Villa 0-0 Pompey
Sun 22-04-07, 4pm
After the victory over Newcastle at Fratton last week could we build on this at Villa Park today? In a way we did as we came away with a point after a hard earned 0-0 draw.
Only illness kept Sean Davis out meaning Niko Kranjcar came in for the only change to last weekend's side. Despite a groin injury during the week Benjani was fit to play, playing in a wide right position with Kanu as the lone ranger. Glen Johnson had recovered from injury but had to settle for a place on the bench.
Villa made all the running and would have easily won this match if it wasn't for David James and some wasteful finishing. Harry Redknapp took his side to do a job and although not pretty we did just that as James finally set the new clean sheet record with his 142nd shut out in premiership football
Pompey played football on yet another glorious afternoon - for what must be the 4th or 5th match running, on a surface that looked as though it's seen no football all season, I've never seen the Villa Park pitch look so good!
Early on it was evident that John Carew would be a handful, his power seeing him brush aside Linvoy Primus before pulling the ball back for the arriving Craig Gardner, who looked odds on to score but was denied by a brilliant David James save as he spread himself to deny the youngster from almost point blank range - he should have scored though.
From a series of Villa corners - one of which has already seen Martin Laursen head over, Villa had another opening, this fell to Carew but his wild miss kick saw us escape and resulted on nothing.
We were defending very well but former Pompey favourite Patrick Berger opened us up when he surged through from midfield. The veteran blew a golden opportunity as he blazed high and wide from his wand of a left foot.
A free kick brought about Villa's next chance, given as a result of Niko Kranjcar's reckless and needless challenge but luckily for us Berger could only drive into the wall, whilst another free kick soon after, out by the touchline brought yet another Villa corner when Gareth Barry's effort was deflected away.
As half time approached and Villa continued to make the running James had to again save well from Gardner. Villa had worked another good opening that saw him in on goal but the angle was tight and James was able to deny him well. We made it through to half time at 0-0, so Harry Redknapp's game plan was working.
The second half started with a Pompey change, Benjani had been struggling with his groin injury so I assume this is why he was taken off with Redknapp brining midfield loanee Arnold Mvuemba on in his place.
Would Pompey be more adventurous in the second half? It looked like maybe they would when Gary O'Neil broke forward, especially as others were joining him, but O'Neil took the wrong option and wastefully blazed over from thirty-yards when a simple ball wide would have been a better option. But if it had gone in we wouldn't have moaned.
A moment that summed up Dejan Stefanovic's afternoon - if not season came when he was trying to shepherd a cross field pass out of play. Instead of doing this he needlessly touched resulting in a Villa throw in a dangerous position, luckily it came to nothing.
When James was called into action again he beat away Carew's fierce effort well to keep the scores level. Carew had turned Sol Campbell brilliantly to work his opening but James stood up to the task. Was this to be his day I thought?
Another fine Villa move, one which actually resulted in the well marshalled Pompey defence being breached saw Carew beat James to score, but the defence was so well marshalled that Carew's run had seen him stray into an offside position and the goal was ruled out for offside.
Gabriel Agbonlahor's pace and trickery was also causing us problems and after he had easily worked himself an opening when beating a poor challenge from Stefanovic. A well struck effort was turned away by James at his near post for yet another Villa corner.
The second Pompey change came on 76 minutes as Lomana LuaLua came on for Kanu. The big Nigerian will probably get a lot of stick again for a performance - which wasn't one of his best, but with little or no support it was hard for him to find an outlet. My sister said he was lazy and should have done more - which he should but as I said to her we all knew what we were getting when we signed him, that's how he plays. It's too easy to blame one man, with little or no help what could he do? He is never likely to run forty, fifty-yards and score, unless against Middlesbrough!
After firstly heading over Barry looked odds on to finally break the Pompey resilience as an Ashley Young cross found it's way to him on the edge of the box but he lashed wide when I was worried he wouldn't.
As full time approached Redknapp made his third and final change. Seeing that help was needed to counter the danger of Agbonlahor, Young and Luke Moore, Glen Johnson was introduced in place of Kranjcar, and but for some wasteful Johnson passing maybe this would have been done with even more with LuaLua looking to get in behind the Villa defence.
The last chance fell as you would expect to Villa and Shaun Maloney from a free kick but James saw this over the top and watched it nestle on the roof of the net to secure that NEW RECORD 142nd premiership clean sheet at last!
Not pretty, but certainly effective. We weren't very adventurous coming forward but early on it was obvious what Redknapp wanted from this game - and that was a point minimum and we got it. He clearly believes we can beat anyone at home, including Liverpool and Arsenal - a view I tend to share!
Villa should have won this match but some brilliant defending, if not necessarily in terms of tackling but marshalling, poor finishing and another top class performance from David James, these factors saw us gain a hard earned point. How useful this point will really be will be seen in three games time, but having not won at Villa Park since an old second division game in 1970 could we really have expected a win.
PLAY UP POMPEY!
Niko Kranjcar (Glen Johnson 83)
Benjani (Arnold Mvuemba 45)
Kanu (Lomana LuaLua 77)
Substitutes Not Used