SAFC get the win against my pre-match expectations. Thank God for Emile Heskey...
In what’s becoming a slightly common theme in recent SAFC matches, the opening 10-15 minutes were a scrappy encounter, with a distinct lack of real chances. The only action coming when Richardson picked up a needless booking for a foul on Heskey, when Bramble had the situation under control.
As the half drew on, both teams seemed to be bemoaning the lack of a quality in and around the penalty area, Bent failing to control Bardsley’s deep cross, and Agbonlahor unable to control a zipped ball through for the hosts.
Some controversy came when Henderson’s whipped ball appeared to strike the arm of Clark in the Villa defence, but the linesman would only give a corner. It came at the young defender fairly fast, but the arm did appear to be extended in a motion towards the ball, a narrow escape for Gerard Houllier’s men.
In the 35th minute, there was a depressing one for all concerned at SAFC. David Meyler, stepping in for the injured Cattermole, twisted his knee and collapsed in a heap when unchallenged. A bitter blow for the lad expected to deputise for Captain Catts in coming weeks. The young man from Cork left on a stretcher, and was replaced by Bolo Zenden to a chorus of "There’s Only One David Meyler" from the travelling SAFC faithful.
Only moments after that, Zenden was robbed in his own box by Downing, and when it looked easier to score, SAFC thanked their lucky stars it fell to Heskey, who rattled the bar from all of 2 yards out.
Villa dominated the half from that point on, Heskey again at fault, sending a header wide of the mark, while Ashley Young stuck to Richardson and fell over at the faintest of touches. The Villains putting plenty of balls into the box but nobody could finish, as they went into the break looking slightly the more dangerous team.
SAFC could only muster a few corners, which didn’t really come to anything significant, and despite Villa’s pressure both teams entered the break drawing blanks.
The first real chance of the second half fell to Sunderland. Elmohamady’s cross nodded back across by Bent for Malbranque, who fired over from 10 yards.
A golden chance fell to Bent soon after Malbranque’s miss. Brambles hoof up-field causing panic in the Villa area, taking the ball past a few players and the keeper, but his scuffed effort was scrambled away on the line, as SAFC began to take some control in the match.
It took until the 57th minute for Gordon to get his shirt dirty. With Gyan on for Steed, Welbeck dropping into midfield, the game became very open, and a much better watch. Ashley Young came streaming down the right to fire a shot towards Gordon’s near post which was easily gathered.
It all kicked off later in the half, almost literally. SAFC not too pleased when Villa didn’t kick the ball out for as Gyan lay on the ground in pain following a tackle, Henderson voicing his displeasure at Heskey when play was eventually stopped, and Emile pushing the youngster in the face. After consultation from the linesman and the fourth official the ref produced the red card. About right really, if you’re playing to the letter of the law.
After that the game reverted to first half form. Whilst SAFC were the better this time, a lot of half chances felt o both sides. Notable misses by Dunne for the hosts and Gyan with a long range curler skimming the roof of the net.
The 79th minute brought about the breakthrough, and proof I know nothing about football. Having slated Bardsley for weeks about his shooting from distance, he rams it right down my throat. A wide free-kick falls to Bardsley 25 yards out, and before I can say "Oh for fucks sake please don’t shoot" Bardo’s buried it in the bottom right hand corner of Friedel’s goal. Not bad for your first ever Premiership goal.
In the 85th minute, SAFC typically attempted to shoot themselves in foot with Zenden sent off for a second innocuous foul. Zenden sharing the fans displeasure by shaking the Ref’s hand, and having a go at the Villa bench, as he headed off down the tunnel.
Gyan then rivalled Heskey’s effort earlier in the game for "Miss of the Season". Clean through on goal, having out-paced the defence from inside SAFC's half. Carrying the ball all the way through to a one on one with Friedel, the Ghanaian hitman sent the ball wide of the mark. To not even test Friedel was simply criminal. Carrying the ball all the way through to a one on one with Friedel, the Ghanaian hitman sent the ball wide of the mark. To not even test Friedel was simply criminal.
SAFC weathered the inevitable storm from Villa in the 5 minutes of added time to seal a crucial win.
01 Gordon – 7/10 – Not much to do, but what he did do, he did it well.
02 Bardsley – 8/10 – Cracking strike to seal the points, and top a good performance.
03 Richardson – 7/10 – Shocking first half, much better second.
08 Malbranque – 6/10 – Didn’t look at the races tonight and rightly replaced before the hour.
10 Henderson – 6/10 – Quiet night for the lad.
11 Bent – 6/10 – Unlucky with one effort, but a lot of bad 1st touches.
17 Welbeck – 7/10 – Full of energy, and a goal threat. No end product though.
18 Meyler – 7/10 – Shame he didn’t play longer as he was having a good game. Get well soon.
19 Bramble – 8/10 – Rarely troubled at the back.
27 Elmohamady – 6/10 – Fairly anonymous.
29 Ferdinand – 7/10 – Solid if unspectacular.
07 Zenden – 6/10 – Sent off for two bookings. Didn’t do a whole lot in the rest of the time.
16 Riveros – 6/10 – On to settle nerves in midfield, didn’t have much time to be on the ball.
33 Gyan – 6/10 – Spent most the game offside, and missed a real chance to seal things.
So, SAFC record their first double of the season over someone, and quite possibly deserved after the second half performance where we were far better than Villa. We all dreamed of a Europa League spot, but we’re only 3 behind Spurs in fourth... Dare we be greedy? Why the hell not. Life is good at SAFC for now.