|Blues 2 Aston Villa 0 .. Match Report
by Richard Barker
A Villa 'keeper making a huge error and gifting a goal to Blues who go on to win the Second City derby? Heard it all before? Yes. Getting tiresome? Never!
It's becoming a football inevitability now - just as Arsene Wenger will never see a controversial decision involving his players, and just as Alex Ferguson will always moan about the referee's timekeeping, it seems that a Villa goalkeeper will always gift Blues a goal, and that Blues will always come out on top against their neighbours.
Following two dismal performances away at Crystal Palace and West Brom, Steve Bruce knew he needed a response from his players here - but kept faith with the majority. Following the humiliation at The Hawthorns, only Salif Diao dropped out (and out of the sixteen too) being replaced by Darren Carter. Villa, meanwhile showed their attacking intentions by picking basically 5 defenders (I include Gareth Barry as a defender), 3 defensive midfielders (I include Lee Hendrie, as I don't really know what else he does), a decent attacking midfielder in Nolberto Solano and their 4th choice striker in Luke Moore. It was enough to send shivers down the spine.
The first half was a war of attrition rather than anything else. Both teams worked hard, but did precious little to really trouble their opponents - certainly early on. For Blues, Walter Pandiani swivelled and hit a half volley wide, before Carter had Thomas Sorensen scrambling across goal with a low drive that flew just wide. Pandiani and Carter both had further chances, but they weren't particularly troubling for Sorensen, whose day was going so well at this point.
Villa only really got a grip in the game late on in the first half, and nearly took the lead following some controversial decisions from referee Mike Riley. It looked as if Matthew Upson had timed a challenge on Moore superbly, but Riley adjudged it to not only be a foul, but to be a booking too. As Solano feigned to take the free-kick about 12 times, Damien Johnson did his job and ran out of the wall on each occasion to close it down. Solano was even told by Riley to get on with it, yet when Johnson did so again, he was booked for encroachment. The ball was marched ten yards further forward, and Solano hit the post from the free-kick.
The Villa fans celebrated, and I'm not sure whether it's that they thought it had gone in from the other end of the ground, or maybe because they've still yet to see their side score a Premiership goal at St Andrews, that they've taken to celebrating hitting the woodwork now?
Either way, it was 0-0 at half-time.
Blues seemed to step up a gear in the second half - perhaps it was the plan to wear Villa down in the first half, when they'd undoubtedly come at Blues, and then step it up as they tired in the second period.
Seven minutes into the second half, Blues took their customary lead against their neighbours. Pandiani found Emile Heskey who evaded a couple of challenges and hit a shot towards goal. It wasn't especially powerful, and was low and easy for Sorensen. In fact, it was a nothing of a shot really, and I can only best describe it as being similar to the shot Clinton Morrison had at Villa Park in December.
Those kinds of shot are clearly the way to beat Sorensen however, as just as he had done at Villa Park, the Danish 'keeper was slow to get down, and when he did get there, managed to somehow allow the ball past him and to loop into the empty net. Cue delerium in St Andrews, as Blues fans were literally shell-shocked that this kind of thing had happened AGAIN. It's just funny now, it really is.
For the rest of his afternoon Sorensen was treated as a hero - his status now possibly exceeds that of Peter Enckelman. The Blues fans sang 'Super Thomas Sorensen', 'Nice one Tommy, nice one son, nice one Tommy, let's have another one' and his each and every touch was roared. When there was a break in play and he turned towards the Blues fans, he had literally thousands of them waving at him - whether he turned to face the Kop, Tilton or Main Stand. And finally, when Heskey was named as the sponsors' man of the match late on, a chorus of 'Give it to Tommy!' went around the ground.
Anyway, Blues were 1-0 up and Villa knew they had to try and get more decent players than just Solano on the pitch, so threw on Carlton Cole and Darius Vassell, with Thomas Hitzlsperger not far behind. This meant they were slightly more threatening going forward, but more exposed at the back.
In fairness, Blues kept pushing and kept fighting and kept winning battles. This was epitomised when Stephen Clemence went in for a 70-30 tackle with Villa's Hitzlsperger. Clemence won the tackle, but suffered a really bad injury and had to come off. He looked very, very pale and in a right state when he came off, but I guess he'd have argued that he still won the tackle. He was replaced by Mehdi Nafti who came on and started winning tackles of his own.
Villa pushed on without creating much, whilst Blues brought on Julian Gray for the excellent Stan Lazaridis - who caused Villa problems all game - and then with moments to go brought on Morrison for Pandiani to run the clock down a bit more.
If people thought the action had finished, however, they had to think again. No one had told Villa's comedy defenders. Martin Laursen clearly wanted to follow in his compatriot Sorensen's footsteps, and so cleared the ball straight at the lovely Olof Mellberg's back. Mellberg, not content with his assist two years ago for Enckelman's goal laid the ball off using his back, straight into the path of Gray. Gray didn't get a rush of blood to the head and swing a foot at the ball - he calmly took a couple of touches and slotted the ball past Sorensen to make it 2-0 with a minute to go.
So, that was that - Blues had beaten Villa. Again. And a Villa 'keeper had made a telling contribution. Again. There was still time for Cole to miss a glorious chance when he was denied well by Maik Taylor. There was also time, as there always is, for Lee Hendrie to make himself look like a prat, by squaring up to Mario Melchiot and Morrison late on. Whether he took exception to Melchiot's tricks on the touchline to really humiliate Villa, or whether it was the inevitable cocky remark from Morrison, either way he decided to try and fight anyone he could - something that continued into the tunnel.
Blues were a lot, lot better today. They weren't outstanding or anything like that, but they were committed, strong and comfortably did enough to put one over that lot from the other side of the Expressway once again. Unlike at Albion, there were no shocking individual performances - there were quite a few good performances, and then Upson, Heskey, Lazaridis and Damien Johnson turned in excellent performances. At the end of the day though, Blues could probably turn out an Under 8's team against this lot and still win easily.