A few enforced changes greeted Coleman's first game in charge, and a bit more enthusiasm and life was displayed, but the now customary reticent goalkeeping and a strawky deflection meant yet another winless game for the Lads despite Grabban reaching double figures.
Here we go again – another new manager, another new beginning, and hopefully one that goes somewhere. I’m not alone in being more than pleasantly surprised that Chris Coleman decided to take the job, and his appointment has given the whole place a bit of a lift, a fact proven by the demeanour of the vox pop interviews on local telly and the general positive attitude of the national media towards his arrival Every little helps. Apparently, Wales isn’t far off announcing a national day of mourning following his departure, and after turning on the Christmas lights in Newport, he was up the road and saying the right things on Wearside.
Look, if a positive initial interview was an indication of a bright future, then we’d have won the Champions League under Di Canio by now, but he did come across well. He’s had to work with the limited resources that come with managing a relatively small nation, and we could be a microcosm of that. Perhaps, as a member of the Really Nice Teeth Club, he can work out how to make Rodwell play. Perhaps, as a centre half in his playing days, he can sort out the defence. One of his statements was that he wants to get the place rocking and rolling again, and I look forward to that long-forgotten situation.
Something he’s walked straight into is the fresh injuries to Watmore, Wilson, Williams, and McNair, and the suspension of Catts. Nowt like an easy start, away at Villa. Thanks to police instructions about our arrival time at Villa, we had only 45 minutes in Lichfield and barely time to exchange pleasantries with local Mackem Duncan. That meant an hour and a bit to digest the seriousness of Watmore's injury and the passing of Rodney Bewes, aka Bob Ferris. Whatever happened to the Likely Lads?
Once we'd survived the beer hoying and sliding about (wait until yer mam has to wash yer strides, lads!), we were off.
Matthews O'Shea Browning Oviedo
Gibson Gooch Honeyman
McManaman Grabban McGeady
Kicking to the left of the visiting fans, in our universally unpopular and totally unnecessary dark away kit which m ade Matthews and McManaman virtually invisible at the far side, it was quickly apparent that they were bigger than us in defence, which made Grabban's ground-based game difficult, and the midfield job of Gooch and Honeyman harder in the face of their larger counterpart, SAFC reject Conor Hourihan. Despite this, things weren't looking too bad in the early exchanges, as Grabban generally kept away from their centre halves and was almost set away through on a couple of occasions. Until the tenth minute or so, that is, when a fairly innocuous cross from our left saw Ruiter take a step back rather than attack the ball when.even a punch would have done. Result? Mebbe Matthews could have been more alert, but he was probably expecting more of his keeper. Easy goal from the back past, and we were in the familiar position of being behind to a soft goal. Aw bugger, as we say most matchdays.
For the next twenty minutes or so we competed without threatening the home keeper too much, but we didn't let the home side cause Ruiter too much bother either. Oviedo was again showing his attacking intent, but seemed at times to be ahead of his attacking marras in his thoughts. Mind, once the half hour passed, Gibson, who up to then had done an OK sort of job picking the ball up deep and spreading it (admittedly usually sideways) to a colleague, started to get caught in possession and played a few daft passes, one of which took good work by Browning and Oviedo to clear. Snodgrass, who we gave a bit of grief for for choosing Villa over good times on Wearside, looked likely to score when bursting into to our box in the inside right channel, but Ruiter did well to touch the low shot past his left-hand post for a corner. Villa had worked out that pressuring the keeper was a tactic likely to bring reward, but we protected him well.
Our main outlets were down the sides, as we played the ball out rather than punt it at Grabban's head, as he was no match for Samba (remember him ?) so Oviedo and the two Mc's,who had swapped wings, saw a lot of the ball towards half time. There was a single added minute, which Villa controlled, and we went in behind - perhaps a little unfortunately given our overall play, but to yet another entirety preventable goal.
No changes for the second half, and things repeated themselves. This time we managed only four minutes before Onomah tried one from distance. It looked fairly harmless but hit Browning's foot and did a passable impersonation of a golfing chip as it flew up up the air and dropped over the helpless Ruiter. No blame can be hoyed at the keeper for that one, but it was just another example of what luck does to you when you're on a downer.
The wide men had switched back to their original wings in an attempt to get things going again, but that goal had really knocked the stuffing out of us, and for a while Villa got right on top of things. Ruiter had to make a couple of routine saves, then gave us palpitations with a bit of fancy footwork when a hoof out of danger would have sufficed. Gooch worked himself into a decent shooting position as we relieved the pressure a bit, but his his right foot effort was over the top, and that was about the end of his evening as he was replaced by Vaughan on 65. As if to counter his more physical approach, Villa immediately brought on Jedinak. Anyhow, ten minutes later Vaughan created a bit of confusion when we crossed into the box, and Grabban cleverly hooked the ball in. Gerrinn!
Hope of something? Coleman obviously thought so, chucking on Asoro for McManaman, and the Lad caused all sorts of bother to Villa's left side. Ethan Robson replaced the tiring Gibson for the final five, Villa brought on Elmo just to wind us up, and we pressed for the equaliser that never realistically looked like coming. The added three minutes ended with us on the back foot as Villa slowed things down in our half, prevented us from getting the ball forward into any dangerous area, and it was all over. The crowd of 27,000 and a bit was mocked for being roughly the same as we get, and the ground for being roughly the same size as ours. There you go.
A tad unlucky? Not really, but there was effort, a fair amount of organisation, and the new gaffer can see what needs changing and where. Whether he has the players to effect those changes, as shown by the enforced changes to the starting eleven, remains to be seen. At least he gave Asoro and Robson (E) a chance, and the former in particular showed they were worth their chance. Had we been a team in a decent run of form, that performance would have had just that bit of extra confidence that would probably have nicked us a point - but we aren't and it didn't.
Man of the Match? Probably Grabban, despite his unwillingness to leave the ground - we know what his game is about and need to play to his strengths more often. Ten goals before the end of November is some going, even if we are still in the clarts.
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