History will say that Alex McLeish got everything right. A potential banana skin tie at Bristol rovers, McLeish took no chances. A heavily experienced team showed that a good run in the cup is imperative. However, a closer look revealed that his tactics for the game was more dire than even his critics usually attack him for.
Early on it was impossible to tell, for a neutral that is, which team was languishing at the bottom 4 of league 2 and which was a mid table premiership side. Rovers made Warnock look foolish twice and the former England left back had to feign an injury to cover his embarrassment. Then the home side had the first chance. But the midfield player chose to play safe with a soft shot rather than risk inaccuracy with a blast.
Villa began to control the game. When it got bodies into midfield, Rovers couldn’t get near them, but alas, Villa weren’t using a midfield. It was all defence and attack, hoofing aerial balls hoping to spring the disinterested Bent via a mistake from the centre half.
The only player on the field that looked likely to score, other than a lucky or decent strike from outside the box was Albrighton as Bent was sluggish and Heskey usually doesn’t score. Albrighton hit a shot from a corner, but it went for a throw in. Heskey, did come close. His header was poked over the bar by the Rovers keeper, Poke.
Overall it was a lot of hoofball and sloppy short passes, but Villa looked comfortable. It was anti-football and a little embarrassing to be honest. Albrighton was doing a great job on the right wing. That was one good thing and Ireland was making intelligent moves to give Warnock gaping space down the left, luckily for Rovers his shooting and crossing wasn’t good.
Villa finally took the lead. Heskey won the ball, as he had done all game. He laid the ball off to Ireland, who passed to Petrov. Petrov played a perfect pass through to ALBRIGHTON, who had run in front of the left back and put his shot through the legs of Poke. Off the ball, Bent had tripped the centre half, but the ref either didn’t see it or thought it wasn’t relevant to the play. Finally, Villa had midfielders where they needed to be.
Albrighton had a Marco van Basten chance, but again spurned it when he really had time to control the ball. Rovers had another shot well saved by Guzan.
At half time, Agbonlahor came on for Heskey. Unless it was an injury, the wrong player was taken off. Rovers came right at Villa from the kick off and should have been level. Substitute McGleish mis-hit a shot as Villa’s defence was all at sea. Villa settled down after absorbing 5 minutes of pressure and with Heskey off, they were playing a better possession game.
Villa made it 2-0 when AGBONLAHOR out muscled his defender, slipped passed a second and hit a perfect side-foot shot inside the post
Midway through the second half, Collins was hurting and Clarke moved back into defence with Gardner going on in his place in midfield. Rovers almost immediately pulled a goal back, Villa’s defence looked all over the place, but Rovers were ruled to have handled in the box. CLARKE received the ball moments later in midfield, with no pressure he jaunted through the Rovers midfield, shimmied the defender before unleashing a shot that went wide of the keepers outstretched hand and inside the side netting for 3-0. It was a nice touch for Villa fans to see all 3 goals were from Villa academy players.
With Villa 3 up and 10 minutes to go it would have been a perfect time to see another new face on the field. Andreas Weimann would have been a welcome sight, but McLeish only put Bannan on and disrupted the formation. Weimann would have been a straight swap for Bent.
Just as everyone on the Villa side were getting ready to pat themselves on their collective backs calamity struck. Dunne, possibly thinking he hadn’t made a huge error yet ,as he had done for Sheff Utd in a similar FA cup game in his Man City days, decided to play a blind back pass to Guzan and with the tired McGleish struggling to get back he was in the perfect position to lob Guzan to make it 3-1. Buoyed by the goal, the fans sprang to life and urged their team forward. Warnock handled in the box and McGleish was ready to make this game interesting from the spot. Guzan brilliantly blocked his penalty and Rovers’ dreams were dashed.
Gardner almost became the 4th academy star to score late on with a shot that Poke tipped around the post after a similar run to Clarkes.
In the end, Villa won the game, but not many friends.
Man of the match – Albrighton, despite poor shooting, he got a goal and some very nice crosses.