I had a lot of things on my mind after this match. Aaron does a great job with the match previews and summaries, and I usually agree with most of what he says. That said there was so much that went on in this match I had to post my own summary. This match encapsulated exactly where this club is at and where it needs to go.
An optimist might be willing to accept a draw on the road as a decent result, especially after going down to 10 men. I could not disagree with this more. This match was two points dropped my friends. Blackpool had lost five matches in a row. They shipped five goals to Everton last week. FIVE! Yet the Villa only managed one.
I will give Blackpool credit in that they were aggressive closing down on the flanks. Whenever Young, Downing, or Gabby had the ball in a wide position there were two tangerine shirts closing in ready to smother any would be cross. Villa had 8 corners, most of them were created in this manner. One has to wonder whether this was part of Blackpool gameplan as well considering how awful Villa were on their corner kicks. The majority of these deliveries weren't remotely in the vicinity of a claret shirt. The main culprit was Ashley Young. I don't know why he is allowed to keep taking corner kicks, he's awful. I'd rather have James Collins make them. Sure we'd miss his aerial threat, but if Ash is going to keep kicking the ball 10 yards past the far post, or swinging the ball out of bounds does it really make a difference?
The one encouraging sign from this game is that Villa are doing a much better job keeping the ball. Their possession was 50%, which away from home against a good footballing side like Blackpool is very good. This has been a continuation of a trend that shows the team is starting to take to Houllier's tactics. Under Martin O'Neil the only way Villa could score at times was to counter, there was no Plan B. As a result Villa were always hunkering down, everyone was running around chasing the ball, and they struggled to break teams down. Hopefully as they integrate new tactics and players successfully, they will start to create more chances. Villa also played better in the second half after Makoun's sending off. It served as a wake-up call and Villa looked more likely to get a late winner than Blackpool did in the waning minutes.
Brad Friedel- Was solid but rarely tested. Not at fault for the Blackpool goal.
Ciaran Clark- Was huge today. I am still concerned about his ability to play left back against pacier, more skilled wingers. To be fair it is a new position, and suspect he will improve. He is rarely out of position and rarely turns the ball over which is why Houllier rates him so highly. I still think center back is his best position, and his distribution is superior to Dunne and Collins. Clark captained the Villa reserves last year when they won the reserve league, as well as England at the youth level. I'd love to see him wear the armband down the road. (Think I just talked myself into a Clark jersey for 2011-2012)
Richard Dunne and James Collins-The equalizer where there was total confusion in the box not withstanding, they were both rock solid.
Carlos Cuellar- Was playing well enough until he managed to injure himself when he made his first rash challenge of the match. It is concerning that he is going to be out for three weeks at minimum. With Dunne and Collins in form, and Nathan Baker coming off suspension freeing up Ciaran Clark to play Center Back if needed Villa are ok there. There is very little cover at Right Back at the moment. Eric Lichaj is on loan at Leeds United for a month, and Owen Hargraves, I mean Luke Young is still hurt, so if anything happens to Kyle Walker who's next? Chris Herd, the Aussie Emo kid? Can Nathan Baker play Right Back?
Kyle Walker- For me he has one discernible skill on the pitch: he can run at defenders. Given the fact he has scored twice I guess you could say he can finish, so fine two discernible skills. His crosses reminded me of myself at the driving range when I practice my chipping and try to hit the little basket. So yeah they were awful. He's frequently out of position, and given that Villa play with two wingers we really don't need him bombing down the sideline to create width. Given the way Villa play I think a fit Cuellar or Lichaj is a better fit.
If you follow me on Twitter (@JChalifour), you know that I have been calling him the next Glen Johnson. After a few good moments, the legend-makers who pass as journalists are already building him as they are wont to do. He's young and can still improve, but if they are entertaining a 10 figure fee in the summer to wrest him from Tottenham that would be a mistake.
Stewart Downing- Did a great job in the first half creating chances, but was wastefull. He was beating his marker repeatedly down the touchline but it would be nice to see him cut inside once in a while.
Nigel Reo-Coker- Had a typical Nigel Reo-Coker game in the first half, winning balls and he linked up nicely with Makoun on the goal. Like the rest of the team he disappeared in the second half up until the sending off. He's going to have contract talks with Houllier soon. When Houllier first signed on he stated he wanted to sign him to a long term contract, but Reo-Coker reportedly wanted wages around £50,000 a week. The only way I can see a deal being done is if Reo-Coker in the last six months of his current deal and now able to talk with other clubs, has gauged his value on the open market and reality has set in.
Jean II Makoun- Like Reo-Coker was instrumental in the goal, but overall this was not his best performance. Before his moronic challenge that lead to his sending off, I wouldn't have been opposed to Robert Pires coming on for him. Villa were struggling to create chances, and Pires did look good in the Cup against Blackburn and scored a goal. His lack of pace would be less of a liability against a technically sound, but not particularity athletic Blackpool side.
Michael Bradley- I thought he was OK in his 21 minutes on the pitch. He might have been slightly off the pace a bit, but that's common for any sub coming into a match. He did make a nice block in the box late on, and was getting forward as Villa were seeking an unlikely winner. With Makoun suspended I'd look for him to get a runout. Next week against Blackburn is ideal given his physical presence. That was sorely needed when the Baby Villians were basically mauled at Ewood Park in a 2-0 defeat. He is hard to tell apart from James Collins at times. One of them needs to grow out their hair or get a tan.
Gabriel Agbonlahor- He played better overall today and took his goal well. Like Stewie I'd like to see him cut inside more instead of hugging the touchline. I'd like to see him play a little more like how Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan play for the USA, cutting inside and making dangerous runs into the box. They're not natural wingers either.
Ashley Young- He's an enigma for me. Whenever he is not on the pitch he is clearly missed. That said in his central role he doesn't score goals, he doesn't create a ton of chances for the strikers, and he often drifts out wide anyway. His delivery on corners and free kicks is too awful for words.
Darren Bent- Had no impact today. The fact that Villa couldn't get any crosses into the box, and wasted every set piece with awful delivery so it's hard to blame him. Bent is not the type to start deeper and get the ball like a Rooney or Tevez. We all knew this coming in so its pointless to expect him to start now. In the second half this match was screaming for Marc Albrighton. The team looked lethargic, and if nothing else Marc will run all over the pitch. He also has a better chance of delivering an accurate cross or free kick. Then again having him and Walker on the same side of the field might create some slight defensive issues.
Emile Heskey- Clearly brought on as a Plan B in the second half. I would have liked to have seen him up top with Gabby in a 4-4-2 with Ash moving back to the wing. That was mooted by Makoun's red. He looked out of form as he was offside repeatedly. He was immense for us earlier in the year, but it was unrealistic to expect that goalscoring from to continue. I hope he moves on in the summer so Nathan Delfoneuso who didn't dress today won't be blocked by the erstwhile veteran.
As it stands right now Villa are three points above the drop. I'm still not worried as the rest of the schedule is very favorable, and other than Carlos and Luke Young the squad is healthy. Still today's match, and the Fulham match last week were points dropped and I for one am not pleased.