Pete Sixsmith provides a grim read after his return from Stoke. All is not lost, and we are still in control of our destiny. Yet we have Chelsea up next and we’re not playing well.
Read on for Pete’s analysis of a game we were within seconds of losing and where a last-gasp effort kept us in touch with safety
STOKE CITY (a)
Southampton was two points lost, Newcastle was two points lost, West Brom was two points lost. This was, without any shadow of a doubt, one point gained.
The three games mentioned were all games that we should and could have won. Had we done so, we would be sitting pretty with 37 points and would need but a draw to maintain our place in the Premier League money-fest, while our avian rivals would be contemplating trips to Burton, Blackburn and (hopefully) Boro.
As it is, we occupy the third relegation place, a point behind the Magpies and a point above the Canaries and, had it not been for a late, late penalty by the admirable Jermain Defoe, this increasingly desperate situation would have been a whole lot worse.
It was a clear penalty. When Mark Hughes, never a manager to understate, uses the phrase “soft penalty” you know that he is really referring to his own player as well as the referee. Cameron allowed himself to be sucked in by the experience of Defoe and he clearly brought him down. Craig Pawson had a clearer view of that than he did of the same player’s foolish handball in the first half and, after a moment to gather his thoughts, pointed to the spot.
Several Stoke players complained and Defoe had to hold his nerve. That he did and that he stroked the ball home with aplomb is a testimony to his nerve and also shows that he has the cojones unlike a certain Yohan Cabaye, whose cojones should be placed on a butcher’s slab and sold as sweetbreads
The 3,000 supporters, who had grown progressively quiet as the minutes ticked away erupted and when Pawson blew the final whistle seconds later, erupted even more when “news” of a Palace equaliser came through. Alas, like Ken Livingstone’s grasp of history, this proved to be false and they had stolen a point ahead of us.
The point was made even more welcome when somewhere on the M62, we heard that Arsenal had hung on to down the Canaries and that three defeats in a row had plunged Norwich into second off bottom. But any rejoicing at the misfortune of others was tempered by the worries that our own performance engendered amongst the travelling faithful.
It looked like we were a nervous and worried team on Saturday. Here we were against a Stoke side who had had three awful results, were playing an inexperienced goalkeeper and who had recalled the tubby Charlie Adam and the lanky Peter Crouch.
That they should have won is not a point to argue. Their record signing Gianelli Imbula, missed a golden chance to wrap it up in added time, choosing to shoot feebly instead of giving it to the impressive Crouch (“good touch for a big man”).
From that, we broke away and Yann M’Vila played the only penetrating pass that we conjured up all game to allow Defoe to draw a careless challenge from the otherwise impressive Cameron. From a disastrous defeat to a possible life saving draw all in the course of 30 seconds.There were no outstanding performances on Saturday. Defoe was the best in show for us and, while others gave plenty of effort, there was a lack of craft and guile and we rarely looked like breaking down the City defence.
Passes went astray with Lee Cattermole being the main culprit and the defending was shaky. Kaboul was never comfortable against former team mate Crouch and, while there may be a case for awarding a free kick against The Lanky One in the build up to the goal, I would be more concerned about Kaboul’s difficulty in getting off the ground.
Lamine Kone was easily turned by Arnautovic, allowing the Austrian to drill the ball home and the man who I consider to be the best signing we made in the window looked vulnerable at times. Hopefully it was a blip.
Kirchhoff also looked edgy and never asserted himself as he has done while Khazri gave a repeat of his Carrow Road performance and was replaced by Watmore. Both men looked as if they had maybe reached the limits of their performance levels and the manager has some serious thinking to do over the next few days. Does he stick or does he twist and bring in Larsson and Watmore to start? Answers on a postcard please…….. Oh, and let’s see the back of N’Doye. He managed to get himself booked for persistent fouling despite not arriving on the pitch until the 60th minute. Lens is a far better option.
It was our final visit to The Britannia Stadium as if/when we return next season, it will be the Bet365 Stadium and it might just have those windy corners filled in. The weather fluctuated from the traditional cold and wet to a rare quite warm at the end. The stewarding was good natured, the seats we had offered a splendid view of the game and the terraces of Stoke, although the traditional view of The Municipal Incinerator was hidden by the overhang of the roof.
Uttoxeter was enjoyed pre game; I had a fine coffee in The Bear Coffee Company, had a short conversation with UKIP members canvassing on the streets and had a pint of Bass in The Vaults, a proper pub which also sported a UKIP poster. I suppose if you are in the middle of England and someone from Lichfield is classed as an immigrant, those in the purple ties and cardigans would appeal.
We still have it in our own hands to dodge the bullet for the umpteenth time. The two home games are crucial as is Villa’s quest to go out with a bang rather than a whimper. This time next week could be ecstasy or it could be agony. As always, we shall see.