Bolton Wanderers 0 Aston Villa 1: match report
Truly, there have been more conspiracy theories surrounding Aston Villa this week than there are to be found in a Dan Brown thriller, and amid the swirling clouds of claim and counter-claim, the grand scheme of things has become slightly obscured. There is truth in suggestions Martin O'Neill will consider his future in the summer, but let's not forget that Villa remain reasonably placed in the Premier League, seventh, level with Liverpool and now just 4 points outside the top four thanks to Tottenham's defeat. The season isn't over yet. There is much to play for over the remaining six games, and this win against Bolton Wanderers, achieved with an early goal from Ashley Young, offers some signposting of how Villa might respond over the coming weeks. They put the 7-1 defeat at Chelsea last Saturday behind them, and even if it was not always a convincing team performance (the last five minutes were really rather fraught), Young continues to impress, taking his tally this season to nine in all competitions. The latest addition was an elegantly curled shot into the corner. Talk about peaking at the right time. One of the considerations this week has been how events have been received by the supporters. Those who travelled to Bolton provided something of a straw poll, dedicating the opening five minutes to salutes for their leader, sporadically continuing the paean for the remainder of the match, and rounding it off with a spirited final verse when O'Neill ran onto the pitch to resolve a scuffle at the final whistle. O'Neill responded with a wave presumably an acknowledgement rather than a farewell. An unexpected benefit of the conjecture surrounding O'Neill is that the players have been conveniently forgotten for the week, and allowed to get on with the business of identifying their flaws and dealing with them in training. The focus shifted back on them for the first time since rumours regarding their manager's future broke on Tuesday. How would they respond to their heaviest defeat in 24 years? Their first priority was to deliver a performance of authority, especially from the defence, and they responded to the chastening experience at Stamford Bridge with conviction. Brad Friedel was required to get his legs to an early shot from Tamir Cohen, and a second-half effort from Ivan Klasnic, but he was otherwise largely untroubled, so that Bolton's heartiest cheer came when, a minute before the break, they won a corner. It was wasted. Confidence restored in their back four, Villa probed forwards with Young. The winger has spent much of this season on the right, since Stewart Downing returned to fitness, but it was on his old stamping ground that he struck in the 11th minute, cutting inside and curling the ball sweetly around Gary Cahill's straining head and Jussi Jaaskelainen's outstretched hand. A peerless finish, but the product of excellent interplay between Stiliyan Petrov and Stephen Warnock too. There were other opportunities. Young drew a punched save from Jaaskelainen, and Downing headed a second half corner from Young a fraction over. Would it matter? O'Neill was piqued by John Terry's suggestion that Villa tire after an hour, and Bolton certainly raised the tempo as the last 30 minutes were played out. The anticipation grew as Kevin Davies' header was plucked out of the air by Friedel, but Bolton failed to profit. Downing and Jack Wilshere had to be separated at the end how comforting that O'Neill should be there to do it.
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