By Kerry Lenihan
From the moment we squeezed onto the train at New Street, the claret and blue army were in full voice. Every time the train jolted, cheers of ‘Let’s all have a disco’ filled the compartments, and in recognition for our skipper Stan, as the train pulled into Derby, ‘Petrov, from the half way line, Petrov’ was sung.
With the season now on the horizon, echoes of excitement bellowed through the carriages as the fans began to debate amongst themselves, the outcome of the penultimate pre-season friendly. Nottingham Forest the destination, once a team considered a local midlands rival to the Villa boys, both teams have tasted European glory, but Forest have been absent from the top-tier for over a decade now, and with the inspiring set of tour and pre-season results coupled with the revival of the lions spirit, I won’t lie, I was expecting a win.
The game itself was delayed by 15 minutes, to allow the vast troop of near 4,000 travelling supporters through the turnstiles, ‘We’re Aston Villa, We’ll start when we want’ rang around the stand as the fans continued to flood in. The starting line-up included, Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Warnock, El Ahmadi, Bannan (C), Ireland, Holman, Delfouneso, N’Zogbia, a fairly strong starting XI, and with the exception of Bent coming on for the Fonz, Lambert stuck with it, therefore I’d imagine we’ll be seeing a very similar line-up first day of the season at West Ham. Interesting starting formation, with N’Zog playing alongside the Fonz upfront, however Zog looked rather menacing and led the field well at times.
The match kicked off lively enough, with Villa threatening the Forest goal, causing Camp to stretch himself a few times, prompting the fans to ask ‘Are you County in disguise?’, they also fell victim to the offside flag a couple of times, but after 30 mins the game dropped into a lull, even the fans appeared disinterested as the team struggled to close down a brighter looking Forest. The half-time whistle was a welcome intrusion for all; the team needed a moment to regroup.
The City ground is not the worse stadium by any means, but it’s omission of any scoreboard and clock (one that can actually be seen, therefore the Trent End’s feeble excuse does not count) from the away end is extremely irritating. Luckily my maths is decent, so when the 19th minute rolled around at 3.34pm, I had took to my chair to signal it was time, ‘there’s only one Stiliyan Petrov, one StiliyanPetrov’ the applause was louder than ever, as we cheered Stan’s encouraging progress announced earlier this week.
The team emerged from the tunnel for the second half with Bent on for Delfouneso and a change in formation which saw N’Zog drop back to the wing. The second half, saw a revival of the fans as they once more found their voice, ‘You only came to see the Villa, came to see the Villa’, was met by a Forest goal, McGugan, unfortunate timing to say the least, however some minutes later, Bannan fired home a sublime free kick, to silence the home support, making it 1-1, game on for Lambert’s Limes.
But it wasn’t meant to be, Villa were largely outplayed by Forest for the final 30 mins, they stood off too much and allowed the Championship team to abuse the free space.Tudgay managed to trick his way through the defence and slot home a neatly finished second goal. Vlaar produced a rare moment of excitement, with 15 mins to go, but was unable to direct his header to the target after bursting into the area. Forest continued to climb over the flagging Villa side, as a desperate Warnock, pulled out his favourite party trick, fouling McGugan on the edge of the box, and incidentally setting up their 3rd goal. No real response from the boys as McGugan almost made it 4, Guzan got down well to deny him. As the final whistle was greeted with the sound of Forest fans chanting ‘3-1 to the famous team’, the Villa boys made their way over to the travelling fans to show their appreciation, a nice touch.
While Villa offered some good movement at times, with no real sparkle upfront, they were largely disappointing on the whole. Warnock was poor, very poor, continually giving away the ball and back heeling it out of play; at times, tripping over his own two feet in the process. However, N’Zog looked more like the player I thought we’d bought last summer than he ever did last season. Pacey and daring, it’ll be interesting to see how he develops under Lambert, now he’s free from oppression.
New-boy Vlaar, whose initial touches were greeted with cheers by the Villa faithful, also impressed, using his stature to provide important blocks when called upon. Although with Forest’s flourish at the end, he’s still yet to cement his ‘concrete’ nickname just yet.
I remember this time last pre-season, being at Derby where we lost 2-0 in an all-round sub-standard display, and praying it wasn’t a flash forward of the season ahead. It was, but something feels different this time round. A sense of optimism still greeted the defeat, the fans attempted to focus on the positives, as calls of ‘In Lambert we trust’ resounded over the Trent Bridge.
P.S the guy who swam across the Trent after the game, fair play, you legend!
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