Latest Event Updates
Saturday 21st June was filled with glorious sunshine, a welcome relief from the heavy downpours that have blighted the cricket season to date. Fielders were able to hare around in the outfield in pursuit of balls that batsmen clubbed away. Bowlers meanwhile pushed their bodies to the limit, and even the umpires were capable of raising an index finger to signal that the batsman was out.
Sadly, this is not a reality that can be shared by everybody in the world. This is because yesterday was Global Awareness day for Motor Neurone Disease (MND), a physically debilitating illness that currently has no cure. As its name would suggest, MND affects the nervous system. As time progresses, the electrical signals that continue to be sent from the brain and spinal cord, cease to reach the body’s muscles. The terrifying consequence for sufferers is initially physical weakness, followed by inevitable wasting with the hands and feet often affected first. It is an emotionally draining experience for both those given x months to live, and for their supportive families who understand that that their loved one’s cognitive processes remain largely unchanged. In other words, the active mind is locked inside a failing body.
FACTS ABOUT MND
- Motor Neurone Disease affects up to 5000 people in the UK at any one time.
- There is no specific way of testing for MND. Doctors first have to rule out other diagnoses, before the condition can be identified.
- Similarly there is no specific cause; rather the disease has been linked to an amalgamation of genetic and environmental factors.
- Adults of any age can develop the disease. Most will be over the age of 40, but many sufferers have young families when they learn of their diagnosis.
- Twice as many men as women are affected.
Over the last couple of years, there has been increased support for MND from the cricketing community. The Broad Appeal (who can be found on Twitter @TheBroadAppeal) has been instrumental in this movement. For those of you who don’t follow the game, the Broads are renowned in the sport and have international pedigree. The father, Chris, was a successful opening batsman for Gloucestershire, Nottinghamshire and England. Son, Stuart, plies his trade as a bowler for Notts and England, while daughter Gemma is also involved with the England men’s team as a video performance analyst. Chris lost his beloved second wife to MND, and with his children’s help has used the family’s high profile to raise awareness about the terminal illness for a non-profit organisation.
As part of MND global awareness day, people were invited to take photos holding the “Thumbs Up To Cure MND” sign and making the appropriate gesture. As well as the likes of international star, Ian Bell, supporting the campaign at the 2nd Investec Test Match against Sri Lanka, it is important that recreational cricket shows a similar interest. Nottinghamshire Premier League teams Mansfield Hosiery Mills and Caythorpe were only too willing to support the initiative when the sides met at The Fieldings. The home team have a personal interest in wanting to find a remedy for Motor Neurone Disease, with a key figure of their backroom staff having observed its crushing effects in years gone by. Despite the match being played in a fierce spirit, as competitive sport should be, there was a clear sense of communion when the two captains posed for a shared goal.
On the pitch, Caythorpe bossed the game from the second ball of the innings when Gareth Curtis was sent on his not so merry way by seamer Ben Powell for a duck. Matt New couldn’t post a meaningful score for the Millers and was bowled by the accurate Mat Dowman for 20. Over the last few matches there has been evidence to suggest that Hosiery Mills have a fragile middle order. This was exemplified again as regular wickets fell to leave the hosts reeling on 80-5. However, two senior members of the squad rallied against the Caythorpe bowlers. Tom New was trying not to be handicapped by a thumb broken in three places as he defiantly scored 85 (124). It wasn’t a lone hand either as Keshara Jayasinghe took the game to his opponents by smashing a quick-fire 68*. After Kunal Manek’s maximum off the final ball of the innings, Hosiery Mills had made a good recovery to finish 213-7, and suspected that they had a route back into the contest.
This proved to be wishful thinking though as Caythorpe negotiated the opening overs unscathed, and Martin Dobson even unleashed the occasional thumping boundary shot. With the score on 66, Hosiery Mills finally made the breakthrough as Dobson slashed the blade one time too many, caught at slip for 34. This was of minimal significance though as Steve Allcoat picked up where Dobson left off, smearing the ball through the covers time and again. Rob Townsend eventually accounted for Allcoat when he was awarded an lbw decision, but not before the batsman had notched 43 from just 40 balls. Captain marvel, James Hawley, was the mainstay of the innings, and although he found early conditions testing, closed the innings undefeated on 84.
The Millers secured a solitary bowling point when Dowman fell to Jayasinghe for 22, but James Oldham eased his side to victory alongside Hawley with 16 balls to spare. Defeat for the Millers has cut them well adrift at the bottom of the league table, while Caythorpe can be contented with 116 points from 10 games, as they moved into 5th spot.
Despite the two clubs’ varying fortunes, there was only one real winner for the day, that of raising awareness for MND.
SPAIN 0-2 CHILE
World Champions Spain were knocked off their pedestal of international dominance in Rio de Janeiro last night, as they crashed out of Brazil 2014 at the group phase.
Having seen the Netherlands march on to six points before kick-off, the Spanish knew that given their own appalling goal difference, victory was of paramount importance against the South Americans.
After the nature of Spain’s defeat against the Dutch, it seemed likely that Del Bosque would alter his starting XI for the Chile match. He opted for two changes as long-serving Barcelona players, Xavi Hernandez and Gerard Pique, made way for the towering presence of Javi Martinez and speed demon Pedro. Eyebrows were raised with respect to Iker Casillas retaining his place in goal after a shambolic showing in the opening game, while Diego Costa could count himself a little fortunate to get the nod ahead of either Cesc Fabregas or Fernando Torres.
If Spain came into the match as a wounded animal, they ended it as a rawhide. They were stripped out of their skins by Chilean hunters who hustled and harried their opponents for the duration of the game. The front three of Arturo Vidal, Eduardo Vargas and Alexis Sanchez epitomised Chile’s work ethic as the attacking players regularly tracked back as well as chasing down lost causes in offensive areas.
Pressed for time and space, Spain became uncharacteristically ill-disciplined with their passing and were duly punished when Xabi Alonso squandered possession in the 19th minute. Sanchez needed no second invitation as he hared down the right flank before passing inside to Aránguiz. The next part of the move was majestic as the midfielder had the vision to square the ball to Vargas. He in turn had the presence of mind to take Casillas out of the game with one touch and stab home on the stretch.
The Spanish were rattled but did temporarily improve. Still, Alonso couldn’t atone for his blunder when he harmlessly fired over a half volley in the 23rd minute after useful hold-up play from Costa.
The Chelsea bound forward was the next culprit before the half hour as he fluffed his lines from ten yards out. The chance arose when David Silva surprisingly got above his man to flick the ball into Costa’s path, but the fitness shy hitman was caught on his heels and could only prod a shot into the side netting.
The grimaces worn by España supporters developed into full blown looks of panic when it went from bad to worse for their nation in the 43rd minute. Any keeper learning his trade understands that you must parry or punch the ball away from the danger zone. However, this message appeared to have eluded the veteran between the Spanish sticks when dealing with a Sanchez free-kick. What should have been a regulation stop became another calamitous error from the experienced Real Madrid player. Aránguiz was grateful for Casillas’ generously punched offering when he received possession to the right of the penalty spot. Although he struggled to work the ball from under his feet, the midfielder could still produce a splendidly swerving toe poked finish into the top right corner.
The Spanish left the field for half time in a daze, but the world still expected a response from Del Bosque’s men after the interval, even if only to disprove Gary Linekar’s assertion that the Spaniards “looked less like evolving than dissolving”.
No magical metamorphosis was forthcoming though, because even when the 2010 Champions carved out good opportunities, the finishing touch deserted them. This was evident in the 49th minute when Costa broke the Chilean line of defence but couldn’t gather the ball cleanly and afforded Isla the time to make a goal saving intervention.
Sergio Busquets isn’t renowned for his goal scoring prowess, and he criminally passed up the opportunity to halve the deficit at the back post moments later. However unintentionally, Costa’s overhead kick arrived at the feet of an unmarked Busquets with 53 minutes on the clock. The holding midfielder stuck out a flailing left leg and somehow shanked his finish wide of the post from five yards.
As the reigning champions threw more men forward, it seemed inevitable that Chile would have chances to extend their lead on the break. After a well-crafted move, the tireless Isla couldn’t quite put the icing on the cake. The defender managed to latch onto the scuffed drive from his opposite full-back, but blazed the ball over the crossbar.
Chances for the Spanish to force their way back into the contest were kept at a premium which is testament to Chile’s organisation. Gary Medel was at the heart of their bank of five defenders, and “the bulldog” repeatedly slammed the door shut on the opposition.
With time ticking down, Spain were forced to try their luck from range. First Santi Cazorla’s guided effort was palmed around the post with consummate ease by the eccentric Claudio Bravo. The Chilean keeper then pulled off a stop for the cameras to deny Andres Iniesta from 25 yards, before maintaining his clean sheet with another decent save from Cazorla’s free kick with 88 gone.
With Spain silenced, the race for World Cup honours has been thrown wide open. Chile will be desperate to continue their good form against the Dutch in their last group game and so avoid what seems a likely last 16 encounter against host country, Brazil. They’ll have to do so without the crocked Aránguiz, who is suspected of tweaking a medial ligament, but nevertheless have an unrivalled team spirit that makes them hard not to fancy.
Casillas 4, Azpilicueta 6, Martinez 5, Ramos 5, Alba 4.5, Alonso 3.5, Busquets 4.5, Pedro 4.5, Silva 5, Iniesta 5, Costa 4.5
Subs used: Koke 5, Torres 5.5, Cazorla 5.5
Bravo 7, Isla 7, Silva 7, Medel 8, Mena 6.5, Jara 6, Diaz 7, Aránguiz 7.5, Vidal 7, Sanchez 7.5, Vargas 7
Subs used: Gutierrez 6, Valdivia and Carmona (insufficient time to earn rating)
Man of the Match: Medel
Many anticipated that Spain would beat the Netherlands, some predicted that a draw was the most likely result, while a handful of daring punters fancied the Dutch to defy the odds by claiming a narrow victory. However, nobody could have anticipated the 5-1 humiliation that the Spanish ultimately succumbed to. Del Bosque’s team cannot even console themselves with the knowledge that the result flattered their opponents. In truth, it could have been 6, 7, or possibly 8 …
Journalists have been searching for reasons behind Spain’s surprise capitulation. Iker Casillas obviously had a night to forget, while Diego Costa didn’t put his head to best use. Speaking of Costa, since he has been introduced as the spearhead of attack, the World champions are beginning to play a more direct style. The forward is renowned for timing runs to perfection before finishing with aplomb. To have a player of such pedigree hardly sounds like a recipe for disaster, but Costa’s inclusion has caused the Spanish to change tact. Given his aerial threat and sudden bursts of acceleration, they now have an out ball. However, being tempted to find the striker quickly, also increases the likelihood of possession being turned over. Spain may still have had the lion’s share of the ball against the Dutch, but afforded their opponents more possession than is usually the case. The equation is simple: the more of the ball you have, the less you have to defend, and the fewer goals you concede. The likes of Cesar Azpilicueta and Jordi Alba are excellent marauding full-backs, but like centre-halves Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique who are accomplished on the ball, these players struggle to shirk their doubters because they are partial to the defensive lapse. A great concern will be how comfortably Arjen Robben surged away from the Spanish rear-guard for the 5th Dutch goal, particularly given the searing pace that the Chileans also possess.
Chile will be eager to capitalise on any chance that the Spanish are still nursing the emotional wounds sustained during Friday night’s mauling. While Spanish supporters were lamentable, the Chilean equivalent were jubilant as their nation set the early pace in group B with a 3-1 win over Australia. Most consider Alexis Sanchez to be the principle threat with his close ball control and mazy runs. Sanchez netted in the opening game and will be looking to add to that tally when he lines up against Barcelona teammates in Rio de Janeiro. Another stand out performer in Chile’s opening encounter was Jorge Valdívia. Aside from his well taken side-footed curling finish, the thirty year old’s technical ability was apparent from the way that he dictated play. Although the creative midfielder has a dubious reputation off the field, he is certainly allowing his football to do the talking on the pitch. The South Americans are no soft touch, particularly when the likes of Cardiff City’s Gary Medel are busy launching themselves into a tenacious tackle or two. When you pair being well drilled at the back and with the quality of being slick in attacking areas, you’re always going to have a reasonable team on your hands.
Verdict: Spain will be desperate to revive their World Cup dream and prove that their implosion on Friday 13th was caused by superstition transpiring against them. Having shipped 5 in that game, they may revert to a less expansive style and guard against the dangerous Chilean counter-attack. This is a special South American side though, and I expect honours to be even at the final whistle.
Prediction: Spain 2-2 Chile
Cuckney opened up some daylight between themselves and Clifton Village at the top of the Nottinghamshire Premier League table with a nervy four wicket win over the South Notts side. Having been set an under-par victory total of just 116 runs, the hosts had to dig deep and inch across the line with four wickets to spare.
Despite being forced to bat first by their opponents, Clifton began their innings with minimal fuss. Tim Le Breton made an accomplished start at the top of the batting card, flicking balls to the boundary on both sides of the wicket. His timing was better than that of partner in crime, Scott McNeill though, whose vigil at the crease was cut short by Lewis Bramley. A thick outside edge was held by Ian Parkin at slip and McNeill could only trudge back to the pavilion for 5. When 39 runs were on the board for the loss of only 1 wicket, Langwith Road was shrouded in a blanket of heavy rain, and the prospect of further play looked uncertain. However, after a delay of 75 minutes, Clifton resumed their innings with added gusto. While Richard Harris was busy thrashing Bramley through cover, Le Breton continued his early season form by sweetly striking the fast bowlers down the ground. In the 8 overs after the restart, Clifton were scoring at a run a ball and when Le Breton passed 50, the visitors were thinking that a big score was on the cards. When the mainstay of the innings departed for 56 though – unfortunately picking out Will Butler with a fine sweep – disaster was on the horizon. Incredibly slipping from 101-2 to 111-9 in the space of 20 minutes, Clifton’s chances of securing a positive result were dealt a hammer blow.
First the dangerous overseas player, Shreyas Iyer was snaffled up in the slips for 2, before the disconsolate Martin Weightman was adjudged lbw without troubling the scorers. Caleb Mierkalns fared no better, again falling victim to the old enemy, that is, the leg before wicket. Cuckney were truly roused now and had their sixth wicket when Alastair Walters was gobbled up by Parkin once more. Butler continued to test the outside edge and this reaped further dividends as Caleb’s brother Dan nicked off. The Cuckney skipper completely grabbed the headlines when he claimed his sixth scalp of the day (with remarkably only 7 runs against his name), as Dominic Harvey tamely surrendered for a duck. Having battled hard for 39, it was time for Richard Harris to be sent on his way much to the delight of the bowler, Parkin. Clifton were put out of their misery when finally dismissed for 115; Luke Gunn was the final casualty having made a comparatively high score of 5.
When Cuckney began their pursuit of 116, there was a sense of anything you can do, we can do better. This was because, the run chase got off to an unimaginable start with Adam Burgess being dismissed to the very first ball of the innings. Nick Langford wasn’t in the mood to have a look before playing his shots either, but did so to better effect than Burgess. The left hander was largely dismissive of the threat posed by Harvey, taking the aerial route to the boundary fence on a couple of occasions. Having made 30 (38), the number 3’s innings came to a close when Weightman’s short leg side delivery was flicked round the corner. The glovesman Walters, showed superb reactions to take a very low catch to his right.
At 43-2, Cuckney still remained firm favourites, but they began to give the South Notts team encouragement with some undisciplined batting. Luke Thomas called for a suicidal single that put Dan Wood in real trouble. Despite the wicket keeper’s despairing dive, the agile Caleb Mierkalns ran him out for just 1. Another wicket was to follow when gangly spinner Iyer received sufficient bounce from the pitch to have Butler caught behind, which left Cuckney on the uncomfortable scoreline of 64-4. Thomas and Bramley successfully began to rebuild; the latter stroked four boundaries to help release the tension. Bramley couldn’t see his side over the line though courtesy of a cool Caleb Mierkalns catch which gave Le Breton his only wicket of the day. Luke Thomas pushed his team up to 109 runs before his gritty defence was broken by the fiery Weightman for 34 (88), but Richard Bostock and Joe Hayes held their nerve to earn Cuckney victory.
After the game, Butler admitted that his side made a meal of scoring the 116 runs, but was pleased with his own bowling performance.
With Plumtree overcoming Rolls Royce with consummate ease, they are hot on Cuckney’s heels, 11 points behind the league leaders. Leapfrogged by the “Plumdogs”, Clifton slip to third, now 6 ahead of Rolls and 8 points in front of the West Indian Cavaliers.
Cuckney moved to the summit of the Nottinghamshire Premier League table with a hard earned home victory against local rivals Mansfield Hosiery Mills. With Clifton falling to a somewhat surprising defeat at the hands of Plumtree, the North Notts side leapfrogged Clifton by successfully chasing down a score of 189-5.
Having won the toss and elected to field, Cuckney’s opening bowlers were eager to apply early pressure. Although the hosts struggled to break the opening wicket partnership between Gareth Curtis and Matt New, the visitors were stifled on a wet track, and only amassed 15 runs in the opening 12 overs. The first boundary of the day wasn’t the most spectacular either, as a rare loose delivery from Tom Driver was slashed over Ian Parkin’s head at slip and raced to the fence. Shortly afterwards though, New began to find the middle of the bat more often and a sumptuous straight drive for four drew generous applause from the supporters who braved the cool May breeze. He also secured the first maximum of the day with some brutal bottom hand off the bowling of spinner, Dave France. The shot momentarily caused play to be stopped on another of Cuckney’s pitches while the ball was retrieved from the field. The hosts finally claimed their first wicket with the score on 87. Curtis, who had registered an impressive 280 runs in his 4 innings before this match, failed to time the ball sweetly throughout his innings and eventually holed out to Nic Geisler on the boundary for 31 (93).
Matt New was not deterred though and alongside his brother Tom, a former Leicestershire and Unicorns player, marched on to make 62 runs. He met his match when another flighted Ian Parkin ball lured the batsman into a tentative chip which Geisler pouched once again. The fiery derby atmosphere was then cranked up a notch when Parkin alleged that a reverse sweep from Tom New flicked a glove on its way through to the keeper. Some unsavoury words were exchanged between the pair as the bowler questioned whether the Millers captain was playing the game in the right spirit. Nevertheless, the visitors weren’t given the run of the mill in the closing overs as the innings threatened to further peter out as Smallwood (16), Jayasinghe (7) and Rodgers (4) were all late casualties. New did provide some temporary fireworks for his side with a Dilshan inspired scoop for six off the innings’ penultimate ball as Hosiery Mills posted a respectable 189 given the pitch conditions.
The early stages of Cuckney’s reply were boosted by some erratic bowling from former player, Kieron Garside. Even when the seamer put the ball in the right areas, on one occasion he was unfortunate to see the ball divert off the pad for a boundary. Openers Luke Thomas and Adam Burgess were fastidiously patient for long periods before releasing the shackles. Burgess first swatted Matt New to the rope, before Thomas went one better to punish Kyle Garside for overpitching as he registered a maximum.
Dropped catches blighted Hosiery Mills’ assault on the Cuckney batting order, and the ever busy Matt New was the first guilty party when he couldn’t cling on to an edge from Burgess. That miss didn’t prove too costly though as George Hadfield showed a safer pair of hands to remove Burgess for 23 and secure a wicket for Kyle Garside. Cuckney immediately suffered another setback when, captain for the day, Nick Langford was given out lbw without troubling the scorers. That was as good as it got for the visiting team though as Thomas was the beneficiary of another two drops. The first was an incredibly sharp chance; the fielder palmed the ball up in the air, but his despairing dive couldn’t quite propel him close enough to the ball to take the catch. With Thomas on 76, Kyle Garside will be more disappointed with his missed caught and bowled, as again the ball just wouldn’t stick in the palm.
Thomas capitalised on these spurned opportunities to earn his second ton of the season, a largely majestic 100* which consisted of 5 fours and 4 sixes. He received more than adequate support from wicket-keeper batsman Dan Wood too, who proved the pitch didn’t have too many demons in it, by scoring 57* at more than a run a ball. Wood secured the victory with a cut through point as Cuckney eased over the line with 22 balls to spare.
After the game, I caught up with the Millers’ Gareth Curtis who insisted that his team were beaten by the better side, but would rectify matters next weekend against Ordsall Bridon.
9 minutes of madness fire Hull City to Wembley semi!
Fringe forward, Matty Fryatt rounded off an excellent day for everybody associated with the Tigers as the hosts cruised to a 3-0 victory over Sunderland in the FA Cup 6th round. Other second half strikes from Curtis Davies and ex-Black Cat, David Meyler, ensured that Hull reached the semi-final of England’s biggest domestic cup competition for the first time in 84 years.
Although both teams occupy bottom half Premier League positions, neither seemed deprived of confidence in a first half of honest endeavour and increasingly expansive play. Sunderland, having suffered Wembley heartbreak in the Capital One Cup final only a week ago, began confidently in possession, but it was Hull’s first foray into opposition territory that almost produced the game’s opening goal. After 4 minutes, Maynor Figueroa picked the ball up on the left wing. His seemingly innocuous cross sailed over Oscar Ustari’s head in the Sunderland goal as he helplessly watched it rebound off the woodwork.
The Tigers looked to build on their almost good fortune. With 9 minutes on the clock, the wily Sone Aluko teased his way through the visitors rear-guard only to pull his left-foot shot well wide of the target.
Moments later, Ahmed Elmohamady and pantomime villain Lee Cattermole became embroiled in fisticuffs when the home player tumbled too theatrically for the tough tackling Wearsider’s liking. Any abuse handed out by Cattermole was ultimately ill-advised though as the midfielder’s afternoon would be one to forget.
With 18 played, Sunderland carved out one their only opportunities in the match. Neat combination play between Phil Bardsley and Emanuale Giaccherini eventually resulted in a low driven cross from the former. The finish didn’t match the delightful build up play though as Ignacio Scocco blazed over from just 10 yards out.
The pendulum swung back in the favour of the home team and Fryatt, having already netted twice in the FA Cup this season, will only himself be able to answer how he didn’t add a third to that tally in the 25th minute. A deliciously whipped right-wing cross was begging to be headed home, but the forward couldn’t convert. Having escaped the attention of his marker, his diving effort missed the left hand post by inches.
There was to be a greater Hull City culprit than Fryatt however just after the half hour mark. Having magically turned away and been caught by Sebastian Larsson for a penalty, there was nothing bewitching about Aluko’s strike from 12 yards, a tame spot-kick that was comfortably saved by Ustari.
Some serious pouring through the history books has to be done to find the Tigers’ only previous experience of a Wembley FA Cup last four tie. Going into the break at 0-0, this would have been ample motivation for the home team’s players as the people of Hull were desperate for another London date to add to their diaries.
There was little evidence of it having the desired effect though, the second half a slow burner. Spaces began to emerge as both sides pressed for the opening goal, looking to counter the opposition with both speed and quality. Sadly, the quality wasn’t forthcoming and both managers pondered turning to the cavalry on their benches, the ineffective Yannick Sagbo hauled off for George Boyd.
The former Peterborough United player’s introduction was a positive one. In the 62nd minute, no Sunderland player tracked Meyler’s surging sprint from midfield. Cutting inside onto his left foot, his cross-shot couldn’t quite be converted by Boyd who had John O’Shea for close company.
The staunch resistance was finally broken with 68 gone though when set-piece specialist Tom Huddlestone planted a free-kick onto the head of the towering Curtis Davies. Having found his own scoring boots of late, he rose majestically and the powerful header soared into the top-left hand corner.
There was twice the reason to be jubilant shortly after as midfield maestro Meyler pounced on a blocked Cattermole clearance to punish his former employers. Running through on goal unopposed, there was plenty of time to overthink where to strike the ball, but the Irishman had the presence of mind to roll his shot past the despairing Ustari into the bottom left-hand corner. The celebration that followed was a memorable one. Alan Pardew had a sore head thinking about it.
At 2-0 with 18 minutes left, there was no looking back. Unfortunately from a Sunderland perspective neither did Cattermole. Blindly side-footing the ball towards his own goal with 77 played, it was silver service for a player of Fryatt’s calibre. Making the most of his unexpected fine-dining experience, the 28 year old collected the ball on the edge of the Sunderland box, picked his spot and watched the net ripple with satisfaction.
There was almost time for a fourth when Meyler – uncharacteristically losing his cool – swung wildly at a chance from 25 yards but the miss proved academic.
There will now be further blood, sweat and tears for those in black and amber stripes as they seek an elusive cup final. Next up: a galvanised league one Sheffield United side in a fiery Yorkshire derby on 12th/13th April. In a year that’s seen Hull announced as the capital of culture for 2017, some cultured football may just help them attain the Holy Grail in May.
Hull City (4-2-3-1): McGregor, Rosenior, Chester, Davies (c), Figueroa, Meyler, Huddlestone, El Mohamady (Quinn, 81), Aluko (Koren, 67), Sagbo (Boyd, 58), Fryatt.
Unused subs: Harper, Bruce, Faye, Henderson.
Scorers: Davies (68), Meyler (72), Fryatt, (77)
Sunderland (4-2-3-1) Ustari, Bardsley, Vergini, O’Shea (c), Dossena, Cattermole, Colback, Larsson, Scocco (Borini, 67), Giaccherini (Johnson, 67) Fletcher.
Unused subs: Mannone, Celustka, Cuellar, Bridcutt, Ki Sung-Yeung.
Referee: Mr C. Pawson
Man of the Match: Davies
Another Christmas slump sees the Villans slip to a forth consecutive defeat.
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. It is an opportunity to mark baby Jesus’s birthday, relax with family and tuck into Mum’s finest pigs in blankets. If you’re an Aston Villa fan however, the festive period has lost its shine ever so slightly. Few need reminding of the carnage of Christmas 2012 but in case you were too busy gorging on mince pies, the following video may help jog the memory.
Since the beginning of advent this term, Villa have accumulated just 3 points from 5 Premier League games, a largely fortuitous win on the road at Southampton back on December 4th . Defeat at a combative, if not bulldozing Stoke City outfit last Saturday and a spineless home performance against Crystal Palace on Thursday, has left the Brummie fans calling for the head of Paul Lambert. Sure, Villa are missing the influential presence of Ron Vlaar, the goals of Christian Benteke and long-term injuries to the likes of Jores Okore and Charles N’Zogbia have been unsettling but countless problems remain unsolved. It is my purpose to draw those to the surface.
1) “The lads are doing just fine …”
says Paul Lambert time and again. It’s a great pity that the fans’ bank balances are not looking quite so healthy. Over the festive period the games come thick and fast, requiring the spectator to shed out £70 in 2 days should they attend both the Palace and Swansea matches. The pattern of play is dour, a passing sequence regularly beginning with Ciaran Clark, finding its way to Fabian Delph before some 20 passes later arriving back at the feet of goalkeeper, Brad Guzan. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the England national side who haplessly fail to unlock the door of opposition defences at major world tournaments. What arguably aggravates the home fans even more than the mundane playing style though is the manager’s stubborn refusal to admit that his team were not good enough. There are a finite number of times the same clichés can be used, and patience is wearing very thin.
2) Monotonous Midfield
Barry Bannan secured a move to Crystal Palace in the summer months and in his absence, several Villa players have been rehearsing his signature over-hit Hollywood passes. The usually neat and tidy Ashley Westwood has been the main culprit sending set pieces harmlessly over attackers’ heads while inexplicably picking out opponents. The former Crewe man admitted that he had not “hit the heights” of his debut Premier League season in mid-November and a sensational sweeping strike against West Brom aside, his performances have been lacklustre.
Delph meanwhile has continued to establish himself as one of Villa’s better players with his no-nonsense tackling style and marauding midfield runs. Even he has found himself stifled of late however, Villa too often camped outside their own 18 yard box for him to make a positive impact. When the team are in possession, he seems hurried to manufacture something and is quickly becoming accomplished at losing the ball when looking to dribble past an opponent. Against top half teams it’s been no picnic just to keep the ball either, the Villa defenders harangued by forwards when they’d rather have ample time to hand around a basket of salmon and dill sandwiches.
Lambert prefers to play with a midfield 3 and because of this it is disconcerting that Villa have the 2nd worse passing percentage in the division. With the extra man in the heart of midfield, possession should be quickly claimed and more easily recycled. However, Villa still struggle to keep the ball unless it is being rolled along the back line. You’d be hard pushed to find many worse passers of a football than Yacouba Sylla and Karim El Ahmadi. The pair, renowned for their willing industry, can make sideways balls look troublesome and although the latter does weigh in with the occasional goal, is finding himself unpopular among the Villa ‘not so’ faithful.
3) Where’s the width?
As already suggested, Lambert favours selecting a robust midfield 3 and this can hinder any threat in wide areas for the claret and blue. The Scot has fiddled about with the formation throughout the season, initially preferring wing backs in Bacuna and Luna before reverting to 4-5-1/4-3-3 systems, when flaws became exposed in their defensive capabilities. In the last couple of fixtures, a more conventional 4-4-2 formation has also been trialed without success. Marc Albrighton has returned to the team on the right side of midfield with the goal-shy Andi Weimann slotting in on the left. Having suffered from various ailments over the course of a most miserable 24 months, Albrighton is showing glimpses of quality that earned him praise during the Martin O’Neill reign. He’s direct, happy to swing in an early cross or equally eager to knock the ball past his opposite number. Teaming up with the marginalised Matt Lowton down the Villa right seems the solitary source of attacking threat at this moment in time.
4) Shoot on Sight Policy
Aleksander Tonev joined Villa with high hopes having been recommended by fellow Bulgarian and former Villa captain, Stiliyan Petrov. His first few months in Birmingham have been most forgettable though and is fortunate that a montage of his most embarrassing goal attempts is yet to have been created. In principle, a shoot on sight policy is no bad thing; keeping the goalkeeper on their toes particularly during the winter months may force the odd mistake. It is essential to hit the target however. Currently it is only the Villa ballboys being overworked as they retrieve his wild drives from the Holte End rafters. In Tonev’s defence, he’s not the only player to send his shots closer to the corner flag than somewhere between the sticks. Delph is occasionally over-zealous in pulling the trigger when disgruntled murmurings start up around the ground. Weimann too has been known to send his goal attempts into orbit but is hardly flying high right now.
5) Post-Boxing Day Sales: All Beards Must Go
Villa have been far from razor sharp and though unlikely, their poor performances may have something to do with a sudden growth of facial hair. A trio of regulars have sported a rugged complexion this season but the macho look has failed to strike any fear into their opponents. More is known of summer import, Antonio Luna’s beard than his defensive credentials thanks to the endeavour of the parody twitter account @LUNAS_BEARD. Nathan Baker is another to have braced himself for the cold snap by pulling up his winter furs. Whether it has made the no-nonsense centre back less streamlined is difficult to say, but Baker is two yards short of the speed needed to keep pace with the Premier League’s finest. The third and final under-performer to have let nature take its course is Andi Weimann. Having signed an improved summer deal, the wing-forward is yet to recapture his spark that saw him form a fearsome partnership with Benteke last season. Weimann anticipated my warning and decided that a fresh face was needed for the Palace match but still couldn’t find his scoring boots in the loss to the Eagles. The Austrian wide-man volleyed at Speroni when he had time to take an extra touch before ballooning over a cut back from just inside the area.
Nobody was expecting immediate revolution as was nobody anticipating consistency with Villa. However, having seized a get out of jail-free card at the end of last-term, it would have been pleasing to see the Villans make their way around the board unscathed and collected their £200 for passing go. As it is they’ve struggled to deal with the rigours of the property market and the price of selling key personnel over the last few seasons has proved an immensely costly one.