul. Our team offer no threat whatsoever. They are dead on the legs and out of ideas. Begovic, Benteke's goal aside, has been a bystander for most of this game. I'm so annoyed about this though some are really letting the team have it with obscene, foul mouthed drunken rants that turn the ears blue. One guy seems to be enjoying his limelight. He launches yet another abusive volley. Frustration abounds, though there is no place for that on the Holte. They guy next to me, who has been talking throughout the whole game (indeed, I'm not sure he has drawn breath) buggers off, which is a relief for my right ear. Unfortunately, my eyes are still suffering what is in front of me.
As the 80 minute mark comes and goes the faithful start to drift out, the stadium rapidly emptying. Not many are in their seats to see Leandro Bacuna's late free kick curl just over the bar. Sadly, I am. Being an observer and commentator on life I stay until the end. Such is the life of a Vital Villa match reporter.
Arnautovic, who has been largely unplayable today, breaks ranks, driving Stoke forward. He cuts back for Cameron who races onto the ball before finishing with aplomb. A miserable end to a very miserable day for Aston Villa Football Club. On 89 minutes it's Aston Villa 1-4 Stoke.
We see out five minutes of injury time. Ryan Bertrand latches on to Baker's nod to go close from outside of the box, but it's saved in the corner. That is our only proper effort of the half. Dreadful stuff.. and there's the whistle. At full time. Aston Villa 1-4 Stoke City.
Our worst home performance of the season, and that's saying something because there have been some real stinkers. Who can forget that awful 0-0 against Sunderland or the 0-1 against a dogged Palace in which the players turned up fat from the Christmas turkey? Not me, that's for sure. Those games are right up there, yet for the pure unadulterated capitulation shown; the lethargic display and clueless game plan on offer, this takes the biscuit. Knowing us, we will probably go and get something at Old Trafford now, which would be maddening, given how many points we have lost against the so called minnows.
Anyway, I'm off home now to munch on pulses and grains, whilst consoling myself with a sofa seat for El Classico. Next up, Manchester United away. I look forward to seeing all ye brave and fool hardy souls up there. UTV
Room for improvement: Bacuna, (though nine other Villa ran him close).