Portsmouth 2-0 Aston Villa

A defeat Saturday saw us slip one position to 7th, but my Dad was quite upbeat after the game, and over the course of a few days my disappointment has disipated. We were looking for a reaction to that poor show at Villa Park last week and, by and large, we got one. Infact if the two goalkeepers had switched we would have won, maybe even if we switched Gabby for Defoe (who was annoyingly a transfer prospect in January).

Portsmouth nowadays are a genuinely good team. Everyone knows about their athleticism and pace but seeing it at pitch level was really impressive. Twice this season Distin has completely bossed Carew, which defenders of supposedly better teams have completely failed to do. Maybe Carew could have done more but he was certainly in a tough battle. This pattern was repeated over most of the pitch. Papa Bouba Diop vs Shaun Maloney was one of the most unfair battles I think I've even seen in Premiership game, though Maloney did manage to work some space on a few occasions. In the midfield Muntari, though ridiculously sent off, and Diarra were irrepressible. There star performer, though, was David James. I would say he always saves his best games for us but he just carried on his impressive form on Saturday. I was just waiting for him to make a crucial, high profile classic James error but after Saturday I'm not sure if its coming.

In the face of such organised, spirited and most of all capable opposition our performance was also quite satisfying in some respects. After a dodgy first half hour Barry and Reo started to give us a platform in the game. At this point we were one behind thanks to indeterminate defending from Laursen, inept positioning from Carson and high quality finishing from Defoe. I felt, though, that we were still in the game and starting to create chances, both from set plays where we looked dangerous (when they weren't chipped down James' throat) and open play where Ashley Young in particular looked dangerous.

Then we made a series of crucial mistaked. Barry took a short freekick to Mellberg when he should have waited and put it in the box. Mellberg isn't the most composed footballer and his rushed pass put Ashley under pressure and saw him dispossessed. With our centre backs both forward this wasn't exactly smart football. Carson's aberration after, though, which saw him needlessly rush off his line for the second time only to smash the ball into Reo-Coker and back into the vacant goal, can only be described as mindless. I think he has been encouraged to come off his line more, we saw him do this against Boro to good effect, but it is not his natural inclination and yesterday showed why. There is a good keeper there waiting to shine, and it won't take him till he's 38 to fulfill his promise consistently, but we are not a Scott Carson charity and his place here should now be on the line.

After that it was always going to be a struggle. Portsmouth have won every game in which they've scored first, MOTD reliably tells me, and in the end did so comfortably here, though if Gabby had scored with an open goal at his mercy from three yards just after half time it could have been different. His form is starting to become worrying; not only not scoring but also the lack of searing runs which marked the early and middle parts of the season. I thought Maloney was unlucky to make way for Marlon instead of Gabby, but he went through the same sort of run last season and came out of it well.

In the latter part of the game we huffed and puffed but didn't really get anywhere. Harewood rouses the fans and has a great attitude but in terms of play his impact on games is minimal. The fact that he is pretty much our only attacking option on the bench says it all about the lack of depth in our squad. Salifou did look ok when he came on in central midfield, and I would be tempted to put either of those two into the starting line-up, just to freshen things up a bit.

The stand out performer of the last two games has been Wilfred Bouma. In fact I don't think I can remember him making an obvious mistake, other than probably giving the ball away. I can't remember a poor performance from Freddie all season and I think he is nearly ever present. This has been a really good season for him and, despite the Fiver might get stuck into him about his weight, I see him as one of the best left-backs in the country, though his attacking lets him down sometimes.

So our mini-unbeaten run is over and instead the staleness of poor form is lurking over the squad. A win against Sunderland is a must, we play Man Utd at Old Trafford afterwards, but as long as go out there with the right attitude and try to do the right things I'll be happy. If theres anything the last few weeks have taught me its to be circumspect.

Aston Villa 1-1 Middlesbrough

The reason for the delay in this write-up is partially lack of time, but mostly that I couldn't actually bring myself to relive this game in its aftermath, and have preferred instead to recollect it in tranquility. This is exactly the state we started the game in, despite the daily assurances of our players and manager in the run up to the match that it was one of the biggest of the season. In a way I think our non-show and Middlesbrough's gritty display was karma's reward for my near merciless ribbing of a smoggy supporting friend. I'll not make that mistake again.

Until Portsmouth away on Saturday we had scored in sixteen games in a row. To be honest we were lucky to score against Boro and could easily have conceded three more than we did, Mido enduring a particularly hapless performance in front of goal being the main cuplrit. One of my main, repititious criticisms of the Boro team is it lacks heart and strength, especially in the midfield. This and how Southgate fails to inspire his players at crucial times (to be fair both of these were fairly evident in the last two FA Cup games they played, one of which went through extra time and three team talks without rousing anything more than a whimper). These two assumptions were royally rammed down my throat last week as Boro kicked us out of the game early and then didn't let us into the match.

It was probably a bad time to play them, especially with George Boateng as willing as ever to prove his 'legend' credentials. However I still think a good twenty minutes at the start of that match would have seen a Villa win. So what went wrong for us? Well I'd say out of the eleven players who started only two played well: Bouma, Ashley and Laursen, but neither were near their best. Reo-Coker was ok but overran. The rest had games littered with basic individual errors and a distinct lack of urgency. The biggest culprit was Gareth Barry; wasteful in possession, positionally tactless and generally impotent. The last few weeks have seen some discontent from the fans with our midfield partnership, lets hope they resolve the issues apparent and Barry recaptures his pre-England form.

Last week was one of those horrible games where you travel for hours, look forward to it all week, spend loads of money you can barely afford and then are pretty disgracefully let down. Thankfully this rarely happens to us anymore, I haven't felt that bad leaving Villa Park since West Ham at home in O'Leary's last season (the only time we have lost after having a half-time lead at home in about 6 years). Our team is still developing and growing, and the squad's obvious lack of depth is beginning to tell: a few no-shows like this are bound to come over a season.

It is slightly irritating, though, to think that it is the winnable home games our team has choked on, rather than tougher fixtures away from home. Maybe that last minute Arsenal equaliser has rocked them more than we thought, and that would have been a massive win. Maybe, though, we just don't have that winning mentality that the top 5 have all displayed at some point in the season. Everton needed to win the other week, I think against Portsmouth, to stay fourth. They scored in the first minute. A win against Blackburn would have seen us fourth, we were average and rescued a point. Last night saw a worse display against a worse side, O'Neil still has some magic to work.