It was a strange game this weekend. Indeed, you need look no further than the goals scored and the results across the Premiership to conclude that it was pretty much unique. Villa’s game was no exception.
The first half was a mix of probing passes from the excellent Jean Makoun and an all round improving display from Villa on the back of the defeat at Old Trafford. Villa took the lead in windswept conditions in less than ten minutes when Fulham defender Pantsil impressively headed back across Schwarzer into the bottom corner of the net. The comedy own goal coming courtesy of a fine cross from Downing; delivered with the outside of a boot. And all seemed well. Apart from the gale.
Fulham were their typical average selves, slow to break and happy to sit behind the ball. Villa were happy to pick away and could/should have been two in front had Darren Bent not been ruled offside. The decision looked a tight one live and there’s hardly daylight when you watch the replay. This was a sign of things to come from the officials.
Villa went in at half time untroubled. Makoun certainly looks a fine acquisition with instinctive one touch passes, vision and accuracy. The club then treated all in attendance to a world record attempt for a throw in. Which resulted in a poor bloke making an absolute fool of himself in front of 35,000 people as he failed spectacularly.
Anyway – the second half was upon us.
Villa were guilty of a couple of things in the final 45 minutes. The first is all too familiar. For all the heroics of Dunne and Collins their ineptitude results in as many goals conceded as prevented. Too many challenges are jumped in to high up the field (Collins) and far too many balls are lumped aimlessly back to the opposition (Dunne). It is at times unfathomable how Carlos Cueller cannot get a game in the Villa defence.
Second is that we now over play at times. We have gone from hoofing and speculative passing to perhaps being over eager to take the sideways pass. Petrov, for all his attributes, stifled a number of opportunities where Villa could have countered – and whilst I’m all for retaining possession – the object of the game is to score goals.
Villa had looked vulnerable in the centre of the park in the first half, with Sidwell on his return to Villa Park, managing to get a couple of driven shots away. The same presented itself not long after the restart as a horrible bobbling shot was parried away by Friedel into the goalmouth. Former Bluenose Andy Johnson managed to head the ball down between himself and Friedel and luckily saw it bounce over the line. A preventable goal conceded yet again.
But Villa are different of late, we seem more able at keeping our heads going forward and appear to have some brains in that department. Downing worked a number of openings, and whilst still short of early season form, he tries and tries to either make or score a goal.
Clark missed a golden opportunity with a point blank header and Darren Bent could have done much better with a snap shot. After seventy minutes something strange happened. We scored a blinder. Loanee Kyle Walker picked up a backwards pass from Petrov, with nothing else on, exactly upon the kick off spot. And then he began his advance and everyone collectively wondered if he was going to do the unthinkable – and he did. Walker drove forward, steadied himself and released an accurate low drive beyond the Fulham keeper. The Holte End erupted.
Kyle Walker has since been rewarded with a full England call up – and it has been reported as a major surprise. Not for any Villa fan who has been watching his progress, and I imagine those fans at QPR where he was playing earlier this season. Walker is England material, a modern fullback. His defensive duties need work – but are no worse than anyone else I’ve seen in the England set-up – and going forward he is devastating. Pacey, creative, thoughtful and a constant threat. The only problem being that I cannot see Spurs wishing to relinquish him as a result.
But back to the match. We thought it was won. In typical Villa fashion, we sat back. Fulham never really pressed all match and managed to win a corner just5 minutes after Walkers goal. Under relatively no pressure Dempsey rose to head past Friedel to once again level the tie. Cue groans.
Houllier must shake his head in disbelief at our inability to defend set plays or keep our concentration in the final fifteen minutes of a game. He has gone all out to resolve our attacking problems, but come the summer, there can be no doubt that investment will be required at the heart of the defence.
Overall the result is not terrible. But it is disappointing considering our winning position – but it’s another point in the march towards survival. Because, let’s be honest, this season is not going to bring European football. It’s about retaining our Premiership status and starting the re-build.
Up next, Ian Holloway and Blackpool. Must win? You betcha.