Pompey versus Villa, Saturday March 15, 2008.
This is the first of hopefully a series of articles commenting on the opposition’s players, in particular identifying players that the author views as worthwhile additions to the Pompey squad.
We are hoping that for each match a vital member will volunteer to write the article, bearing in mind you need to attend the match in person.
Please add your own observations but do remember that this is not about Pompey per se or how we played during the match in question.
Also, bear in mind that as the title suggests this article relates predominantly to how the Villa’s players played during the match and not their general form this season.
We kick off with Villa. Knowing I was tasked with writing this I inevitably had my pre-match thoughts on the Villa squad and expected to be impressed by Carew, Agbonlahor, Barry, Young, Laursen – perhaps even Carson.
The press this week covered MON’s comments about Jamo being the perfect role model for Carson and who’d disagree with that? Surely the Wembley fiasco was a one off and it would only be a matter of time before Carson replaced Jamo as England’s #1.
I like underdogs for the same reason I dislike big heads like Ronaldo and wanted Carson to redeem himself in front of Capello and Clemence. Alas, a generally competent display was blighted during the first goal by positional naivety that frankly wouldn’t have looked out of place in my son’s North Hampshire U14s. Yep a great goal by the goal machine but this is the Premier league and ‘Keepers need to offer stiffer resistance than that.
What can you say about goal number 2? Freak of nature or blind panic caused by the league’s most in-form striker? Whatever your view on this, one thing is for sure it’ll be some time before Carson gets to wear the England Cap again. Or at least is should be.
But in saying that, Carson is still only 22 and has probably been thrust prematurely into the limelight in exactly the same fashion as happened to Jamo all those years ago at Liverpool. I bet Carson is superb in training as was alluded to by Rooney and McStupid during the England-Croatia post mortem. But as far a keeper’s are concerned there is no substitute for experience and being able to keep a cool head in the heat of the match. With this in mind, I’d be happy to see Carson replace Ashdown as Jamo’s understudy although he’s a long way from being a first choice keeper in a team with our aspirations.
Laursen is next up. I love this guy – he’s mobile and committed and rare in being a white, northern European, high quality defender having also won a series of honours with AC Milan including Serie A and the Champions League in 2002/3.
He is probably the best header of a ball of any defender currently playing in the Prem and is capable of scoring 10 a season with his head from dead balls, currently supplied by the likes of Maloney, Barry and Young.
But yesterday wasn’t his day – he didn’t have a bad match more that Villa didn’t have a good one and when your team lets in a couple of soft goals none of the defense is going to get man of the match. But he showed his mobility and looked less wooden coming forward than either Sol or Distin. He also made life difficult for our boys up front and was rewarded with a nasty elbow in the cheek from Baros who incidentally is looking a bit of ‘handful’.
Jumping from defence to attack, both Carew and Agbonlahor had anonymous matches. Prior to kick-off I was struggling to understand Agbonlahor’s appeal. He’s only scored 17 goals in 3 seasons with Villa, although still young at 22. He was eligible for both Nigeria and England but has committed his future to England having since played at U21 level and was due to play in Capello’s opener against the Swiss but withdrew because of injury.
Having seen him play a few times he looks to me a very good championship striker in the mould of Phillips or dare I say it Nugent. Yes he scores a few goals but as Pompey have recently proven the difference between scraping wins and winning with confidence and panache is largely down to the quality of your front men and yesterday two fairly well matched teams were separated by the quality of their strikers.
Carew has scored 9 goals this season and has enjoyed previous success with Valencia having twice scored goals to knock Arsenal out of the Champions League. I’ve never seen him in the flesh before and was shocked at his size and in particular his legs. He just looked too rigid to be able to compete against a variety of defensive styles and reminded me of Ivica Mornar, supposedly the best pound for pound physique ever to wear a Pompey shirt.
I can see how he can get the odd hat trick but against Pompey yesterday he was seriously out of his depth playing against super athletes in the form of Distin and Hreidarsson and let’s not forget we didn’t even have Sol on the pitch yesterday. MON swapped Baros for Carew – hmmm not sure about that one.
Reo-Coker looked as sick as a claret parrot at half time having been set-up by Carson. Other than this I can’t say I saw too much of him although he didn’t make any obvious mistakes. I’d see him as a Sean Davis type player, good, solid with a touch of flair. Good enough for a Pompey chasing top 6? I’d be interested to hear your views.
Next up is Gareth Barry who has long been the apple of Harry’s other eye along with Defoe. I was impressed with Barry prior to yesterday and he didn’t disappoint during the game being Villa’s best player by far. He’s one of those players that don’t catch the eye in the way that Diarra or Muntari does yet he is just as effective and can place the ball on a sixpence. He’s a big guy too – and dominates the immediate vicinity although as Diarra proved yesterday when he took the ball off of Barry a couple of times, his size and the resultant inertia can be an impediment.
If Diarra was to leave or Muntari for that matter then I’d like Barry as a replacement and could see him coming in as captain – and as wiki points out, he’s migrated to midfield via central defence and left back, being for me the perfect defensive utility player. Shame we didn’t get him back in 2006 when he was supposedly on the verge of signing. But don’t rule out him coming down here especially considering the growing number of England International’s that now call Pompey home.
Finally, Ashley Young. Villa paid a lot of money for this young featherweight winger come midfielder and having broken into the full England squad under McLaren I wanted to see if he’d be able to solve our right wing requirements. My seat is on row B, North Stand right next to the half way line so I got a very good look at him. He’s quick and skilful and I believe earned more free kicks in dangerous positions than any other player on the pitch. He made a few of our players look like they’d just got back from Big Ears bar after a night on the lash, skipping past their challenges and then putting some nice balls in.
Shame he didn’t do more in front of goal as you’d expect any wide man to cut in from the wing in the same way as Johnson or Kranky does – in saying that he did a good job of adding width to their attack but I guess the easiest way to assess this is to ask whether he’d currently offer more than Utaka – and for that I’d have to say no. I think he’d make a great squad player, but that’s never going to happen given MON forked out over £8m for him – he’d expect to play week in and week out and I don’t think he’d be able to do that at Pompey, certainly not in the immediate future.
In summary I had hoped to be impressed by quite a few of the Villa players yesterday given we need to grow the squad to make it capable of 4-5-1, a genuine 4-3-3 and 4-4-2. With Villa being so high in the league you’d expect them to be full of quality but as it turned out Barry is the only player I’d sign without reservation with both Laursen and Young being squad contenders.
True, Fratton Park is a difficult place to come, but we’ve now beaten Villa home and away and you have to question their quality in depth if that happens. I believe Pompey looked a far better team than Villa yesterday, much more than the adjacent league position would suggest.
Written by ChrisW.
The views within this article are the views of the individual who wrote and submitted this piece, sometimes solely theirs. They are not necessarily shared by the Vital Pompey Site Journalists.