Ah, the first-time pass. Scourge of the ball-watching defender. Slicer of the well-drilled bank of four. And as conspicuously absent from our game-plan for the first half half or so as it was instrumental to operations thereafter.
The Opening Half-Hour: Ponderous
I spent most of those opening 30 minutes wanting to offer my kingdom for a first-time pass. Or some off-the-ball movement. Or any line of attack that was not based around Dawson, Chiriches and Vertonghen rolling square balls to each other (and occasionally back to Lloris to cede possession through the medium of a skyward punt). By goodness it was pedestrian stuff. And not necessarily the fault of the man in possession either, as the lilywhite cup could not have been accurately said to have overflowed with options. In fact, our heroes seemed content to adopt a Subbuteo routine of simply adopting a spot of turf and resolutely sticking to it for most of the first half, and with Villa content to soak up pressure and play for a counter-attack I found myself idly toying with nearby blunt objects with which to potentially bash in my own skull at the frustration of it all.
The goal itself may have been a tad fortuitous, but for a few minutes thereafter, and for most of the second half, life became decidedly more fun, as gaps opened up and we were able to get behind the Villa defence. AVB dashed well needs to refine re-examine that “Breaking the Deadlock” file, because having each man in turn ponderously take two/three/four touches before rolling the thing sideways neither strikes fear into bellies of the other lot, nor puts fire into bellies of our lot, nor has any humdinging effect on the bellies of anyone in the vicinity, which is really the whole point of the game.
The Bonny, Blithe and Gay Second Half
Marvellously however, as mentioned, things perked up after the goal, and moved on apace in the second half (bar the five-minute wobble when Benteke came on and seemed to bellow so loud that he made Daws and Chiriches curl into little balls and cry rather than try marking him). Glory be, our heroes began shifting the ball at pace, with first-time passes and movement and lots of little legs scurrying around, until the chances started to flow. The poor old full-back tasked with sitting on Townsend ran completely out of steam, allowing the young bounder to gallop to the line like it was going out of fashion, and to his credit he put his head down and sprinted for the line as often as he cut inside to let rip.
Amidst all this one ought not to forget to send a sizeable bouquet the way of young Sandro, who spent his afternoon harassing the dickens out of any Villa player who dared to think about starting an attack. Back in the days of yore, a youthful and rather wanton AANP would pass his summer mornings by catching ants and the like, and dropping them into spider webs, just to observe the manic reaction of the spider in galloping across and clambering all over the unfortunate young bean. And thus, like some human-sized two-legged spider, did Sandro snuffle the life out of Villa at every opportunity. Good to have the lad back.
And on to the latest installation of The Great Soldado Debate. The lad certainly knows what to do once inside the area, his goal today taken with aplomb – indeed several plombs. (And bonus points all round for the one-touchery that got him there in the first place.) But beyond that marvellous finish? Admittedly in the second half he put in some yards, making himself available down the right flank and holding up the ball (although it did not seem to occur to any of his chums to fill in the attacking void thereby created and bust a gut to get themselves into the area), but in the first half in particular one struggles to make the case for him having offered a plethora of options, and the Villa centre-backs seemed contented enough. ‘Room for improvement’ is probably the euphemism of choice.
Despite the slightly negative tone of these witterings it is a most contented AANP readying the nib for a spot of shut-eye tonight. All the necessary boxes have been duly ticked, and importantly so given the horrors of last time around. Concerns there be for sure, around that lack of incision as long as affairs remain goalless, but Rome was not built in a day, what?