Nick Sellers wiith a post match report on the spirit crushing defeat at the hands of Aston Villa…
Before we delve into the negatives, I think we should at least applaud the positive style of play we adopted for the game. Without trying to draw too many comparisons to our 3 years under Paul Lambert, some of our build up play was very, very good indeed. The passing and general movement brought back memories of not just the Lambert era, but great City teams of the past who had given supporters a style of football that was, at times, very easy on the eye. Jonny Howson for instance, who has faced criticism in many quarters of late, played out of his skin for the most part.
As hard as it may be to take anything positive from the game, I still think our overall play was much, much better. Before Agbonlahor’s winner, a point would’ve been quite welcome and the least that I think we deserved. We were far from boring, quite the opposite. Another plus for us is seeing Grant Holt get back on the score sheet. Yes, it was a penalty and no, it wasn’t a goal from open play, but it was coolly taken under some huge pressure and it was so, so richly deserved.
The mood going into half-time was very upbeat. The general build-up play was excellent, but as has been the case time and time again this season, the end product just wasn’t there. Still, we were nullifying the Villa threat and the boisterous home support were rallying behind the troops. For all the nerves and tension in the days leading up to the game, they seemed to have perished thanks to the improvements we were showing.
Sadly, it was Villa who came flying out of the blocks and sure enough, Agbonlahor gave the visitors the opening goal. Now would come the real test of City’s mental attitudes, and in all fairness they did respond well and kept trying to carve out an opening. But with final balls going astray and Villa holding firm, you couldn’t help but feel pretty hard done by considering we were, in many ways, the better team at that point.
Then came some Snodgrass trickery -fine performance by the way- and Joe Bennett couldn’t contain him, instead having to tug him down and concede a penalty. Holt’s conversion of it vanquished two rarities from this term; A Holt goal (only his 6th of the season) and the penalty itself, only the second of the whole season if I remember rightly.
What I was particularly pleased with, and what I’ll try and take away with me from this day, is that even after drawing level, we still kept getting forward trying to take the whole game. We didn’t settle for the point, knowing the enormity of the importance of attaining the extra two, and kept plugging away.
But Villa were by no means out of the game yet, and after a couple of scares Agbonlahor duly followed up with his spirit-crushing second; The goal which all but keeps Aston Villa in the Premier League. To be fair, their recent form has totally merited their stay in the top flight. Paul Lambert has taken something of a gamble with all the youngsters in the side, but after some harsh lessons about the unforgiving Premier League, they’ve come back stronger for it. Next season, they shouldn’t find themselves in the same bother.
There was STILL hope even after that, as City tried to get the ball forward. A dangerous cross saw Guzan race off his goal line, only to fall short as Holt pounced to get his noggin on the end of it. It flew JUST wide of the post, agonisingly, and from here you knew the game was up.
Now, onto Chris Hughton. In some ways I feel for him, because people will forever compare him to Paul Lambert and that isn’t totally fair. They’re two different managers who take two different approaches. Nothing wrong with that, right?
What I find surprising is the initial reactions from the game which state that we are “boring” under him. Today, we were the opposite of boring and the play was much improved, so it’s such a shame that the game ended in the way it did because, lets be fair, he abandoned his usual prudent playing approach and let the likes of Howson roam with freedom to attack and get at the Villa back line.
However, results just haven’t been good enough, and honestly, I just don’t know how much more time he has. Despite the improvements today, it looks to be too little, too late. Two wins in, well, forever, just isn’t good enough. Hughton himself will be the first person to tell you that, but if it just isn’t working, perhaps we need to look at other options next season. Who knows. I’m honestly trying to keep a brave face on things and not make a knee-jerk reaction to a defeat, but with Wigan’s victory closing the gap to 3 points now, and with Man City to play on the final day of the season, we are in big, big, BIG trouble.
So, what happens now? Well, obviously we need to beat West Brom to have any chance, but even then we could still be in the mix on the final day depending on how other results go. At this stage it will be between ourselves, Wigan (Who you just KNOW will fancy their chances of yet another great escape), Newcastle and Sunderland. Previously I thought the poor runs of the North-East clubs might just keep us out of the running by proxy, alas we’ll now have to wait and see how Sunderland get on against Stoke on Monday night. Wigan still have a game in hand too, which sods law says they’ll win at a canter. Actually, we could be on for another “Surival Sunday” if this keeps up, with four teams in the mix for the drop.
If we’re to have any chance now, we need to beat West Brom, and furthermore we need to keep up the positive, attacking style from today. If we were to go down, at the very least we’d go down fighting.
Squeaky Bum time? You bet.