I feel duly robbed for having been brave and suggesting a 3-1 victory we have a perfectly good goal ruled out in a majestic first half performance that would have seen me rewarded. The more annoying thing was that the same official also waved his flag to suggest to Martin Atkinson that Jermain Defoe should be red carded for taking out James Collins with an elbow.
Collins must have thought he was concussed when he got to his feet for he could not believe that JD had been shown a straight red card. Let’s understand what happened here. Tall strapping centre back who most West Ham fans would still have in their back four flattened by the little bloke who it was rumoured won a header early on in his career – I think it was at Charlton. Standing side by side Collins might be forgiven for mistaking JD as his mascot for the afternoon. Unfortunately one of the truly ridiculous decisions that seem to get made more and more often these days by officials panicking to get decent scores from their panel.
What could have destroyed Spurs chances actually upped the performance level and the first half concluded with a session of keep ball that bordered on the astonishing and reminded me of the 1981 second half cup performance at Chelsea. This had everything but the goals but the ease with which we held the ball was an absolute joy to watch. Now Villa are not a side to set the Premier League on fire this season and even I was surprised at their starting midfield quartet but all we can do is play against that what is put in front of us and that is what we did.
We all know what Bale, Van Der Vaart, Modric and Lennon can do and recently we’ve learnt what Palacios cannot. But at Villa Park Wilson sprung back into life and played out of his skin nearly scoring as Friedel made a super save which the officials deemed to be a goal kick. It was as if Billy had had his boots returned in Roy of the Rovers.
With the exception of a somewhat subdued Bale our outfield first half performance was astounding with a top draw goal to show for our efforts. Modric saw a cross field channel and hit a fantastic pass from left to right which Hutton picked up before sending a low cross across the six yard line which Van Der Vaart nipped off Defoe’s toe passing it into the corner of the net.
It was Van Der Vaart who was running the show. Dropping deep to take the ball, linking well with Modric and Palacios and releasing Defoe into shooting opportunities. When he plays like this it is difficult to stop the team and impossible to mark all our men. Bale may well have run out of room a couple of times and struggled to cause his normal devastation but with our other weapons we can afford a quiet start from him on occasions.
Our only other doubt was Gomes. Unfortunately he began in the manner he finished at Chelsea and was lucky to not concede an early penalty when punching through Heskey. Soon afterwards a shot from Agbonlahor bounced from his hands ala Drogba and he then spooned the follow up out for what looked like an unnecessary corner. Once more he looks nervous on corners and crosses and possibly in need of a break.
We’ve seen this before from him but I am beginning to doubt whether he has sufficient of what it takes to keep goal for a “top top side.” The difficulties we have seen so far this season have cost us points and then there are the injury breaks which appear do little for the rhythm of the team.
I also felt his positioning for Villa’s consolation goal was inconclusive. The cross from Albrighton was first class and put pressure upon our defence. Collins who was now playing as an attacker was the man most likely to get a head on the ball. For me a defensive head was needed to get to the ball first for if Collins heads it Gomes has no chance. But if, like these crosses do on occasions, the ball eludes everyone the keeper has to give himself a chance to take the ball. He did neither and ends up with an element of blame for the goal.
So having played so well in the first half how did we do in the second? Unsurprisingly Villa made an immediate change and bringing in Petrov helped to turn the half in their favour. Whilst we conceded much possession we continued to play sensibly and also on occasions to play our way out of trouble when a larrup might have been more appropriate. However, this allowed us to score a second goal of exceptional quality as the ball came to Van Der Vaart whose sublime flick allowed Bale to push it on with the outside of the boot and hare off into space.
His cross field pass to Lennon allowed him a chance but he saw Van Der Vaart arriving and a square ball saw him able to guide the ball into the corner. In my Chelsea piece I talked of no one arriving to follow up on the break and this is why Rafa has scored so many. It is a natural part of his game whereas it comes harder to Modric, Huddlestone, Jenas or Palacios. Yes they can do it but not to an 8 chances out of 10.
I should also mention Peter Crouch who came on and replaced Rafa for the last 16 minutes. He did nothing up front but tracked back and marked Collins getting his head on nearly everything that was thrown into the box. As a temporary centre back he did a good jib alongside Dawson and Kaboul who were pretty solid throughout.
So a fine away win that keeps our pressure on the top 4 leaders and it certainly was the Van Der Vaart show. The difference between us with him on the pitch against it with him absent is noticeable such a talisman he has become. What he does for the others is immense, making himself available to take the ball and then give it back to them and his coolness in front of goal is worth a sack load of points.
Defoe was unlucky and will be disappointed that he did not see the game out as he would have fancied a goal from a Rafa pass. Quite how Rafa did not make the Real Madrid side amazes me for in North London we bow to his master’s voice.