In the middle of my raving and swooning at the wonder of the Spurs performance versus Wigan, I made a facetious remark about cosmic redistribution. To balance out all the missed opportunities and anguish, everything came right, but just in a single huge dollop of Good Stuff. The forces of the universe revealed their fundamental nature not at the Hadron collider but somewhere in the middle of N17.
But the world spins and time rolls on. Against Aston Villa we played almost as well, especially in the second half, yet nearly came away with no reward for our flowing football and total domination of the second half. Given that Villa are a well-organised side who are genuine rivals for a place in the top six, the excellence of our football and our ability to shift up through the gears after the break shows that the Wigan result may be a freak but the quality that produced it is authentic.
Villa’s pressing game stifled much of our endeavour in the first half and they were assisted by some wasteful possession. Crouch and Defoe were adrift up front for some of the time and whilst we were likely to be dangerous, at half time O’Neill would have been scheming ways of hanging on to a lead provided by a messy goal. In our efforts to block the header and rebound, the defence were pulled to the near post and Agbonlahor was fractionally quicker to move into that gap to reach a loose ball.
In the second half we upped our game and took over for the rest of the match. This was less a failure on Villa’s part to repeat the pressing and more about our collective ability to raise our game. We passed our way round their midfield and pushed them further back until they fought a rearguard action in and around their box. Lots of talk in this blog earlier in the season about resilience, and we have developed the wherewithal to respond positively to adversity rather than crawl back into our shell. This is just as significant in terms of future success as our superlative passing.
More shimmering brilliance from Kranjcar, drifting in from the left. Superb touch, inventive accurate passing and a killer shot, this could be the best £2m we or anyone has spent for many a year. I always rated him but had no idea he was this good. He didn’t get a regular start at Pompey for some of the time there. With Hud in a forward position we prompted and probed. Freidel was in good form and often in action.
Our final ball was not as telling as on Sunday. Much of this was down to resolute defending in the box, closing down the space. Crouch drifted to the far post and expected some success there but Beye dealt with him very well. Also the ball did not stick on that final touch as it did last week, when JD had one touch and bang. That extra couple of feet makes all the difference. In the battle of the wingers (see the comments section on the preview), honours were about even. Lennon did less but was still dangerous when he had some room, but Villa blocked the inside channel effectively. Milner and Young are more versatile as they work back well but as the game wore on they were pushed further and further back so their crossing threat was nullified.
Great goal from Daws. He hit it high on the bounce and kept it down well. I was so pleased for him. He’s one of the players I just like a hell of a lot. So willing and genuine, he puts his all into every match and has done well to get back into contention after his injury pushed him down the centre back pecking order. I really hope that the transfer rumours about the arrival of more defenders do not effect him. And yesterday his distribution was excellent. Bassong alongside him played well, his pace dealt with Villa’s increasingly sporadic breakaways.
We faced one of rivals for the top places and did not lose ground – that will do. More than that, we were the better team and that’s the message I will take from this game.
More about that later this week – no time as Christmas shopping beckons. Or to give it its proper title, sodding bloody christmas sodding shopping. I will be giving money to charities who stop playing electronic musak stylophone carols in the street. Turn it off and you get the cash. Bah humbug!