Right, let’s get on with it. Stuck in from the start. No messing about. No elaborate patterns or attempts at profound insight. Simple, straightforward and direct. The ability is there and maybe after Wednesday the confidence, the understanding of what is needed, inside.
And then there’s the football. This evening’s match, despite being tucked away with its afterthought of a kick-off time, is one of the most crucial of the season. Three points against one of our closest and most determined rivals would mean so much, especially after our recent faltering league form. It’s too early to tag this as ‘must win’ but victory would be a phenomenal boost, defeat a telling blow.
Villa are amongst the most organised and redoubtable opponents in the league, if not the most loved. They are to be respected but not feared. They defend deep, throwing layer upon layer of bodies in front of their goal when the pressure is on. We have to move their central defenders out of their comfort zone with fluent movement, as we don’t have Lennon’s pace to take up undue amounts of their attention. JD, use your mind and get inside them. I have to say, frankly I doubt if their defenders had sleepless nights worried about Peter Crouch. So look to Luka and Hud for not just chances but goals too. One in a low scoring game could be enough.
They need to get Bentley moving too – I presume he’ll play after his recent revelation that if he pulls his finger out, he might actually get somewhere. He needs support, with an option to pass inside because he can’t beat a man easily. More of those curling firm crosses to the edge of the 6 yard box. Bale, young as he is, we are already looking to him for those bursts into the box. His stamina is good and he can deliver those later in the match, just as defenders are tiring. Again, this could be match-turning if he gets it right.
Meanwhile, Villa might lap it all up, hanging back and hitting on the break, which is the way they like it to be. Milner is so effective in these situations, with Young and Agbonlahor’s speed mean we cannot lose focus for a moment. O’Neill will have pointed them in the direction of Corluka and Dawson with their lack of pace, although Corluka dealt with Young superbly after coming on as sub for Zokora last year, the best demonstration of the art of full-back play that I have seen for a long while.
In the away fixture, once we got going in the second half, we dominated totally but scored only one, from a defender at that. No second chances, keep the tempo high, right from the first whistle, and the win will be ours.