|DATE||Sunday 6th May 2012|
Aston Villa chief Alex McLeish will be hoping that his side show as much fight as Chris Herd, James Collins and Fabien Delph did at a night clubs in the early hours of Tuesday morning when they face Spurs still needing a point at least to be safe from the drop.
Delph won't feature, as he is out for the season with an ankle problem and Stilian Petrov will not play again after being diagnosed with Leukaemia and we wish him well with his battle against the condition. Former Spurs striker Darren Bent has been out for a while with an ankle ligament injury and while it was stated this week he should be fit for the Euro 2012 tournament, he will not feature in Villa's last two league games.
And while Villa should be OK, they still have to make sure they don't get dragged nearer the relegation positions, with Wigan Athletic in good form and Bolton needing only a win to catch them up, although the Trotters goal difference is decidedly worse. The only saving grace is that QPR are not consistent and have Manchester City as one of their remaining matches, as well as a far inferior goal difference.
It has been a traumatic season for manager and fans with neither having much of a love affair with each other. McLeish's appointment from Birmingham City, who he took down to the Championship the previous season, was badly received at Villa Park with protests before and throughout the season, with more expected prior to Sunday's match. it has left a feeling of rancour around the club and with the board giving a vote of confidence of sorts, it has left an uneasy feeling coming into the run-in to the end of the season. Villa have often been the average Premier League club, finishing mid-table and with around as many wins as losses, but they did have a blip when Martin O'Neill was in charge, but that ended in tears with the manager leaving on the eve of the season after alleged disputes over transfer funds.
But back in the here and now, Villa have assembled a side capable of being placed higher than they are now, with a selection of Premier League experienced players, but few would be classed in the top bracket, who would walk into sides in the top six. In attack, they paid big for Bent, who has been a qualified success, but is lacking a partner and while Emile Heskey is wheeled out, he has only scored once in sixteen months. Gabriel Agbonlahor was much feted when he first came on the scene, but he appears to have slowed up and injuries have knocked his confidence, leaving him to get picked usually when others are unavailable. Andreas Weimann is the new name in the Villa attack and he looks sharp and a man to keep an eye on, as Villa lack options up front, with Robbie Keane being a bright spark there in his short loan from LA Galaxy and I am sure that the club might try and go back for him in the summer. Another youngster Nathan Delfouneso is another who has failed to progress as was expected and his loan to Leicester City, when the Villains were short of strikers, perhaps indicates that Villa feel he might not make it at the top level.
The defence was bolstered by the summer signing of Shay Given, a very good keeper, who proved vital in the 0-0 draw with West Bromwich Albion last week. In fact, there was a bit of a role reversal with Given kicking one off the line in the final minutes, after Alan Hutton had earlier knocked a goal-bound header over the bar with his forearm. Given has done well and has been active in most games, while Hutton has struggled to find the form he showed at Glasgow Rangers that persuaded Tottenham to part with big money for him. His displays for Spurs hinted that he could be the attacking right back they were looking for, but with Kyle Walker coming back from a loan spell at Villa Park, it ironically lead to Hutton moving the other way.
The Scot was deployed in a strangely defensive set-up at White Hart Lane when Villa visited earlier this season to try and stop Gareth Bale, which failed and ended in an abject performance getting exactly what it deserved ... a 2-0 defeat. His tackling is committed and sometimes overly aggressive and that can lead to him picking up cards from referees. With Richard Dunne returning to defence after injury, it will be a tough tackling back four, with Stephen Warnock at left back, who has a habit of diving into challenges, which might see him left for dead if players manage to avoid them. Dunne will bully Adebayor in the air, but on the floor, Spurs might find more joy and with van der Vaart dropping off Ade, that might confound the defenders, who will be left without someone to mark. Carlos Cuellar has been one of the other main members of the back four, but is getting to the veteran stage of his career and will probably move on in the summer. Still good in the air and in the tackle, but his pace is not what it was.
Other defensive options include Eric Licaj, who has been in and out the side, who is an American adjusting to Premier League football, while Ciaran Clark is a player they have high hopes for, but he has played only eleven games this season so far. Irish defender Enda Stevens we know from our meetings with Shamrock Rovers in the Europa League, but he is yet to make an appearance for the Midlands side since his transfer in January.
In midfield, Delph and Petrov being missing deprives Villa of a couple of players who might make a difference to the team, but with the choice from Mark Albrighton, Chris Herd, Charles N'Zogbia, Stephen Ireland and Barry Bannon, they have a decent enough four there. Chris Herd has come in and made a bit of a name for himself. Determined and strong in the air and on the floor, he is a box to box player who likes to get forward. N'Zogbia was a big money signing from Newcastle Ubnited, but has not produced good performances on a consistent basis, spending more time having arguments with management according to the newspapers. A tricky dribbler and a good finisher on his day, N'Zogbia can fade out of games, but has the potential to change them, but he frustrated Villa manager and fans alike. Ireland had great potential at Manchester City, but his career has drifted with his off field activities and comments taking more prominence than his performances in the main. A player who can shift play with a good pass and good at dead ball situations, he can influence matches, but he is often too peripheral to the play and Mark Albrighton can be the same. More energetic and dynamic than Ireland, he can spark Vila into life, but he is another Villa youngster who has struggled to live up to the early expectations of him. Barry Bannon might be the same, with the little Scottish wide midfielder having problems off field (fleeing the scene of a motorway car accident), but he has the shooting ability and that of a jinking winger to go past people when he is on his game.
However, the Villa midfield overall is not one which will create a hatful of chances for the forwards, who thus have had trouble getting the ball in the net. Averaging a goal a game makes it hard to win many points and with an average of just over a point a match, it is not hard to see why Villa are the draw kings of the Premier League with 16 games finishing all square.
Off field issues have dogged the club and affected the play on it, but Villa will be fired up for this match, as they seem to have a thing about playing Spurs. But with their need to gain a point, will McLeish go defensive again or will he try and nick something ? The Villa fans will make it plainly obvious how they feel if he tries to set up for a draw and if Spurs can nick an early goal, then Villa will have to come out which might play into Tottenham's hands.
I think that however Villa line-up, they will struggle to cope with Lennon and Bale if both in the side and playing like they did at Bolton. With the need for points as much an issue for Tottenham, I can see this going the way of an away win.
|PREDICTION||Aston Villa 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2|
|Click here for more info on opponents - stats v thfc , history, etc.|
ASTON VILLA TEAM
The home team will be missing their captain Stilian Petrov, who is battling Leukaemia and Fabian Delph, who has an ankle injury, as has Darren Bent, who is back training, but won't be fit for this match.
HOTSPUR TEAM NEWS :
Benoit Assou-Ekotto (shoulder and knee), Michael Dawson (ankle), Tom Huddlestone (ankle) and Niko Kranjcar (knee) will not feature again this season, but there might be a return for Scott Parker, who has missed a couple of games with a sore Achilles tendon.
available on BBC radio, it can supposedly be heard
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Aston Villa 1 (1)
Sunday 6th May 2012
Venue : Villa Park
Tottenham Hotspur 1 (0)
Kick off 14:00
|Clark 35||Adebayor (p) 62|
Dunne (foul) 60
Kaboul (foul) 17
Sandro (foul) 90+6
|Crowd : 36,008||Weather : Sunny, Mild|
|Referee : Lee Probert (Wiltshire)||Assistant Referees : C. Breakspear; M. McDonough|
|Fourth Official : Mike Dean||
Match Delegate : Iffy Onuora
Professional Game Match Observer : J. Worrall
|Tottenham kicked off and played towards the North Stand in the first half.|
|Aston Villa :||kit||Tottenham Hotspur :||kit|
2 Hutton (
6 Collins 53)
11 van der Vaart ( 8 Parker 89)
|Manager : Alex McLeish||Manager : Harry Redknapp|
|Sponsor : FxPro||Shirt sponsor : Aurasma|
|Kit Supplier : Nike||Kit Supplier : Puma|
Losing Danny Rose to a red card four minutes into the second half following a goal lost to a giant deflection meant that the two points lost in the race for third and fourth places could prove vital, but Tottenham battled well to come out of this match with a point and should have had more for all their attacking play.
Being more attacking when down to ten men, Spurs pressurised the nervy Villa defence, with the home side needing a point at the very least to give them a little buffer between them and the relegation places. 19 corners in the game failed to bring about a decent chance on goal, from these set-pieces and Spurs did have a number of shots, with 21 in total, but there was a killer instinct lacking, but that has been the failing of the side all season.
Both sides needed the points and would have to come forward, but with only Emile Heskey up front for Villa because of injuries and a lack of quality replacements, it looked like the threat of goals might come more from midfield. The Spurs team was unchanged from the start of the previous match and the threat of twin wingmen might have promised to give Villa a torrid time.
However, Shay Given had a relatively quiet time and while Tottenham held the possession and territorial advantage over the home team, it is, as always, what you make of it. Charles N'Zogbia had the first shot of the afternoon from outside the box, but it ballooned up off a defender to drop over the bar and give Villa a corner. Nothing came from it and Spurs moved to the other end, ending with Lennon slipping Emmanuel Adebayor in on the right side of the box and his first time effort went across Given, but also across the face of goal. Kyle Walker was playing with a broken toe and perhaps that was why his passing was poor in the first half, with the ball given to Villa players on a number of occasions. In the tenth minute, he gave it to Ireland on the halfway line and a through ball sent Heskey on a run on goal. As he entered the penalty area, it looked like he might test Brad Friedel, but Younes Kaboul got back to slide in from the side and the ball went away from the former England striker, while he (as usual) hit the ground. Shouts for a penalty were ignored by the referee.
Walker was looking to get forward against the team he was on loan at last season and he had a couple of shots over the top and then one where he came in at the far post, but might have made a better contact if he hadn't been put off by a defender's challenge. In the 30th minute, Bale got on the end of a dinked cross from the right by van der Vaart, but his far post header was off target and if he had got it on goal, it might have given Given some trouble. Villa defenders and midfielders were all packing in front of Tottenham's attacks, leaving then frustrated and having to work the ball around the edge of the box to get a shooting opportunity.
Three minutes later, Spurs amazingly found themselves behind. A Villa move looked like it was going nowhere, as the ball was passed back to Chris Herd just ahead of the centre circle. He went forward a few strides and hit a shot that Friedel would have had no problem with, being a full 35 yards out. but, the ball hit William Gallas on the back sending it in an arc that went away from Friedel and into the opposite top corner of the net to hand Villa an unexpected lead. With Arsenal having thrown away three points at home to Norwich the day before, leaving Spurs with the chance to go third, this was the last thing we wanted to happen.
Spurs hit straight back and Bale got a shot on goal from about eight yards out, slightly to the left of the goal, but Given did well to paw the ball out and frustrating Tottenham again. Two minutes before half time, Spurs actually worked a good move from a corner. Taken short to Modric, he passed to Kaboul around the penalty spot and he laid it back to Rafa, who hit s shot that was swerving back towards the goal from outside Given's left hand post, but unfortunately it didn't come back enough. In the remaining time in the first half, Sandro had to make a well-timed tackle on Heskey just inside the box, but did so with no concern for his own safety and needed treatment, as did Heskey.
With news coming through of Newcastle's game against Manchester City, it gave us some consolation that we might still be fourth, but a win would have helped put some distance between us and them and virtually seal that spot. However, there was still a job to do here.
The wide midfielders pulled even wider and Bale's first run of the second half saw him put a ball across goal that Adebayor couldn't get on the end of. Then four minutes into the half, the second thing we didn't want to happen happened. As Danny Rose went to beat N'Zogbia to the ball, he got a nudge from the Villa man that threw him off balance and with Alan Hutton coming in, Rose could not control his movement, resulting in his studs going straight into Huttons' left shin. It wasn't entirely Rose's fault, but Probert brought out the red card and Spurs were one goal and one man down.
What was hard enough against the massed ranks of the Villa side who were defending their 1-0 lead in numbers, we now had to do it with just ten men. But then we won here last year with ten men, so just maybe ...
The sending off hit Villa, as Hutton could not continue and neither could Heskey, so two subs used in one fell swoop.
55 minutes had gone, when Spurs were given a free-kick halfway inside their own half and taking it quickly, they switched play going in the other direction and Adebayor was through from the halfway line, with the goal approaching and going around a defender, only Given to beat. However, he opened his body up, but could not get any power in his shot, leaving the keeper an easy task to save the low effort. Five minutes later, Sandro tried his luck form outside the box, but the ball took a flick off a Villa player for yet another corner.
When it come in, it was over-hit to the far post and the ball dropped around the penalty area and our Brazilian midfielder was first to it, but he was going away from goal. However, Richard Dunne decided to dive in and missed the ball, brining Sandro down for what the referee decided was a penalty. Rafa went to grab the ball, but Emmanuel Adebayor was having none of it and took it off him, then stepped up to calmly send Given the wrong way from the spot, as the ball went to the keeper's left and hit the net as he dived right.
1-1 and game on. Villa's determination to sit back had back-fired and now there was just under half an hour left, although Spurs had to be careful they didn't get caught on the break.
And that was what nearly happened a couple of minutes after the goal, when N'Zogbia put a ball through for Weimann to chase and as Friedel came out of goal, he cleared the ball outside his box, with the Austrian flying into a challenge and came out of it prone on the floor holding his leg. Another substitution had to be made, so Villa had used all three and all were for injuries, leaving McLeish no tactical leeway. Not the club's fans would say that tactics were his forte.
Fifteen minutes from the end, a corner found Dunne at the far post and Kaboul jumped with him to just do enough to put him off, with the ball hitting the French defender before hitting the Villa captain and going wide in what was a good chance for the home team. At the other end, Spurs were peppering the Villa box with crosses and shots, but few were on target until Bale turned two defenders on the left and hit a shot on the turn that went straight into Given's chest.
With a couple of minutes remaining, Harry decided to make a substitution and with the pressure building it wasn't the one we all thought was coming, with Scott Parker coming on for van der Vaart. We all thought it would be Defoe coming on to add to the problems for Villa in the dying minutes. It looked like we were settling for a point to stay in fourth, but the lack of adventure in going for it has cost us a few times this season and any issues over our final finishing position are not entirely down to our poor run through March and April.
With frantic attempts to secure a winner being made, Spurs made the mistake of playing to Villa's strength and putting high balls into the box, which their giant centre-halves lapped up. Any joy we had came from playing our way through them rather than over them, so the final whistle sounded on what was a better point for Aston Villa than it was for Spurs.
So, we have to win our last game to challenge for third and hope West Bromwich Albion can get something from Arsenal in Roy Hodgsons's last game in charge of the club. We also have to match (at least) Newcastle's result from their game at Everton. Martin Jol's return to the Lane will give him something to prove and Fulham are playing well, with Spurs having to sort out what will happen at left back now, as Benny is injured and Danny suspended.
It is all set up for a nervy afternoon and then a wait until the Champions League final, hoping for a Bayern win to take one variable out of the equation.
But we will look back on this, like a few games this season, when we have done very well, but have lacked that little extra that would have seen us going home with all three points.
Pascal Chimbonda's tights supplier
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|What you thought|
|East Stan||What is
wrong with Harry ? Villa showed no interest in wanting to win
the game and defended in numbers, so why leave Jermain Defoe on the
bench ? For so long, the game was crying out for someone to
get on the end of loose balls in the box or to fire a shot at goal
out of nothing. Anything to try and test their keeper.
Look what happened with their goal. Anything can happen when you have a go at goal.
I am not sure what is going on between Harry and JD, but I can see him leaving at the end of the season, as either Adebayor or someone else will be coming in to bolster the attack, leaving him in the same position as he is at the moment. It seems odd that he is the top scorer and can't get a start.
|Adam Steppings||So there we have it
... it's all set for Martin Jol to return and haunt Mr. Levy at the
Lane on Sunday.
You can see it happening Newcastle and Arsenal win and we lose sending us down to fifth place.
Of course, the dream scenario is Newcastle and Spurs win and Arsenal draw with the Baggies scoring a 90th minute equaliser to make up for all the 90+ min goals Arsenal got this season, but, in truth, Spurs should never have been in this position and we only have ourselves to blame.
Our form after the 5-2 Arsenal game was bizarre and like your other comment I can't make out Harry sometimes - And even if we finish fourth, it's not worth celebrating unless Bayern can beat Chelski, so it could be a very strange atmosphere on Sunday, unless we nick third spot.
However, defeat on Sunday could see a few players looking for riches elsewhere, and Harry having to rebuild again ... same old story really.
|Other scores during this week :|
|Bolton Wanderers||2||West Bromwich Albion||2||Sunday|
|Manchester United||2||Swansea City||0||Sunday|
|Newcastle United||0||Manchester City||2||Sunday|
|Queens Park Rangers||1||Stoke City||0||Sunday|
|Blackburn Rovers||0||Wigan Athletic||1||Monday|
|FA Cup Final :|
|10||West Bromwich Albion||37||13||8||16||43||49||47||-6|
|17||Queens Park Rangers||37||10||7||20||41||63||37||-22|
Position before match :
Position after match : 4th
Position after the weekend : 4th
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