Looking Forward



Premier League

Saturday 18th August 2001

With only about four months having passed since Villa last visited the Lane, you would have thought that much the same would happen as did in April.  However, quite a bit has changed over the summer on both sides.

Neither club has broken the bank in terms of money spent, but there has been considerable activity on the transfer front.  The Moroccans have come to Villa Park via South Coast Big Club and Cov, upsetting some people on the way, while Mellberg has arrived from Santander.  With Schmeichel putting his old bones between the sticks, it will be interesting to see if his reflexes are as quick as his wish to blame someone else when things go wrong.  

Schmeichel was brought in to replace the departing David James, who has gone East to West Ham.  He will be challenged by Peter Enckleman - the Finnish keeper - who at 24, is the long term hope for the goalkeepers gloves for the Villans.

Having lost Southgate to Boro, the middle of their defence might suffer, but Mellberg is supposed to fill that gap.  The presence of Barry and Alpay could give height and strength there, with Delaney, Wright and Staunton to fight for the full back slots.  There is little depth in the defensive area, which might make it hard for Villa later in the season, when suspensions and injuries hit.

In midfield, Villa find their strongest area.  Boateng is a dynamo who wins the ball there, alongside the busy and nippy Hendrie, who should be producing good performances regularly now.  The two Moroccans will add some flair, although neither is as consistent a goalscorer as they should be from midfield.  Old stagers Merson, Stone and Taylor provide a mixture of flair and power, with the latter two only really there for cover these days.  And that of course brings us to the mercurial David Ginola.  Not a regular in the first XI at Villa, he has a love hate relationship with John Gregory and often comes out second best, even if he starts a match.  He has the gorgeous ability to win matches, but also to disappear from the match.  Gregory obviously has a view on David, but that view has lead to bust-ups and we can only hope that he does not treat Ginola with the contempt he did at WHL last season, where he limited him to 10 minutes at the end of the match.

It is in attack where Aston Villa failed last season with goals being hard to come by.  The purchase of Juan Angel was meant to solve this problem, but he has found it hard to acclimatise - finding the net only once, against relegated Coventry City on the last day of the season.  The old (hung like a) warhorse, Dion Dublin is still there and usually notches against us, but alongside him, there is only 21 year old Darius Vassell who has any experience and he doesn't have much of that either.  The proposed transfer of Bosko Balaban from Croatia was still in the process of completion when I wrote this, but he is an unknown quantity for both Villa and their opponents alike.  Whether he would be able to fit in straight away will be seen.

Villa try to play the ball through midfield and up to Dublin as quickly as they can.  They also use the wings, with the wing-backs pushing on, so Spurs will have to be alert to the fact that they have to close them down swiftly.  If they can frustrate the Villa midfield and move forward, they may have success against the claret and blue defence, especially if they can work the ball around to get Carr or Ziege to put in some crosses that Les or Sergei can get on the end of.  Villa have the bonus of having played some competitive matches under their belt in the InterToto cup, although they have not had all their players available for those games.

The 0-0 draw of last season's respective game might not be repeated, but on balance, a draw will be the most likely result with Spurs possibly without some of their players through injury (as usual) ...

PREDICTION : -  Tottenham 1  Aston Villa 1

For more information on the opponents and their history, including full result history of matches between the two teams, click here.



Tottenham   0   Aston Villa   0                                  (Half time score 0-0)
Saturday 18th August 2001
Weather : -  Dry, warm, humid.
Crowd : -   36,059
Referee : -  Mr. D. Gallagher (Banbury)

Spurs:             NONE

Aston Villa:    NONE


Spurs:  Sullivan; King, Bunjevcevic, Doherty; Ziege, Taricco (Perry 81), Clemence, Freund (Anderton 67), Poyet; Ferdinand (Iversen 20), Rebrov. 
Unused Subs : - Keller, Davies.

Aston Villa:  Schmeichel; Delaney, Alpay, Mellberg, Wright; Merson, Hendrie, Boateng, Kachloul (Stone 81); Angel (Ginola 63), Vassell (Hadji 74)
Unused Subs : -  Enckelman; Barry


Spurs:       Clemence 5 (foul play), Doherty 42 (foul play), Ziege 49 (dissent)

Aston Villa:     Boateng 36 (foul play), Delaney 48 (foul play) 


This really did not seem like a start of the season match, more like one from the other end.  Two teams pitched against the other for the second time in three Premiership matches and not discernibly different from the last time.  The width of the woodwork denied both sides, but there was little to choose between the two clubs who looked set for mid table placings.

The first half was more Spurs than the visitors and although there was a lot of possession, there was very little created with it.  With Les losing everyone the sweepstake by going off within 20 minutes of the match and handing the captain's armband to Poyet, it made for a difficult time for Spurs to score.  There was an early chance when Schmeichel fumbled (as he did on a few occasions), but Les blasted over the top.  Ziege was denied by the keeper's legs on the edge of the box, Poyet drove against a leg when beautifully set up by an Iversen back-heel and Rebrov twice failed to capitalise on half chances when alone in the area.  Spurs were creating the chances, but were unable to put them away.  Even Clemence's inventive chip from 35 yards was off target.  With both Iversen and King putting headers wide, the first half was a moral victory for Tottenham.  They had shown some of the passing that they had displayed in pre-season, but had failed to make any incisive inroads into the heart of the Villa defence.

After the break, it was a different story as Spurs appeared to wilt in the humid conditions.  Villa, honed by five competitive InterToto matches, turned it on and started attacking Spurs down the flanks.  Vassell, Alpay and  Kachloul wasted free headers, although the Moroccan did manage to loop his header against the post with Sullivan scrambling in vain after the ball.  It showed that Hoddle is right to be seeking a physically dominant centre back, although I am not sure that any more than 6 million for Richards will be money well spent.  It could be worth trawling the foreign leagues for talent in that position as we do need an uncompromising centre back.  Bunjy did well, but looks lightweight and when he comes up against Duncan Ferguson or Viduka, he could be lacking.  Vassell almost connected perfectly with a low cross into the box from the right wing, but managed to steer his shot over the bar from close range.  A real let-off for Spurs.  

King had failed to get on the end of a low cross to the far post, but Schmeichel spilled the ball and Ledley's follow-up shot was blocked for a corner.  However, the linesman had flagged for a free-kick to be awarded to Villa for a foul on the keeper !!  This was not the start of the weirdness surrounding Mr. Gallagher, who has been quoted as saying he doesn't like Spurs.  Taricco went flying into the box and went flying as Kachloul challenged him.  The fans were furious, but on first sight, it looked like Taz had gone to ground too easily and the ref might have been right on this occasion. The entrance of Ginola could not have been weirder.  Chanted at by his own fans ("You Fat B*****d") and cheered by the opposition supporters.  He did little in the game, save for a couple of low crosses whipped in that nobody got on the end of and a curling shot from 35 yards, but it was at this time that Tottenham pushed in the other direction.  It all culminated in what would have been a match winning goal ... had the crossbar not intervened.  Out on the left, with the outside of his boot, Rebrov had hit a cross to the far post, where Doherty was lurking.  He hit it first time on the volley and it thundered against the bar before rebounding out into play again with no Spurs player near.

A fair result in the end as both teams won a half and each came close to scoring without actually doing so.  Neither keeper was overly troubled and although Spurs did pass well, there was little cutting edge.  We will have to hope that they will be able to present a solid performance at Goodison on Monday.






It's nice to know some things never change.  10 minutes in and Les goes down under challenge from Alan Wright and limps off for treatment, returning moments later, but trudging off to hand over the armband to our Deputy Vice captain Gus Poyet.  To say that Ferdinand is injury hit is like saying that Darren Anderton is the paragon of fitness.  I hope he doesn't stay on the treatment table for too long, as he did have a good pre-season and with Teddy struggling with an Achilles injury and Armo out until October at least, we are running out of forwards already !!

As for the match, it was mainly stuck in midfield, although the space that was afforded to those who could play was made the most of.  Merson pulled all the strings for Villa and created most that was good about their play, while I am glad we didn't sign Kachloul.  The Moroccan midfielder spent most of his time trying to get Spurs players booked or hitting his crosses over the heads of his forwards in the box.  I know he didn't cost anything, but even that looked too much on today's showing.

Spurs could have scored in the opening minutes, when Les hit a bouncing ball over the bar in the second minute after Schmeichel flapped at a corner.  There were few other direct attempts on goal by either side in the half, with Spurs starting the brighter.  Poyet would have had a contender for "Goal of the Season" had his shot not been blocked by a defender; he had been set up when Taricco broke along the right wing (which he did quite often), played the ball inside to Iversen on the edge of the box and he flicked the ball backwards to Poyet, who drove the ball in low, but to no avail.

The only other thing to note in the first half was the referee, who appeared to be on some productivity bonus for booking players.  With Clem booked in five minutes for two tackles, it looked like he or at least someone else, would not last the 90+ minutes.  Indeed, Boateng and Vassell came closest and it was one of those occasions when the ref realised that he had already booked them, so would just have a quiet word instead of a second yellow.  Professionalism seems not to have made refs any better at either decision making or consistency.

Spurs appeared to have had a very good half time interval or the trip to Greece last week had taken more out of them than the management might have thought, as following the restart, they looked very lethargic.  Taz left with cramp; Doherty was pushed up front as he was struggling at the back; Ziege looked leg heavy - probably he hasn't had too many matches on the trot for a while.  Meanwhile, Villa picked up the pace of the game and created some good chances, but failed to hit the target with any of them.  Vassell and Alpay both headed over when clear and a low Delaney cross into the six yard box was volleyed over by Vassell when it looked odds on he would score.  Their best chance came after a furore over a tackle on Taricco in the Villa box saw the official wave away appeals for a penalty.  Kachloul seemed to make contact with him, but as always with these things, if the ref thought it was a dive, why didn't he book Taz ??  When the play switched to the other end, a corner was hit towards the edge of the area and the same Villa player got a free header from 15 yards out.  As it looped up, it looked like it was going to drop in as Sully back peddled, but luckily it bounced back off the upright.  Villa were equally as luck in the closing minutes, when Rebrov expertly picked out Doherty on the right of the box and the Irishman's volley swerved onto the bar and crashed back to the edge of the box.  It was a super strike and Spurs were unfortunate not to steal the points at the end, but it would have been an injustice as we did not play well enough to earn them.  

Sullivan had a lazy day really, with little to save, while the back three played solidly.  King probably stole the man of the match prize from Poyet, who tired towards the end.  Ledley looked cool at the back and used the ball well, as did Bunjevcevic, who settled into the pace of the Premiership very well.  He did bring the ball out from defence a couple of times and rarely wasted a pass.  Doherty did well on the right of the defence, where Taricco took every opportunity to get forward in front of him.  Ziege did the same on the left, but his crosses did not have anyone on the end of them.  Poyet was the hub that everything revolved around, but little came off today as Villa stuck four men across the back and got midfielders back quickly to cover.  Clemence did the hard work in midfield and used the ball sensibly, although his attempted chip over Schmeichel was not quite as bad as Geoff Thomas' for England against France all those years ago (have you stopped laughing at that one ??) that went off for a throw-in.

Freund was Freund.  Un-noticed, but quietly effective, picking off Villa attacks and giving the ball short to someone who could set something up.  He will be used in this "destroyer" role this season I feel, now that the defence is sound enough to cope among the three of them, but he will give extra protection in front of them.  It was upfront that most concerned me.  Rebrov again was dropping very deep and the two chances that dropped to him in the penalty area, he fluffed.  One was a high volley, which he didn't connect properly with and the second a mishit.  We need him to get his fair share of goals this season  and while it is early days, he could have opened his account today. Iversen was the replacement for Les and linked well, but didn't get into those positions that Gary Lineker used to.  Even though it's an in-born trait, perhaps we can persuade him to forsake Walkers to come in and do some striker training !!  I would have liked to have seen Davies brought on as he would have provided some runs from midfield and brought some energy there.

However, a draw was a fair result and one that I thought would happen.  For all the good passing in pre-season friendlies, this was the real thing and there will be harder matches than this to face.  Starting with Monday at Everton, where we usually do well, but their away win at Charlton was a confidence booster and that will now be a toughie.


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