Villa had already qualified for the knockout stages of the UEFA Cup, so in some ways last night’s game was irrelevant, meaning the B-team was trawled out to Germany to face an impressive Hamburg at full strength. But then in other ways winning the game did have relevance, such as pride, morale and an easier tie in the next round. Much like in the Zilina game, Villa embarrassed themselves last night, getting totally outclassed in many areas of the park and the supposed strength in depth possessed by the Midlands side looking like a bad joke.
Villa looked very weak at the back, with the midfield not providing adequate cover for the defence and the defence having a very poor evening, so it isn’t that surprising that they were stung three times on the counter. In fact what is more surprising is that it was kept down to 3, the woodwork proving to be as essential as Brad Guzan himself.
MON will no doubt come under criticism for fielding a team of fringe players / B-team players / squad players, call them what you want; they aren’t good enough, simple as that. But by criticising O’Neill’s team selection last night would be missing the point, the real area you can criticise him is for some of his shopping choices when trying to pad out his side. Martin O’Neill is attempting to get Villa into the top four but when you think of a top four side you want to see players on the bench of the ilk of Theo Walcott, Paul Scholes, Wayne Bridge and Robbie Keane, not Marlon Harewood, Zat Knight and Isiah Osbourne.
It would perhaps be unfair to criticise the American back up keeper as he has proved to be something of a one-to-watch in previous performances and last night deserved credit for keeping the scoreline down to just three. The goals he conceded were all very well taken and at least two of them you couldn’t even see Petr Cech saving. So he’s one of the few who’ll be let off… next!
The ex-England man has been played out of position of late by MON, over on the left, but last night saw him return to the position he claims is his strongest. His performance made him look a little misled. If he had let that many crosses into the box all season then there’s no chance Villa would be in the top four at present. Young got forward well occasionally and came made a couple of decent challenges but in the main was far too stand off-ish and nowhere near tough enough on the attacks down his flank. You can’t help but wonder if O’Neill ordered his players to forfeit the game rather than risk injuries.
Not the worst player on the pitch, Shorey made more of a claim to be reconsidered for the first team than most did last night. He dealt with wide play better than Young but he did benefit from there being much less down his side. Coming inside to help the centre backs he was largely ineffective. There’s still a way to go before he gets a regular Villa spot and England recalls look light years away.
Another Villan who has been prospering out of position is the former Rangers ‘centre back’. He has been used as a right back by Villa mainly since his summer arrival and in that position he has looked excellent and worth every penny of his £8m signing. Last night though, he was very poor at the back, giving cheap balls away, missing crucial tackles and headers and twice failing to win a challenge that resulted in a goal. Him and Young need to have a good hard think about how to play in the position they call their strongest.
The signing of this former England defender looked good when it went through; he’s young, he was looking to regain his England place and he is a Villa fan so surely he’d give his all to the team he supported as a youngster. He had one or two good games then after a few mistakes he lost his confidence and to date has never found it. He didn’t last night either. When Hamburg attacked down the middle Knight looked frail and on crosses he was aerially nowhere to be seen.
Not terrible last night but didn’t do enough to be totally let off. He really should’ve hit the target in his chance in the first half, which could’ve changed the game a lot if it had gone in and the incident in which he went off injured was a big penalty shout for Villa, so another chance the lad had to really change the game. Neither happened though so, while you can’t knock him, a player of a higher standard would’ve made them count. In comparison to the rest of the Villa team though; at least he was getting in the positions where he could fail to make chances count.
In earlier rounds he has looked superb, an eye for a fluid pass and some clinical tackling but the last two games have seen him completely outdone in the middle of the park and that is an area that a team cannot afford to be overrun in. The initial hopes that O’Neill had bagged a bargain are now beginning to look like we have signed a player who would be better suited at a team like Bolton or Fulham.
Got himself sent off and can’t argue too much. Whilst he didn’t do anything all that bad, he persistently roughed up or tugged on players and there are plenty refs out there who don’t let these things slip. Sidders got forward well during his time on the pitch creating chances for Harewood, but wasn’t supported enough by Salifou for most the game. Had he not seen red, he could’ve walked off the pitch as one of the only men who could avoid blame.
He wore the captain’s armband and at times showed why. On a number of occasions it looked like he was single handedly trying to get Villa back in the game, but the chances he did create came to nothing. He looked frustrated and in the end it showed in his play, giving the ball away and making poor tackles in the second half. All in all though, NRC played a good game and staked a claim to get back in the A-team, even if it is out of position.
The Fonz quickly became a fan favourite and a buzz name in the press with his superb goal and display against MSK Zilina but last night he really struggled to make the most of his talents. A poor Villa and a strong Hamburg defence made him look pretty limp but when he was needed he showed the killer instinct of a great striker. Moustapha Salifou either played a good ball into the fray or (more likely) a very bad shot and it looked like it bounced off Delfouneso and into the goal, but on slow-mo inspection you see the Fonz clearly turn his body and play the ball goalwards as best he can at split second notice. To be able to move faster than the fans can watch it and score a goal from it is a talent that can’t be taught; this lad has a bright future, provided he doesn’t let the publicity go to his head.
It was already the opinion of most fans that the Hare is not good enough for a team aiming for top four and the last two performances have done little to change those minds. Harewood had a number of chances last night and every time he seemed unable to think on the spot and fluffed them all. He also struggled to get into useful positions when balls were played in, finding himself out on the wing far too often and second to the ball almost every time on crosses. Sadly for Marlon, that is very likely to be the final nail in the coffin of his Villa career and (provided we sign a replacement) he will be following Luke Moore to the Baggies in January most likely.
The youth team starlet has been very impressive and earned himself a call up to the first team last night when Gardner went off injured. He played some great football at times and looks an exciting talent but he does need some moulding from MON and the lads to stop his chase-the-ball-no-matter-where-it-goes syndrome.
So as you have read, it was a largely dismal performance from Villa’s wannabes last night and not an encouraging sight for the next round but do bear in mind Villa fans, this will not be the team that plays in future rounds and it is also a team that don’t regularly play together, so don’t give up and start supporting Birmingham City just yet (as fucking if!!!).
Martin Banks writes on the new Aston Villa Blog.