Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur – 20/10/13 Result 0 - 2

The Dolphin's Brain By The Dolphin's Brain, 21st Oct 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/2e3adggt/
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Sports>Football (Soccer)

Aston Villa took on Spurs in the Sunday afternoon game this weekend. With an inspiring win in the last home game against Manchester City and a first-day victory away at Arsenal, fans were hoping for another form-confounding result. This is the story of the match.

Starters

Villa’s recent history against Sunday’s visitors has been poor and while expectations may have been buoyed by the win against Manchester City in the previous home game and Tottenham’s inexplicable loss to West Ham, the realists at Villa Park expected a tough encounter. However, and surprisingly, perhaps, a Villa win would have put them above Spurs on goal difference and into eighth.

As Lambert explained after the match, the decision to start Christian Benteke on the bench was dictated by the fact that he had trained for only four days in the previous month. This gave Kozak a further opportunity up front, meaning Baker coming in for Clark at centre back was the only change from the starting XI that garnered a point away at Hull.

With the hype surrounding his recent performances for England, and the advantage of youth on his side, Andros Townsend was guaranteed a starting place for Spurs. However, the poor home performance against the Hammers earlier in the month led to four changes with Naughton, Dembélé, Defoe and Eriksen making way for Chiriches, Sandro, Soldado and Holtby respectively.

Opening Exhanges

Whilst Spurs dominated possession in the first 30 minutes of the game, this was primarily in their own half. They lacked penetration, mostly as a result of a combination of poor movement from Soldado up front and poor vision and execution in midfield on those occasions he did seek to get in behind the Villa defence. Forward passes by Spurs were limited and, even then, possessed of a wayward, aimless character. Townsend was ineffective during this period, largely due to excellent work by Luna on the left side of Villa’s back four and Agbonlahor and Delph who tracked back to double-up.

Villa squeezed the space in midfield by playing a high line. This enabled the front six to harry and press Spurs; Lloris made several errors with his clearing kicks and Tottenham’s back four looked nervous and hurried. Villa created several half-chances out of this pressing game with both Agbonlahor and Weimann taking snap-shots, neither of them troubling Lloris.

The Compulsory 'Deride The Referee' Section

Villa’s tactics enabled the occasional break, with Agbonlahor using his pace to good effect. Chiriches had to resort to pulling back the Villa striker early on, which should have led to the game’s first yellow card. Inexplicably, Phil Dowd failed to reach into his pocket, which infuriated the home crowd. The fans’ mood was not improved when Westwood did receive a caution, correctly, for a tackle on Holtby that caught the Spurs man above the ankle and left him in a heap on the floor. With characteristic humour, Dowd was informed in no uncertain terms by the Holte End that he was ‘too fat to referee’! When cynical fouls on Delph by Paulinho and Holtby that followed led to free-kicks but no further punishment, the ire of the Villa supporters only increased.

Fans have long memories and Dowd is infamous among the Villa faithful for a number of decisions - sending off Joe Bennett in the Norwich home game in 2012/13 and Chris Herd the season before in the home defeat by the Baggies to name but two. He will forever be recalled as the official who failed to send off Manchester United’s Vidic in the Carling Cup final in 2010 following the defender’s allegedly cynical ‘professional foul’ on Agbonlahor in the fourth minute. The resulting penalty, converted by Milner, proved insufficient as United fought back to claim the Cup 2-1. Dowd’s failure to reduce United to ten men allowed them to retain a twin threat up front, ultimately allowing for Michael Owen, the striker most likely to have been sacrificed by United, to equalise on 12 minutes and United to dominate possession in the second half. Rooney, ironically a replacement after 42 minutes for the injured Owen, ultimately scored the winner, but it was Dowd’s decision-making that had the greatest impact on the outcome at Wembley.

The second of these infringements on Delph led to a delivery from Villa’s left by Westwood that had Lloris scrambling to save low down with his deflection almost striking Vlaar and narrowly avoiding what could have been a rebound into the net for the opening goal.

Breaking The Deadlock

The turning point of the first half came in the 31st minute with Townsend’s first real impact on the game. He managed to find enough space to whip in a cross with his left foot. Guzan was wrong-footed by the presence of three Tottenham strikers and in covering the left half of his goal was unable to get across to the right once the ball evaded the attentions of the Spurs forwards. Villa’s defence lacked organisation on this particular occasion with Vlaar the only member of the back four dropping back and consequently playing the Spurs players onside.

The celebrating away fans were then responsible for an incident that has become a significant post-match talking point. A flare was thrown, hitting the assistant referee at the top of his back, narrowly missing his head; he was lucky to avoid significant injury. Surely the time has come for such serious misdemeanours by fans to result in points penalties to the teams? Only that way can it be expected for clubs to take responsibility for their fans.

The goal was a fluke and certainly not deserved. Neither team had created any clear cut chances and Villa’s general discipline and organisation had frustrated Tottenham’s expensively-assembled, much-vaunted title-chasers who had, up to that point, carried no real offensive threat. This was a pattern that continued for the remainder of the first-half with Villa having the majority of shots, albeit with none finding the target.

Paulinho became the first Spurs player in the book following another foul on Delph. Had he been yellow-carded for his earlier offence, a thigh-high challenge having been completely wrong-footed by the Villa midfielder, this might have been his last contribution to the game, which would have changed the whole complexion of the match.

It wasn’t until the 47th minute that Guzan was required to make a quality save low down to his right; Townsend was the Spurs player who picked up the ball 20 yards out and struck the ball with is left foot. Lambert would have been relieved that the Villa didn’t go into the break two goals adrift.

Momentum Changers

Villa continued to work hard in the opening minutes of the second half, but struggled to create any real openings. It wasn’t until the introduction of Benteke, who replaced Kozak just after the hour mark, that the home team began to look threatening. The Belgian striker had an immediate impact, winning his first aerial challenge, and he came close with a couple of headed attempts shortly thereafter. The atmosphere in the stadium was changed by the substitution and Benteke inspired an improvement in Villa’s approach.

The ‘against the run of play goal’ is a footballing cliché, but they happen all too often and Tottenham’s second was just such a goal. With Villa exerting sustained pressure for the first time in the game and looking the more likely to be the next to score, Spurs conjured some space for Soldado who finished calmly beyond Guzan. Given the constant disparaging remarks about ‘long ball football’ by Villas-Boas and others, it is ironic that the Spurs goal came from a punt from Lloris in the Tottenham goal that nearly reached the Villa penalty area. It was Villa’s failure to deal with this – Vlaar’s attempted headed clearance should have been more decisive – that allowed Soldado, Paulinho and Holtby to put together a few good passes leading to Soldado being one-on-one with Guzan.

End Game

Once Villa went behind in the first half, more space opened up for Spurs to exploit. Whilst they did little positive with this prior to the second goal, the last twenty minutes of the game saw Townsend, in particular, creating more problems. Villa remained positive but Spurs had greater freedom and could have won more comfortably in the end as the game became more stretched. With the match entering added-on time Villa were denied an opportunity to get on the score sheet from the penalty spot, referee Phil Dowd waving away Weimann’s claim that he had been deliberately impeded. Whilst television replays seem to show the Spurs defender to be at fault, and as commentators are fond of saying, “I’ve seen them given!” the Villa forward was probably being a touch optimistic.

Progress?

It has been going to be ‘Spurs year’ for a while now and the hype this season is familiar. Historically, Spurs have, more often than not, flattered to deceive. Of the four teams to visit Villa Park this season, Spurs were the least effective as an attacking force. Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester City all played better football and posed a greater threat than Tottenham could manage. On this form, I see Spurs fighting with Everton and Liverpool for 5th – 7th come the end of the season. I still envisage the top four being Arsenal, Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs.

Villa’s first eight opponents this season have included Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Spurs, all serious top-four contenders and, as it turns out, the current top five in the table. A return of six points from those five games is as good as can have been expected on a pre-season examination of those opening fixtures. It could have been more impressive; the home defeat to Liverpool was a trifle harsh on the balance of play and the Chelsea result was a travesty (Ivanovic should have been sent off before he subsequently popped up with his goal and Villa should have had a late penalty from Terry’s glaring hand-ball). The next match, Everton at home, offers little respite and any points one should be welcomed as further indications of progress.

The equivalent games last season (substituting Southampton away for the Hull fixture) produced a total of three points; a 4-1 away victory at Carrow Road. The record would have read played 8, won 1, lost 7. The goal difference would have been -15. We would now be sitting in 19th place.

With only one game so far this season against the teams currently sitting below them in the table, an away win at Norwich, Villa’s position could be seen as a little false at present and it is the results against the likes of Sunderland, Crystal Palace and Fulham that will, ultimately, determine where Villa will find themselves come May. Ignoring the teams who are likely to fill the upper echelons, there are 24 matches that should be the main focus for Lambert’s developing team and from which an average of 2 points per game should be the target.

In the displays so far this season fans have recognised a higher level of effort and hard work and a greater defensive resilience from the team. Some of the summer signings show promise; Bacuna has fitted in well at right back and Luna on the opposite flank seems to be improving. Benteke has a world cup berth to play for and is likely to remain a threat to any defence. However, Weimann seems to be off the boil at the moment, Westwood has yet to hit the level of consistency he reached last season and Kozak has not justified his price tag so far, although it is early days for him. The majority of fans, I suspect, still would identify midfield as the area of the team that would benefit most from further investment or, perhaps, a change of personnel. Delph has been the most improved player but would benefit from a free role further forward where he can be more creative and do more damage. That might require Westwood and Sylla sitting, protecting the back four and linking the play, as opposed to utilising El Ahmadi whose inconsistency still plagues him.

All text and images © The Dolphin’s Brain 2013 except where indicated otherwise.

Tags

Agbonlahor, Andros Townsend, Aston Villa, Benteke, Match Report, Paul Lambert, Phil Dowd, Premier League, Tottenham Hotspur, Townsend, Villa-Boas, Weimann

Meet the author

author avatar The Dolphin's Brain
I am a mixed bag of lawyer, vegan, environmentalist and sports nut and my writing is likely to be passionate, of-the-moment articles on a wide variety of topics. I also write the occasional poem!

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