Once again, Robert Chapman steps smartly into Sixer’s outsized boots to cover for the great man’s latest act of truancy, preferring a squashed ball international to a somewhat lower scoring game of real football at Villa Park …
The last time I wrote a match report for Salut! Sunderland was after the debacle that was Swansea away. I think I said after that 4-0 defeat that we would be a banker for relegation.
I had met up with my good mate John Marshall for that match and arranged with him to do the same for this fixture. But I had seen enough against Man City and Stoke to suggest that maybe I had been premature with my prediction.
In the Swansea report I intimated that Cattermole would be our key player if we were to have any chance. I have definitely changed my mind on that and am now of the opinion that keeping Wes Brown fit will be the key to survival.
I arrived in Birmingham at midday to find the German Frankfurt Christmas Market in full swing. New Street was heaving; I decided to have a look at the German delicacies on offer, as I needed something to eat prior to a liquid lunch with John. I am partial to a good quality sausage but not keen on the traditional German mustard accompaniment.
Anyway I decided to give up on this search when I noticed at the first stall that the only German delicacies on offer were Ostrich or Kangaroo burgers! Ba humbug – I retreated to Gregg’s for a steak slice and sausage roll and then headed to the Wellington on Bennett’s Hill.
What a great place this is. A real ale paradise with 16 different beers on offer.
Their website beer board is on display and you order your pint by number. Needless to say it was full with a mixture of Sunderland fans and Brummies’ escaping the Weiss beer and opting for the cheaper and in my opinion more enjoyable British option.
I had just met up with John when Peterlee brothers Mick and Gerard turned up. From the start Mick was convinced that we would win today and by the time we all left for the train to Witton we were all coming to that opinion! The 4.2% Mad Goose was obviously having some effect. If we had got stuck into the Old Gruesome at 6.8%, who knows what we would be predicting – Weiss bear and Europe perhaps!
Arriving at Villa Park I was surprised by the team selection. I didn’t think there would be any change from the side that played at Stoke with the exception of perhaps bringing back Cattermole. I know opinion is divided about him, but he remains an influential player within the squad.
Take away the reds – that might take some time and require a heavy loader – ed – and I am sure that the records will show that we perform better when he is in the side rather than out of it. He just needs a brain implant to stop him going to ground when he tackles!
As for the match I thought we always had the edge. I like Agbonlahor but he has lost that yard of pace and is no longer the player he was. Benteke was a shadow of the player who demolished us earlier in the year. In hindsight Villa would probably have been better cashing in last summer. Consequently, for a home side I thought they lacked attacking options and could understand why their crowds have been disappointing this season.
I do like our new style of play. Being patient and maintaining possession ensures that the opposition has to work hard. Ki has taken his chance and deserves that holding midfield role. However it is obvious that the return of Wes Brown has transformed this side.
As well as being our best defender by a mile he brings out the best in John O’Shea and together they formed a solid barrier that kept Villa at bay.
Agbonlahor had a half chance header, but apart from that we seemed in control and hadn’t made any stupid mistakes at the back. Just before half time Ki delivered a great ball to Bardsley at the back post, who headed back across the goal only for Giaccherini to scoop it over from two or three yards.
Even I, with a bad back, dodgy knee and belly full of beer, desperate to go to the loo, would have put that one away! He will never ever miss an easier chance. The lads were applauded off at half time. They deserved it, though mine was to record that we had managed to finish the half with 11 men.
In the second half we managed to maintain our discipline, kept our shape and minimised the Villa attacking threat.
Once again the best chance came to us, when Borini headed a Giaccherini cross against the bar. Chances for both sides were few and far between but if there was to be a winner it should have been us. I am sure Gus Poyet’s priority was to come away with at least a clean sheet, but I am sure that he will be disappointed on reflection not to get all three.
Villa fans booed, Sunderland cheered, a good result and it was back to the city for a couple more beers before getting our trains home. The German Market was still going strong and the Wellington was packed, so it was a quick dash to The Old Contemptibles near Snow Hill Station. Another great Birmingham pub.
I like Birmingham and its pubs. Let’s just hope we are visiting them with Villa and WBA as the opposition next season, rather than Birmingham City. With a fit Wes Brown and that Old Contemptible spirit we have every chance.
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