With only two points from their last three consecutive away League games, the Villans had to respond with a win in front of their own fans, and they duly delivered. Credit has to be given to Martin O’Neill and his players for answering their critics with a fine attacking display. The Villans are now only a point away from a Champions League place and they have rightly proved their top four credentials alongside Tottenham and Manchester City who are all keeping a less-than-impressive Liverpool at bay. It is difficult to fault Villa’s performance bar one defensive lapse which prevented Brad Friedel from gaining a clean sheet. O’Neill branded his squad a “threat” after saying: “I said at the start of the season that there were goals in the team and it came from all angles today.”
Aston Villa’s goal scoring record has been amongst much criticism this season and so they have been denounced unlikely to break into of the top four because it has been said that they lack the creativity and threat of a top attacking side. Going into the game they only had scored one more goal than their opponents, a struggling Bolton Wanderers. However, five goals later, the Villans proved that they had the same attacking menace as all the teams above them.
Ashley Young opened the scoring within five minutes after James Milner’s cross set-up John Carew for a header which was parried into the path of the 24-year-old who opened the scoring from close range. Just as Villa had done in previous games, they became dominant in possession, however this time, they made their authority count. Two minutes before the half time interval, John Carew took advantage of slack defending by Gary Cahill and set up Gabriel Agbonlahor who slotted the ball through the legs of Jussi Jaaskelainen. A defensive lapse allowed Bolton to get back into the game after Gary Cahill’s shot came off the post and into the path of Johan Elmander. The third goal came from an individual effort by John Carew who picked up James Milner’s pass from the edge of the area, took the ball past Zat Knight and Gary Cahill and beat Jaaskelainen at the near post. James Milner missed a penalty but managed to convert the second rebound into the net after Steve Sidwell had initially hit the post. Carlos Cuellar scored the fifth with a back-header from James Milner’s cross.
The three England internationals, Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor and James Milner, were all pivotal in Villa’s attack on Saturday and they all fittingly got on the score sheet in the process. James Milner in particular was impressive and despite lacking the usual flamboyancy of a winger, his natural ability on the ball along with his deft touches allowed him to create chances for his teammates with teasing crosses and vital passes. O’Neill praised Milner’s versatility which is likely to strengthen his chances for being picked in the England squad: “He has got a good footballing knowledge and a good footballing brain. I feel he could move infield, to central midfield because he is not concerned about receiving the ball under pressure. At some stage between now and the end of the season he’ll play in there for us.” However, if there is one player who deserved all the plaudits against Bolton, it was John Carew. He was a constant threat to the Bolton defence with both his intimidating presence and his skill on the ball. He deservedly won the man of the match award with his inspiring performance which coincided with a superb goal.
Perhaps Nigel Reo-Coker’s performance was overshadowed by the fact that it was his first Premier League start since his disagreement with O’Neill, however, his experience and influence was integral in Villa’s victory. The Villa manager was also quick to explain his decision to name Reo-Coker as skipper: “I felt, if he’s going into the side, he might as well burden himself with the extra responsibility as captain as well, and I thought he acquitted himself really well.” O’Neill’s decision to stop “holding grudges” will prove to be essential as Reo-Coker will provide that much needed backbone to the Villa side in the absence of the injured Stiliyan Petrov.
With another international break approaching, the Villans continue to impose themselves in Capello’s England squad with Ashley Young, James Milner and Stephen Warnock all gaining a call-up. However, with Sunderland’s Darren Bent chosen instead of Villa’s Agbonlahor, it might prompt the striker to return to his goal scoring form that saw him selected for England previously. Warnock on the other hand will want to increase his mere eight minutes of playing time for England with a promising performance against Brazil: “I want to get a few more [caps] and in the process prove to the manager that I am good enough to get involved.”