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COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY

From my seat: Aston Villa (H)

By Ken Buckley :  03/04/2011 :  Comments (11) :

Dem bones Dem bones Dem bare bones

On a lovely Saturday afternoon, we assembled to witness a game between the two teams who have played the most top-flight fixtures against each other, numbering some 192 games. The teams were announced and, whilst Villa had a full hand to play, the Blues had what could only be described as a makeshift token. All the senior available players made the starting line-up and the bench resembled a who?s who of names that no-one really knew or had indeed seen perform at this level before.

The plight of the club was laid starkly before us and this fan immediately thought a draw against an underperforming Villa side would on this occasion be satisfactory. As it turned out, a win for the Blues was maybe only thwarted by the fact that a £24 million striker would do little in the game except score twice and give Villa a point, whilst many could bemoan our prolificacy in front of goal due to the lack of an adequate striker.

The game started with the Blues looking in determined mood, appreciating the dire straits the squad was in. Captain Neville was instrumental from the off, cajoling, demanding and, by example, driving our makeshift crew to perform both in skill and endeavour.

We started the better and our first real chance fell to Beckford from a poor back-header leaving him one-on-one with the keeper but instead of taking a touch and picking his spot he chose to shoot early and too close to the keeper, who turned it behind. My thought was ?you get what you pay for? as it was a gilt-edged chance. The Villa responded and a Young cross came to nothing and then Howard flapped, the ball fell to Reo-Coker and, but for a superb tackle and block from Hibbert, the Villa may have capitalised.

The game continued in Everton?s favour but the cutting edge was missing. However, on the 40-min mark, Bilyaletdinov, who had been in and out of the game, robbed the full-back and fed Osman who advanced shrugging off tackles and put the ball into the bottom corner with a shot that seemed to trickle through the keeper... who cares, we were one up and Ossie did a flapping celebration. "Now keep it going until the break" I thought... which we did without much mishap.

With something to hold on to and Villa not looking that bright, many thought a backs-to-the-wall approach for the first 15 and then push on would or could or maybe suffice... but that was cruelly denied within minutes of the restart. It seemed no more than a tentative start to the half and allowed Downing to get in on our right unattended to sweep in a cross that Bent gleefully smashed home. Baines rollicked Bilyaletdinov for not tracking him back but the outcome was the same 1-1.

The game then settled again and I wondered why we had not started the half in this vein. We pushed on and so did Villa, making it an end-to-end game that was, in truth, entertaining... but for Blues also frustrating. When we attacked, Heitinga had a great header parried near the goal-line by the keeper and the ball reared to Osman whose effort curled just beyond the far post. Moments later, Bilyaletdinov once again burst into life and picked out Osman with a great cross only for our makeshift Cahill to fire over when well placed.

The game continued end-to-end and you could see the endeavour from the Blues if not the class. In one foray forward, Beckford was presented with a chance that he should have buried but instead smashed his shot against the bar and all players in the vicinity claimed the ball was over the line, the Ref looked at the Assistant but, with no flag showing, allowed the game to proceed. The replays on TV will be illuminating.

Our protests seemed to undo us as Villa went up the other end when the keeper found Young with a throw out and he immediately despatched a cross to Bent who, despite Everton appeals for offside, played to the whistle and slotted past the unconvincing close-down tactic of Howard.

Gueye, who had been on for the lame Coleman from the 50min mark, was coming more and more into the game but Beckford, who had taken a knock late in the first half, was struggling and a look at the bench revealed why he was being persevered with... so on 80 mins our Greek signing Vellios came on but the surprise was it was for Distin. I hope that is not another bad sign.

We kept giving it a go and, shortly after the substitution, Jags had a foray into the box, was upended and ? to a gigantic shout of ?Penalty? from the faithful ? the Ref agreed; Baines duly smashed home much to everyone?s delight. I believe this was our first penalty in the league this season.

The last minutes came and went and, even with 3 mins of injury time, we could not capitalise.

The Ref. was booed off for some strange decisions but he his highly thought of by his employers; although a bit finicky, I thought he was no better or worse than any other we have had down here. After the game, I spoke to a referee friend of mine and I was told an interesting story regarding today?s Ref.  He is listed in the programme as Mike Jones but his real name is Marc Jones and is Welsh so therefore should only officiate in his own country by Fifa rules but apparently he has a convenience address in England, thus making him legit to referee in the Prem. Doesn?t bother me much but just shows there is not much in football that can?t be got around if it suits.

Overall, considering our plight on the player front, I enjoyed an end-to-end game that probably produced the right result over the piece but I could not help wondering what might have been the outcome with a full complement or indeed a squad of sufficient strength to overcome the present injury crisis? This is how we are so ?get on with it? is the byword and today?s point probably ensures Premier League football next season considering other clubs' fixtures. But ? what of the future?

MotM for me Phil Neville but it was the old guard of Hibbert, Jags, Distin, Baines and Osman that responded to the captain's promptings most.

On returning to my North Liverpool ale house for the inquest, I ran into 5 Everton fans from Slovakia. Their command of English left me ashamed but they had enjoyed their day out and in their opinion Mucha is ?mucha? better than Howard. I didn?t argue but gave them my ?Come on you Blues? car sticker that was handed out at the turnstiles today.

A trip to Wolverhampton next... where, once again, the outcome may well be decided on who is fit, who is up for it, and (the way we are going) the under-18s academy players on the bench. When the subs warmed up today, I thought that lad Nsiala is one big fella!

All we can do is cheer those available on and leave it to the powers that be to ponder the close season. See you there.
UP THE BLUES.

Reader Comments

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Kevin Sparke
1   Posted 03/04/2011 at 17:48:49

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Good report, Ken!
Trevor Lynes
2   Posted 03/04/2011 at 18:21:24

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It emphasises the fact that we have the tiniest and weakest squad in the league when we have absolutely no cover left available at all!!! I was so relieved when Jags and Baines came back unscathed from the midweek international; both players could easily have been badly hurt during that friendly!!

The draw with Villa was a good result in the circumstances and I dread to think what will happen between now and the end of this season!! To loan out 11 players and transfer out Pienaar left us in a mess what with the injuries to Saha, Rodwell, Arteta, Coleman, Cahill and Fellaini.

Knowing that we would not be able to recall any of the loanee's it made no sense at all. I know they are off the wage bill but the injured players are and the position in the league we finish can add or subtract millions of pounds according to our results in the last few games.

I reckon that our board are criminally irresponsible to allow 'TIGHT ROPE' planning when other teams are strengthening. We are now a SELLING club and it's a shame!!

Jeff Armstrong
3   Posted 03/04/2011 at 21:29:15

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Think we are a loaning club, 11 out on loan from a threadbare squad... unbelievable. We all know this is a cost-cutting exercise, but is it working? Or is the same thing going to happen next season?

Try to keep it to 17 players at the club, loan out 10 or 12, but keep them as "assets" in the hope the loan club might want to buy them... or not... then what?

This is how to run a football club is it?

Kenwright, Elstone, please tell the paying "early birds" what the "short term" business plan is, I would not be so audacious to query a "long term" plan...

Dick Fearon
4   Posted 04/04/2011 at 01:20:24

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Due to greeting scouse rellies at Perth airport, it was unavoidable that I was for the first time in years completely cut off from all contact with football. Your report and those of others are more than usually appreciated.

What is mentioned by all reporters is Osman's poor strikes at goal. I have long held the opinion that he qualifies for an old fashioned nick name of Footsteps. That denotes a player who gets rid in a blind panic when a tackle is imminent.

Neil Higginbotham
5   Posted 04/04/2011 at 17:01:22

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Nice report Ken. How is that we are always the last team of the season to be awarded a penalty? And, as soon as it becomes a news story we are magically given one? Didn't the same thing happen several years ago?
Gareth Hughes
6   Posted 04/04/2011 at 20:44:44

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Dick @ 4, that's a low blow mate. Osman scored a cracking goal so give him some credit and stop betraying your own prejudices about him.
Ian Smitham
7   Posted 04/04/2011 at 21:35:16

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Gareth, quite right.
Dick Fearon
8   Posted 04/04/2011 at 23:12:30

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Gareth and Ian, #6, and 7,

All I ask you to do is think back to the thousand and one times Leon has failed to get a decent shot away when in a goal scoring situation. One or two that do go in are as much of a surprise to him as they are to team mates and spectators alike. Such extremely rare occasions do not invalidate what I say. For an attacking midfielder with hundreds of games under his belt his goal per game ratio is woeful.

I cannot think of any other PL midfielder with such a weak shot or so frail in a tackle or one who is slower across the ground or as useless in the air. Perhaps either or both of you could name any attacking midfielder other than Anichebe who is worse than Osman in any of those techniques.

Dave Wilson
9   Posted 05/04/2011 at 03:19:39

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Nice to see Ossie named player of the month after all his injury problems.

He may not pose the threat Cahill does from dead-ball situations, but as a footballer he`s vastly superior, he has a better touch, quicker feet, he sees a pass earlier and can beat a man.

It's no coincidence that, since Ossie`s return, we are now scoring goals in the Prem and climbing the table.

Now if we can just stop giving them away at the other end.
Dave Wilson
10   Posted 05/04/2011 at 17:49:44

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Michael

Not sure what you mean, at no stage did I criticise Gueye, I have high hopes of the boy, but at this stage they are merely hopes, I actually forgot he played at Brentford ? everyone was shite ? I won't be going overboard over his other Senior appearence, he only played 20 minutes

I felt the OP was all over the place, I said so and I said why.

If you feel anything I said was inaccurate then I`m happy for you to challenge it.

Even given your obvious dislike for Moyes I dont believe you want a situation where ALL criticism of him ? no matter how inaccurate ? goes unchallenged.
Ian Smitham
11   Posted 05/04/2011 at 23:03:10

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Dave @ 9 Well said.
Dave @ 10 Wrong thread - that's why it's not there on the other one.

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