Aston Villa 1-1 Man City

In my festive errancy I couldn't quite get the time to write a review for this one. Sorry to any regular readers, though I'm not quite pompous enough to think that anyone was really that bothered.

John Carew was great though.

Aston Villa 1-3 Portsmouth

Another home defeat, but a massively different reaction; gone are the acceptance and hope from last week. This is what defeats are supposed to feel like. It says something of our season so far that I had actually forgotten how it feels to see us perform so lethargically and unimaginatively, and lose so deservedly, as we did Saturday morning. In fact the last time I left Villa Park with such a depressed, empty feeling was at the back end of O'Leary's last season when we lost to Man City. Yesterday couldn't quite match the utter disaffection of that summer evening, but it really was a poor all-round display from us.

Or at least the 55 minutes or so I saw were, a combination of work on Friday, a ridiculous kick-off time and an inneffective phone alarm meant I only arrived at New Street after 1 o'clock. According to my Dad all I missed was a sloppy own goal, a small amount of Harry Redknapp baiting and some typically pompous yet mistake-ridden refereeing from Mike Riley. What I certainly didn't miss was the kind of exciting, attacking verve our young guns have normally provided this season.

An supporter even more positive than myself would argue that apart from two fantastic long range efforts and a fortunate own goal Portsmouth barely troubled our goal until the last ten or so minutes of the match, when we were only playing two defenders. This claret and blue tinted appraisal, however, ignores the fact that generally Portsmouth outpassed us in midfield and comfortably dealt with the continual aerial barrage we sent down. John Carew was one of the few Villa players who looked reasonably in form; Laursen and Gabby being the other two, but he found it hard against Campbell and Distin, two shrewd signings you have to give Redknapp credit for.

The good work from our strikers was, though, largely isolated as the midfield failed to function against their athletic counterparts in blue. Barry has generally been one of our best performers this season but it just didn't happen for him yesteday. Couple this with a strangely subdued performance from Reo-Coker and it is obvious where the teams problems stemmed from. Good teams will exploit our lack of width on the right and Gardner struggled to make any impression until he came inside to his preferred position. Berger came off the bench yesterday but the spark he found at the back end of last season has gone out again, I don't want to write him off but it looks like the end of his career at Villa Park to me, all three of his substitute appearances have been poor. There was a great chance on Saturday after a crunching tackle from Gardner but Patrick failed to execute a simple 10 yard pass through to Gabby, a basic error which could have made all the difference. It is hard to criticise Young as he looked bright on the ball yesterday, we just did not create enough space for him. Again here Redknapp must be applauded for blending craft, strength and speed to good effect.

This is the last time in this blog, however, that Redknapp's behavious will be applauded. I have seen a lot of column inches devoted to the abuse that Redknapp recieved and his subsequent damning of the Villa Park crowd. Less notable, though, has been any discussion of Redknapp's own actions immediately before the scenes he closely describes. Following a small confrontation between some players from both sides Redknapp, ansering a chant of "Have you paid the referee?", gestured at the referee and then made a two-fingered gesture towards the Holte End. This went down predictably badly but the fans were further inflamed by the three fingers he held up towards the Trinity Road Stand. Now I normally take reaction from players to the crowd in good humour, if you can't take it don't dish it out (a phrase more applicable to Reknapp than our fans anyway), but I think managers should uphold higher standards of dignity. The quite predictable response from the crowd came in chants about jail, bribes and showers.

Redknapp's behaviour would have been more acceptable, especially considering the week he's had, if his post-match comments hadn't been so hypocritical. From what I gather he wasn't brought up to abuse people in front of his children, but was brought up to aggravate 35'000 people with offensive gestures, and comparing his experiences at Villa Park with those as a child in the 1950's seems to be fairly erroneous, or frankly ridiculous, as well. Essentially I think Redknapp is embarrassed about his childish reaction to what was fairly mild ribbing, which then became more vicious, and has chosen to deflect attention from this onto some of our fans behaving as most around the country would have. I can think of a number of examples where players and managers have had far worse insults than the one he reacted to, and then bleated about to all who would listen.

I suppose what makes Redknapp's barbs all the more antagonising is the fact that his team has just come to Villa Park and beaten us convincingly. Villa fans may want to talk about his behaviour, or the sometimes bizarre decision making displayed by Riley, but we were soundly beaten yesterday and deservingly so. Next week's trip up to Sunderland is now even more important. We really need to get back to winning ways and try to regain some of the momentum we had before the Arsenal match going into the Christmas period.

Aston Villa 1-2 Arsenal

I've mulled over this game and its various ramifications for a few days now, but I am still mainly consumed by the first two reactions I, and most other attending Villa fans, had to this match. Firstly, by how obscenely talented and well oiled is the present Arsenal team. And secondly, by how promising the future looks for us. Although on Saturday there was the usual passion during the game; joy, stunned silence, anger, more anger, and finally pride, the rousing second half performance of our team was backed by a generally vociferous and quite optimistic support. Of course we were gutted to lose, and I still think we were slightly unlucky to do so, but loss is an inevitable outcome of sport and if there is any good way to lose a game, surely its to one of the best teams seen at Villa Park in living memory. Manchester United were dangerous coming forward a few weeks ago, but Arsenal are just on a different level, a depressing yet enjoyable team to watch end a winning streak.

However I normally focus on the Villa positives from these games, so lets go through them again. Firstly we scored against a top team, and genuinely competed with them for sections of the match. In the second half we were so dominant that Arsenal were reduced to hoofing the ball indiscriminately and barely mustered an attack. There are some good signs from some great young players in our team, and some of the experienced ones are really starting to hit form. The injury to one of them, Stilian Petrov, was the key turning point of the match: for 15 minutes afterwards Barry went into his shell, they fully took control and two goals were, eventually, enough to see the points go back to North London. Another resurgent player is Big John Carew. There was a period in the second half when he really hit top form and everything was sticking to him. It wasn't as pretty as Arsenal's effortless control and movement in the first half, but their defence found it almost as difficult to cope with.

And really its hard to say a great deal more than this, without pondering the impact Reo-Coker may have had, or discuss Gabby's surly response to being shunted out onto the wing. The referee wasn't too bad, despite the now repetitive 'top-4' brand of pressure he was under, the fans of both sides were good but not great (although the continuing din of the second half rendition of "Martin O'Neill's ClaretandBlueArmy was singularly impressive), and the overall conclusion for both sets of fans was probably a happy one. They could well win the league, and even if they don't their fans get to watch that football every week, and we are now establishing ourselves as an up and coming force. Improved balance in the team, and a little more class or development could see us win games like this.

Next Saturday we're back in our own league with Portsmouth at home. Despite the ugly looking train times and probable frost I'm looking forward to this game immensely: two exciting teams, a near full-house already, and the chance to try and convert my two younger cousins into Villans fans. The dynasty starts here.

Different Shades of Blue

So in the end it was heroic failure for Scotland. I suppose it has been a fair few years since the last time this predictable pattern of despair was followed; there was the European qualifiers against England, the battering in Holland, going back even further that rugby match about ten years ago when someone gave away a last minute penalty and England beat us. But that Saturday evening at Hampden hurt a lot more than all of those. When we equalised I said to my Dad we'd get one chance and had to take it. In the end we had two, the first when McFadden shot wide when he should have crossed, and then when he couldn't quite get to Miller's cross. There was a split second before he hit it where you could see it wasn't going in, I think I'll still be recalling that chance in twenty years time, possibly in a psychiatrists chair. If I had any hope left it was quickly destroyed when I glanced at my Dad, now resembling that famous Munch painting, and realised we were doomed.

However, dwelling on a failure to qualify in this instance masks the fine achievements of the side, and a rejuvenation of the national game. There is some momentum behind the side now, which can benefit all aspects of the game from grass-roots up, and renewed optimism for the World Cup campaign. It might be another one to add to the growing list of sporting disappointments, but I'd back us now, and definitely wouldn't have before. And lets not forget the two famous victories against France, which were magnificent achievements.

Any such positivity about England's performance would be more deceiving. Finally what a lot of people have thought for a long time has been conclusively proven: England aren't really that great, and nowhere near as great as everyone likes to think. Watching the royal blue Croatians outplay and outthink MacClaren's men, whilst their riotous supporters dominated vocally, was a truly chastening experience. MacClaren has gone now, in a manner befitting the rest of the campaign, but the players and the FA are receiving an equal amount of criticism, and rightly so. I'm not surprised to see that $teven Gerrard returned to form for his club yesterday, his performance as England captain notably lacked leadership and was dangerously close to disgraceful. And where was Jamie 'I'm no bottler' Carragher when his country really, really needed him? He was sulking, probably clucking some unintelligible Scouse, due to not accepting the reality of Ferdinand and Terry being better defenders than him. If I was Carragher I would be embarrassed, that game would have been his chance to prove his credentials.

A blue less noble than Scotland's, less sparkling than Croatia's, and generally more downtrodden than most in football, has also gained some embarrassing headlines in the last couple of weeks. Birmingham City's quest to replace Steve Bruce has so far been ignored by Martin Jol and no doubt laughed at Marcello Lippi (yes thats the same Lippi who has won the World Cup, Champions League and countless domestic Italian honours). Ironically, given the tone of this blog, it seems Alec McCleish is their next target. At the risk of embarrassing myself, surely he has more sense?

Back to the Villa next weekend, so no more blog-fillers.

Aston Villa 2-0 Derby County

Before this game our manager emphasised how we needed to return to winning ways, whilst our supporters emphasised the need to rack up our goal difference. A robust, if limited, performance from Derby County, however, ensured that only O'Neill was left even reasonably satisfied. For all Derby's short-comings, and there are a few, they were stung into a battling, physical performance by the public barbs of their manager last week. This was not an easy match, or 'sensational, super Saturday' as the pre-match host dubiously announced, although you always felt one goal would be enough.

In the end it was a short second half burst that secured us all three points. Both goals, fittingly, fell to our two best players on the day, and who's efforts this season have only been matched by Gareth Barry and Gabby Agbonlahor. Ashley Young was particularly lively yesterday, playing with obvious confidence and verve. Lets hope he keeps that momentum into next weeks derby. I feel, though, that he is hampered by our lack of width on the right since Gabby went up front. There is no doubt he is a better striker, but now we have no natural width out there, a full-back who is as uncomfortable as any player in the league coming forward and as a result Ashley gets less space. These issues will hopefully be solved in January, but by that time they may have cost us valuable points.

The attacking zest we all expected was admittedly sparse in the first half. Derby started well and had a few sniffs of goal, though not really threatening to score. Then after quarter of an hour we found our passing range, Barry and Petrov started to find attacking space, and suddenly we were tearing Derby apart. Chances came and crosses flew in from both sides but we couldn't quite make this pressure count. Then, as suddenly as it started, this threat dissipated as our opponents cleverly killed the game and atmosphere. Again they should be given credit for this. As half time came some of the Holte End decided to make their displeasure known, the players leaving the field to muted boos, but I personally wasnt' especially surprised of either this reaction or the pattern of play. We are not yet at the stage where we can blast defensive teams off the park, last season these sorts of games all finished as draws. This year we are grinding out ,hopefully, important victories.

In the second half Barry set a brighter tempo for us, and moving Reo-Coker to right-midfield helped our shape considerably. It was a clever tactical move from O'Neill, giving us pace on the wing and putting one of our best tacklers on their best player - Barnes. Reo-Coker got an assist for the second goal as well, further vindicating the switch. The finish was applied by Ashley, minutes after his free-kick was headed into Laursen's path by Barry. Two quite simple goals, really, that may imply our intensity wasn't always what it should have been.

After this burst the game was secure and we largely strolled through its remainder, displaying more class in possession, whilst Derby huffed and puffed to no great effect. Ashley was taken off in preservation for next week and in his place Maloney showed some great touches. I feel sorry for wee Shauny but he just doesn't seem to be fitting into O'Neill's plans at the moment, although a place on the right of midfield could suit him in winnable home games. Next week is not one of those and I would be suprised to see us make any changes, apart from hopefully seeing the return of Big John.

Luke Moore remains worringly unconvincing and is starting to worry me. He has generally been regarded as our brightest young hope but has been quickly overtaken by Agbonlahor, and is looking low on confidence at the moment. I hate to say it, but this looks to be an attitude problem. Luke scored goals at the back end of last season coming on as a substitute - when he had to prove himself. His sharpest displays this season have also been off the bench. It is not that he is playing particularly badly, or particularly lazily, but there is a concerning air of indifference in his play. He fails to make obvious runs at key times, reducing the number of chances he is getting, and whilst quick does ot possess the Gabby-like rapidity to create openings out of nothing. At 21 it is time Luke takes his career by the scruff of the neck and realises his talent, or he may end up on the academy striker scrapheap that has already claimed his brother. On his side, though, are the supporters; he needs to start repaying their faith.

This three points have set us up nicely for next week, and hopefully another three-points. Its important we don't just rely on our home form this season. We don't have a home game until December anyway, which means I may have to give a post-derby update in the next week or so.

Martin Jol

The purpose of this blog is to review games I have been to this season and try to give a balanced view of them (though this aim sometimes gets obscured in the heat of the moment). I will break this, however, to talk about Martin Jol's exit from Spurs.

Never has a managers' departure (or sacking) smacked of such ungratefulness. Spurs supporters I know are torn between support for Jol and despair at their league position, but the fickleness of even this fenced view is massively unreasonable. For those of you with short memories Spurs were hardly uprooting saplings when Jol took over. A couple of league cup runs had not satisfied their support who were used to better (why does that sound so familiar?) but unlike us they hadn't made any headlines in the league for about fifteen years. The discontented support probably hadn't recovered from the shock of losing their captain, youth product and all-round hero to their fiercest rivals. But this defection from Sol Campbell was an illustration and bi-product of their total mediocrity.

After three games of this season, though, Martin Jol suddenly wasn't good enough for those North London behemoths of world football. After the Everton home reverse I listened to fan after spoiled fan spit their disillusioned views down the phoned at Alan Green and laughed at the suggestion of sacking Jol. But not enough of their fans laughed with me and suddenly the band-wagon developed some momentum. And then Daniel Levy started to show his conniving side.

After this sorry episode the definition of 'levying' should be changed to mean 'back-stabbing your most honourable ally in a vain, fantastical attempt at some ill-concieved ambition'. To court other managers as he blatantly and unapologetically did backed his manager into an impossible position. All it needed was for Levy to publicly ridicule the sentiment that Jol should go and try to unite everyone behind him again. Instead he put him on trial and the prosecuting evidence understandably mounted.

Spurs' results have undoubtedly been poor but I think the unnecessary pressure put on the squad and management have been the key factor in this. For a temperamental team with an embryonic defence playing every week with the knowledge your managers job rests on every kick was clearly a damaging factor. I think most of the football world and most supporters of the game sympathise with the Dutchman, but now Levy and those impatient fans deserve a bumpy return to earth.

Aston Villa 1-4 Manchester United

This was just the latest chapter in what has frankly been a bewildering season. The result should never have been questioned; as heroic late failure follows British sport the phrase 'away victory' follows this fixture, however this was a vibrant and memorable match that lived on the edge of extremity; the crowd was loud and large, there were goals and incidents galore, attacking of the highest quality, defending of the lowest. And Rob Styles once again showed off his senseless television personna.

The warning signs for us were there from the outset. After five minutes United had worked the ball well on several occasions and almost created chances, I remarked to my Dad that we couldn't get away with defending as deep as we did against Chelsea and giving them so much space, that turned out to be the understatement of the day (not that it had much competition on an occasion drenched in flair). We raised our game, albeit to a level slightly below their's, and an absorbing game raced around the pitch. Then on twelve minutes came another North Stand goal from Gabby against a top team. It is hard to translate into physical English the maelstrom this was met with but needless to say it was raucous and prolonged. For the first time in a league match at Villa Park for over six years we were leading Manchester United.

For around twenty minutes after that we battled in our own half and created in theirs. A lively Luke Moore robbed Wes Brown and skimmed a shot just wide. Craig Gardner showed a lovely turn and touch of skill before again shooting wide. Ashley Young had the audacity to flick the ball up and rocket it just over the bar. Brimful of confidence we set about trying to extend our lead and maybe, just maybe consider the unreckonable victory.

But then, and hopefully this isn't a portentous metaphor, our brave new dawn faded and lost its hope with one non-swing of Zat Knight's left boot. The cross Nani delivered was actually one of the least threatening situations of the half, though it followed some more crisp movement from the visitors, but even before the ball had rolled out of Knight's reach I, like half the Holte, had turned away in disgust. The goal was affirmed by a typically affronting travelling support of Mancs and the shift in atmosphere was so tangible you could feel it. Now the old habits started to kick in and supposed new era only had three representatives left on the pitch; Gabby, Young and Laursen. I don't want to describe the last ten minutes of the first half, they were continual heavy body blows from a playground bully who has just been let back onto his feet.

The Villa Park crowd will always believe in Aston Villa, though, and we didn't bow to the inevitable at the start of the second half. Our opponents were clearly enjoying themselves, possibly a little too much for the stage in the game, but we responded positively and pushed United back, almost scoring ourselves. Than Nigel Reo-Coker committed his second foul of the game and Rob Styles, half turned to allow an advantage, saw his opportunity to get some camera time. I have talked at length about this decision since but nothing has changed the view I had at the time. It was a foul, and had Styles not needlessly booked Reo-Coker in the first half maybe a first yellow. But a second yellow without a warning? Only an imcompetent, petty, inconsistent, unnecessary autocrat like Stiles would have sent him off.

Then in the next significant action we sent everyone but Bouma up for a corner which was cleared far too easily and were struck with a classic counter attack. Carson scyther Tevez down and a clear penalty was rightly awarded. But not content with these already large contributions Styles ignores a blatantly covering Isiah Osbourne and reaches for another red card. Interesting that the last time he refereed this fixture at the same venue Style sent off two players, both for Manchester United. Both were also examples of his staggeringly unreasonable and almost evangelical style of refereeing - Fletcher sent off for twice kicking the ball away (no warning given) and Ronaldo for playing on after the whistle had gone. Later in the game Nelson Pique took Gabby's legs away on the edge of their area but despite reaching for a card Styles decided this offence had not been worthy of his coward-tinged flourish, and its effect on the game would be far too minimal.

It may seem that I am deflecting blame for our defeat on the referee. I am not. He did, however, stop us from having any chance of coming back into it and his performance was so irritating yet predictable that I can't help but comment on it. Scott Carson aptly summed up his dismissal when he said "I think at 3-1 down with only ten men, I think it is a bit harsh but if it it was 0-0, then fair enough." If only Rob Styles had any such common sense, or even awareness of common sense.

And so a second palpable shift in atmosphere occurred. The empty seats of rugby viewers became apparent before the second loudest, but most intensely felt cheers of the day when Rooney's spot kick was saved. This was our outpour of aggrievance. The Holte End now became a collective statement of defiance. And home pass was cheered, and move exulted, any away movement booed and any contribution from Mr Styles ridiculed, probably by both sets of fans as he followed the usual and most annoying pattern of trying to even things up with weak free kicks. Young and Agbonlahor clearly felt let down by most of the rest of the team and the frustration was clear in their play as they fought against an overpowering tide.

An irrelevant fourth goal was added, and this further polarised the home support as more rugby viewers snuck out early. I'm glad they lost. Meanwhile up on the Holte we were having, relatively, a great time. I could stand freely without anyone being annoyed, as could a fair few others and the atmosphere was lit with pride as our nine Villamen bravely battled. On leaving the ground I was struck but how many people were still singing, loudly, walking through the car park. The belief was still there and the pride was still there. There is a collective force about our club that is united and total, and it will take more than a sound home thrashing to halt it.

*Editorial* Reading this back I have given nowhere near enough credit to Man Utd for their performance. The last twenty minutes of the first half was the best football I have ever seen and Tevez and Rooney, if they weren't shredding us, would have been a joy to watch. I feel we yielded too much ground but a lot of teams will struggle to cope with Manchester's front six this season. It was quite breath-taking at times.

Aston Villa 1-0 West Ham United

A lot has happened since I last typed my thoughts down on this blog. Firstly Leicester reminded us that whatever divison they are in and whatever form we're in, we won't beat them at Villa Park. Then on a slightly surreal Monday night Spurs completed the most predictable 3-goal comeback I have ever seen. But I wasn't at either of those games so I won't dwell on them too much, apart from to say that those two results made Saturday's visit of West Ham fairly crucial. Thankfully we continued our impressive league form at Villa Park, and Steve McClaren saw a whole host of eye-catching, English performances.

There was quite a patriotic feel to Saturday all-round as first a squadron of troops recently returned from Basra marched round the pitch. They were all massive Villa fans and ended by walking towards the Holte End, to a rapturous standing ovation, and filing into a section of it at the front. Got to give credit to the club for this gesture, and the West Ham fans who gave them a great reception. At the same time England were beating Australia and 'Swing Low...' started up later on in the Holte. I was surprised by this but it was also strangely fitting.

The first thirty-five or so minutes of this game were explosive and full of incident. Leading the charge for Villa were our young attacking trio; Luke Moore, Gabby and Ashley Young, who may have played himself into an England Cap. There were at least four occasions when we passed the ball along the six-yard box without scoring, and countless other times where we disected West Ham's defence. In the end, though, it was Craig Gardner who blasted in the winner from a free-kick. Gardner is still learning the game and sometimes shows his naivety but his attitude and natural technique are promising. He's coping with being played out of position as well and looks like a real prospect. He strikes me as an old-fashioned footballer; gritty, competitive, and unpretentious.

West Ham played their part though and threatened on a few occasions through counterattacks which seemed to fizzle out as they reached the final third. Again Martin Laursen was out-standing in defence and Zat Knight turned in another solid performance. The one effort of any note was from Camara's hand, though Etherington almost punished Mellberg for a weak back-pass. The visitors were limited, though, by their midfields pre-occupance with trying to get Nigel Reo-Coker into the referee's notebook than unlock our defence. I'm surprised Noble didn't start and Bowyer was inneffectual as well as petulant.

Then the game just seemed to dig its heels in. Luke Moore stopped linking the play and creating space, Gabby couldn't get a run at their defence and our midfield dropped off. West Ham were allowed a lot more of the ball and more territory but offered very little threat and looked limited. This pattern continued through the second half, despite the growing wariness of the home support, until Gareth Barry decided to impose himself on the midfield and Shaun Maloney was introduced. Barry was given Man of the Match but in all honesty it was one of the quietest home games he has had in two years. Laursen and Young were probably more deserving of the award.

I felt sorry for Maloney when he came on and spent twenty minutes chasing the ball around. When he finally got possession, though, he delighted the crowd and helped close out the game with a prolonged demonstration of how to annoy a trailing team by the corner flag. With Gabby as an equally determined side-kick wee Shauny had defenders' limbs flailing around after him as he won a number of throw-ins and corners. There was still time, however, for the hapless Carlton Cole (accurately nicknamed Can't Control) to glance another headed chance wide.

Overall we were worth the victory in this match and never really looked like conceding. In just under two weeks time now we play Manchester United at home, though and we won't be able to play like we have in the last two home matches and win. However I'm confident going into that game; United have got some injury problems and I'm looking forward to seeing Young take on Gary Neville down that flank. And its about time we bloody beat them.

Aston Villa 2-0 Everton

There were so many strange things about the game yesterday that I don't quite know where to start. Firstly I missed the train from Leeds and arrived breathless in my seat at about 2.20, at which point my Dad told me we were 1-0 up. Now the only time I've ever missed the start of a Villa game before I also missed a goal for us; Sunderland in the late 90's sometime, Nelson was playing for us and it was his cross which was tucked home by a sorry Mackem.

This omen turned out to be a good one as Agbonlahor made the victory secure on the hour, but he was then involved in a continued and unseemly spat with Marlon Harewood, which childishly stemeed from Gabby not passing to his strike partner in the last minute. Firstly Gabby probably should have passed, and probably shouldn't have just told Harewood to 'F*** Off' for the next few minutes, but was there really any need for that situation to escalate? Marlon Harewood should have a good look at himself for his reaction; he might be desperate to prove himself but picking on a fellow player, especially Gabriel 'One of Us' Agbonlahor, was an unwise decision for a number of reasons.

Harewood's passion was, though, largely out of place in this slightly lacklustre game. There was a bit of a post-Chelsea hangover that hung around Villa Park, almost limiting the claret and blue faithful to half-hearted, 'I'd really rather be in bed' efforts you'll often see on Student League pitches on a Saturday morning. Well maybe not that apathetic, but you get the picture. Still, though, lingers the sense of camaraderie and expectation amongst our support. Its an expectation that soon Aston Villa are going to explode into a trail-blazing, glorious ascent, suddenly turn that corner to real, and maybe long-standing success. And the most worrying thing is that this feeling is almost total, there could be some really glum faces in the next few years.

As for a match report, we were just that bit better than Everton. In midfield we had the assurance and class of Barry and impact of Young and Agbonlahor whilst Everton had the waif-like and anonymously tidy Osman and Pienaar flanking their two industrious, but limited, centre midfielders. Carson was comfortable all day in goal, even getting an assist, whilst Wessels, who wasn't even on the programme, looked unsure of himself. Moyes possibly made a selection error in leaving Yakubu and McFadden on the bench, with Johnson and Anichebe failing to make inroad on our defence, which dealt with everything gently chucked at it with ease.

I feel sorry for Everton fans because it wasn't the kind of performance they are used to, and rightly expect. I would, though, back them to turn around their form with Arteta back in the starting line-up. Victories like this, from a Villa perspective, are pleasing because we were comfortable against a very decent team. Now we have three games which will tell us a lot more about the side, and hopefully we'll respond positively.

International Break

Finally the rest of the world has woken up and realised how much quality our Captain has. Its great to see Barry play so well for England and its also great to here praise for him. Steve McClaren, I think, now has the chance to prove the press (and everyone else, me included) completely wrong.

Much bigger 'shout-out', though, goes to my preferred home nation - Scotland. I was at Hampden for the first match against France and couldn't believe what I was seeing. Last nights result has had the same effect as seeing Sonic Youth perform Daydream Nation at the Roundhouse recently; I really do not know what to say or where to start.

Back to the Villa on Sunday with Manchester City away. I'm not making the trip for this one, but I'll probably manage a match report of some sort.

Aston Villa 2-0 Chelsea

Sometimes in football you just feel something special is happening. Sunday at Villa Park was one of those days. Nevermind Mourinho's ungracious bleating, we were worth this victory.

I have not seen Didier Drogba be so quiet and inneffective in a Premiership game, and only Liverpool on a couple of occasions have managed to make Chelsea look so average. This should be the springboard to a good run and hopefully a good season, and for the first time in years the whole of Villa Park is roaring with the same ambition and goal. For the whole of last season we threatened this kind of performance but it never quite came, now we've raised the bar and have to try and keep it there.

I'll always manage to moan about something, though, and this time its the 'Villa Park Experience' or whatever they call pre-match entertainment. Firstly playing seemingly random pop-music videos for 15 minutes before kick-off just destroys the atmosphere, which was superb on Sunday evening. They should just play the fanfare when the teams come out and let the supporters do the rest. Secondly the embarrassing player videos are still there, though probably for some comic effect. If you haven't been and seen them look on youtube, its bizarre to say the least.

That out the way here is my take on the actual game. I'd like to firstly thank Mark Clattenburg for irritating the Holte End so much in the first 15 minutes that Chelsea, and particularly John Terry, were met with derisive hatred for the entire match every time they got the ball. The referee had a really good second half as well in what was a difficult match to keep control of, and even in his less assured first half managed to even things up with some weak free-kicks to us near its end. Again, though, we saw big name players bully and dominate a weak-willed referee who refused to book them for it, and then booked Gabriel Agbonlahor for having the temerity to disagree with a decision. It was an easy booking, Terry's wasn't. The same happened on the first day of the season, referees need to treat all players the same no matter how many times they've played for England or how many thousands they earn.

Every Villa player did well. Bouma again shackled Wright-Phillips, their most dangerous player, for the majority of the match. Laursen won everything and was the best centre-half on the pitch. Young and Agbonlahor kept their full-backs occupied and were involved in a lot of good attacking play. Reo-Coker did the work of two men in the midfield, and his game improved when we were under pressure. Barry displayed his class in a breathless game. Carew and Moore made sure Terry and Alex knew they were in a game and had a lot of joy out of them. I've missed out Carson but, to be honest, he only had two fairly routine saves to make and did those well enough.

The Holte End smouldered with vitriol for the classless stars of West London and with support and passion for our own. Even when Petrov had an indifferent start he had more support than not, at least where I was standing. Sunday will be the game which, in years time, supporters and players will point at and say "thats was where it started". It might not happen straight away but the Villa are bouncing back, there was even time for Douglas Ellis to get involved with a cheeky grin and superior handshake for Roman Abramovich. It really does not get any better.

Aston Villa 2-1 Fulham

As I mentioned before I was out of the country for this match, and only found out the result on Sunday evening. All I can say, then, having seen the highlights is that its good to see us win with a last minute goal, I can't remember the last time this happened in a league match. Also it seems like Ashley Young, again, is settled and showing his massive potential.

I'm writing this a few hours after we destroyed Wrexham in the Carling Cup. I've only seen the goals, all 5 of them, but two were absolute pearlers from Shaun Maloney, who'll hopefully get used to the Brummie accent soon, and Harewood and Reo-Coker scored their first goals for the club which is always good to see. Special mention for Harewood who's celebration would normally be surprising for a scrappy goal at the end of a route, but in his circumstance was understandable.

Quite annoyed to have missed the Fulham match, described on the BBC Sport site as a "pulsating encounter". Nevermind, next up its Chelsea and I'm fairly confident we'll get a result.

Newcastle United 0-0 Aston Villa

I have to start this blog by saying what a fantastic trip Newcastle away is. They love their football up there and all of the Geordies were great to me all weekend. Great city and the stadium is smack in the middle of it which makes the trip even better. Also I don't know where Freddie Shepherd developed his beer gut in the town because I didn't see one 'dog' the whole time I was there. I wrote last week about the effects of the 5.15 kick-off time but it is a credit to Newcastle as a city and its people that I saw no trouble the whole time I was there and haven't heard of any since.

On the face of it this game looks like a non-descript 0-0 draw; not many chances or saves at either end and long passages where both teams cancelled each other out. From my perch in the gods (I'll put a picture I took up at some point) I saw an interesting game between two developing teams which probably gave both sets of supporters some encouragement, though the Geordies would doubtless claim it was two points dropped for them. Firstly both defences have to take credit for keeping out some talented attacking players. Martin Laursen was immense for us and made Mark Viduka look like the lazy lorry driver he is sometimes prone to be. Equally though Newcastle kept us at bay on the break, bar a few occasions when the final ball and finish was inches away from being perfect. Both teams were fielding midfielders as full-backs - N'Zogbia and Gardner - yet neither were badly exposed in the entire match.

This game had a competitive edge that, I suppose, reflects the characters of both managers and its in this aspect that Sam Allardyce has really made his mark on the club. Last season we played Newcastle at Villa Park on the second weekend of the season and they were abject and spiritless. Yesterday evening they scrapped and fought hard with a Villa team that, especially since Reo-Coker arrived, do not lack mettle themselves. The black and white midfield may not have been the most ambitious, I don't think Smith, Geremi and Butt broke beyond the strikers all day, but they were combative. I suppose this may be an indication of whats to come for Newcastle.

Our star performers this week were Laursen and Reo-Coker, with Gardner getting another special mention. Barry was strangely subdued in a game which, I thought, he would be head and shoulders above most other players on the pitch. This may seem like wishful thinking but he was in this kind of fixture last season. We displayed a lot of naivety as a team at times but, as I mentioned before, this team is a work in progress.

Last week I kicked up a bit of a fuss about some controversial decisions that did not go our way. Here is Steve Gerrard's reaction to them:
"These things happen and some decisions you get, some you don't. I'm sure over the season decisions will even themselves out"
And his take on Chelsea's penalty this week?
"I felt the referee didn't play well today. There was a lot of pressure from the Chelsea players and I thought he eventually cracked"

Can't say I wasn't laughing, Stevie, all we need now is it to come full circle on September 2nd when Chelsea come to Villa Park.

My Blog

I have decided to record my experiences as an Aston Villa FC fan for a whole season. This is my first year as a season ticket holder and, I think, will be a crux year in the development of our club (that prediction may haunt me in May). There are enough websites that write match reports already so I will try to give interesting accounts of my experiences as a supporter, almost as much for myself as the benefit of anyone who reads this. Hopefully we'll finally have a cup run, turn some of those draws into wins, pack Villa Park out and make those lions roar. Alternatively we'll do what we have for the last seven years. But either way it doesn't matter, as most football supporters will attest winning is far from crucial in the life of a fan.


Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool

When the fixtures for this season were announced I, like most other Villa fans, was excited by the prospect of finally beating one of the top sides. Whilst this didn't quite come to fruition I saw enough on Saturday evening to be fairly optimistic for the season ahead. However, the events during the game yesterday do not stick in my mind as much as several other incidents throughout the day.

The problem with 5.15 kick offs on a Saturday evening, other than long journeys back north for away fans, is that they give everyone two hours more drinking time. Never has this been more apparent than at Villa Park on Saturday. In all the games I have been to only the Blues derby last year had a nastier feel to it. Granted the atmosphere on Saturday is rarely bettered these days but the two are not necessarily inter-dependent. Looking at various internet forums, from both clubs, it becomes clear that most incidents were extremely unusual for this fixture. However I have read accounts of ; groups of families and fans being confronted and riled by both sets of supporters, unwarranted batterings before and after the match and sets of 'up for it' fans from both clubs prowling Aston. The new positioning of away fans seems to be more difficult to police, I hope lessons are learned by the time Man Utd or Blues come to town. This is a lone quiet voice in a virtual backalley but football would be much better off if eight out of ten games were played on a Saturday at 3 o'clock, one on a Sunday afternoon and one on a Monday evening.

Another moment that sticks in my mind was the sight of two suited men, probably employed by our club, walking round the pitch with giant yellow and black balls advertising Setanta Sports. They walked past the Trinity and threw them into The Holte End. They were thrown back out a few times, whilst from my vantage point in the Upper I hoped someone put a lighter to them, but were there for quite a while.

Setanta, we are not an advertisement for your cynical destruction of the values of English sport. I hope this never happens again, but fear it is just the first of many commercial opportunities we will be seduced by.

And the match itself? Well its quite hard to say just how well, or badly, we did. Liverpool recently lost the Champions League final and have obviously bought some quality this summer. At times the movement of Kuyt and Torres was too much and to be perfectly honest we did not look likely to breach their defence for large parts of the game, despite competing with Liverpool and having sustained possession and pressure in the second half. At the same time, though, they scored a lucky own goal and a free kick that would not have been given if Steve Gerrard was not refereeing the game with Jamie Carragher as his ever enthusiastic 4th official. I would like to say now that I do not generally moan about referees, however almost all of them are intimidated by the big name players - you can tell by the way they act on the pitch - and incidents like the one on Saturday should not surprise anyone anymore.

As for us, well Barry displayed his usual class and looked like the one Villa player who would have been comfortable in their team. There was nowhere I would rather have been in the world than stood on the Holte when he knocked that penalty in, I thought my head was going to explode. Ashley Young showed glimpses of his massive talent and further convinced me he's going to be a massive player for us. And Nigel Reo-Coker, whilst not having the perfect start to his career in genuine claret and blue, displayed enough passion, determination and presence to suggest he is the midfielder we've lacked for years. Anyone at the game would have noticed him celebrating the penalty award by standing in the box, facing the Holte End and roaring with his fists clenched. Great character.

Jermaine Pennant also deserves a special mention for proving that you can take the player out of the scum, but you can't take the scum out of the player.

I'd like this blog to be a positive one, though, so I'll finish by talking about Craig Gardner. A 20 year old central midfielder starting at right-back, he had a storming game showing great touches and technique, commitment, spirit and bravery. Its great to see young Villa fans living out all of our dreams, I think Craig is a real gem and would like to see him in the midfield where he belongs. The more he gets used to the Premiership the more composure and assurance he displays, hopefully he'll become the player Lee Hendrie should have been.

So its on to Newcastle next week, which I'm making the trip up for, so heres to three points for the Villa and a great weekend.