Aston Villa 1 Bolton Wanderers 1: match report
If Ashley Young's sparkling first-half free-kick had done the business, Aston Villa''s caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald could have expected a thunderous cheer and the town clock to boot. Alas, his curtain call was ruined by Kevin Davies in the 35th minute. Villa could not return the compliment, jeers met the final whistle, and poor 'K-Mac' made his way down the tunnel to silence. Aston Villa 0 Wigan Athletic 2: match reportSitting in the directors' box in the company of chief executive Paul Faulkner, Gerard Houllier, Martin O'Neill's successor, was given a full display of the team that he has inherited. Currently, is a beguiling mix of wondrous attacking, toothless attacking, sturdy defending, flimsy defending. Presumably he did not tell his new players that they should have been beaten when he met them in the dressing-room afterwards. He could have. Houllier takes over training on Monday, but he has already begun writing the parish notes in the match programme. Houllier used his forum to thank MacDonald, and warn that 'gradual process' under his tenure will not be achieved 'overnight'. If they are to progress at all his first priority must be to sort out defensive errors like the one which allowed Davies to equalise. It is a real head-scratcher for the Frenchman: for much of last season Villa possessed, statistically, the best back-four in the league. This time around they are blowing hot and cold. Bloody-minded blocking saved the day against Everton but too often, like a stubborn Hollandaise sauce, they have mysteriously separated. So it was, with the ball pinging around their area like in an arcade game soon after the half hour mark, that Richard Dunne was caught out of position, James Collins franticly trying to cover. Martin Petrov was able to spin and centre the ball, where Davies, on the edge of the six-yard box, pulled a 180 and volleyed in off the cross-bar. It was a blow: Bolton Wanderers to that point had shown little stomach for the fight. At least he has much to be happy about going forward. For the first 15 minutes, all the best bits of Villa were on display, with who else but Ashley Young pulling the strings. The Villa playmaker responds to Bolton like a pussy to a potent batch of catnip. Going into this game he had scored four times in the last four meetings. Make that five in five. The 25-year-old, who has been known to go down under a tickle, was tripped by Fabrice Muamba in the 12th minute, the midfielder flopping to the ground like he'd just been racked to within an inch of his life. Muamba, face like he'd just been caught raiding the tuck-shop, tried to protest, but Mike Dean awarded Villa a free-kick in treacherous real estate, directly in front of Adam Bogdan's goal. It was clear, even before the ball left Young's boot, that it was going in. With a heave-ho at the end of the wall, Collins created the space, the ball rounding its obstacle and into the bottom left corner. There should have been slow motion and a soundtrack. Young haired towards MacDonald for some high fives and a bear hug. It was a fabulous goal, but ruined by Davies' equaliser. Pegged back, Villa went forward with plenty of energy, but run out of steam towards the final third, one promising chance falling for Stephen Ireland. otherwise anonymous, Ireland's shaven head could suddenly be seen charting a route through dangerous waters outside Bolton's area. The midfielder tried a thoughtful side-footer, but squeezed it a fraction wide. Carew arrived for Ireland with 18 minutes left, and immediately caused problems. How his former team-mate Zat Knight managed to avoid being given a second yellow is anyone's guess. Carew's shirt didn't rip itself wide open. Cue the traditional refrains about the referee. They did not help. The match petered out, the jeers came, and Kev left. In comes Gary McAllister, who has agreed to leave Middlesbrough and become assistant manager. He, Gordon Cowan, who steps up from the youth team to first team coach, and Houllier have much work to do.
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